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Op-Ed: Survey Shows Demand for More Bike Lanes

A perfect place for a bi-directional bike lane? Riverside Drive in the 90s. Photo: Zillow

Upper West Siders urgently want more protected bike lanes in order to accommodate an expected surge of newbie cyclists after the coronavirus pandemic — and see Riverside Drive as the most important route for an extension of the bike network. 

They’d also like to see Broadway become an “open street” for neighborhood walkers, with broader sidewalks and more outdoor cafes.

And they're pointing the way forward for our city.

Lisa Orman
Lisa Orman
Lisa Orman

Those were some findings of an admittedly unscientific online survey Streetopia Upper West Side conducted from May 5 to 13, asking for suggestions on how to make the Upper West Side safer for cyclists in light of Mayor de Blasio’s call for expanded walking and biking during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The survey, which drew 137 responses and 100 comments, found that many Upper West Siders have become wary of transit during the pandemic and a goodly number are eyeing bicycles as a way to get around after the end of the lock-down. 

Fully a quarter of the respondents said they planned to take up biking. Two-thirds said they would be avoiding subways, while more than half said they didn’t plan on using buses, either — raising concerns that many residents will turn to private cars or for-hire vehicles.

Respondents overwhelmingly chose Riverside Drive as the street they thought would make an everyday bike commute safer, and hope to see bi-directional bike lanes there. That is because many see a need for an alternate path to the Hudson River Greenway — which was the nation’s busiest bike path pre-COVID-19 and has only become more crowded during the pandemic. 

Riders said they find the Hudson Greenway Bypass — which diverts cyclists from the main riverside Greenway from 79th to 83rd streets — too hilly and winding and inadequately marked. A southbound lane on Central Park West (and the completion of the northbound protected bike lane from 77th to 110th streets) would also help the survey’s bike commuters or wanna-be commuters. 

Respondents named 72nd Street as the most popular crosstown connecting street in the district for cyclists, a finding that buttresses the campaigns of Transportation Alternatives and Streetopia UWS for protected bike lanes along that street from Riverside Drive to York Avenue. Each major crosstown street north of 72nd declines in popularity, with 79th Street the next most popular, followed by 86th, then 96th and finally 110th.

When we asked about pedestrian spaces in the district, 71 percent of respondents said that they think Broadway should be an open street. Streetopia UWS couldn’t agree more, of course. Our Celebrate Broadway event in September 2019, which pedestrianized Broadway for a Saturday, was a huge success and an important first step in illustrating what a pedestrian-welcoming street could do for the community. 

This visioning exercise from Streetopia’s launch shows a complete redesign of Broadway, including pedestrian space within the Broadway Malls, bike lanes and bus-only lanes. Image: Streetopia UWS
This visioning exercise from Streetopia’s launch shows a complete redesign of Broadway, including pedestrian space within the Broadway Malls, bike lanes and bus-only lanes. Image: Streetopia UWS
This visioning exercise from Streetopia’s launch shows a complete redesign of Broadway, including pedestrian space within the Broadway Malls, bike lanes and bus-only lanes. Image: Streetopia UWS

Respondents also thought that one-way north/south avenues such as Amsterdam and Columbus should receive sidewalk expansions. Only 10 percent of respondents thought that the Upper West Side has adequate pedestrian space. Apparently, the district’s Assembly member, Linda Rosenthal concurs; she recently tweeted to exhort Mayor de Blasio to open more streets for pedestrian space. 

Some suggestions appear multiple times in the 100 comments that the survey generated. People would like to have:

    • In-street garbage corrals, in order to remove trash from the sidewalks
    • In-street bike corrals for safe bike parking
    • more outdoor cafes to the streets to revitalize businesses, allow for physical distancing and clear sidewalks
    • an end to free on-street car storage
    • a complete redesign for a pedestrianized Broadway, including bidirectional bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and expanded sidewalks.

Altogether, the survey responses show that Upper West Siders want a greener, more livable, bike-friendly streetscape in the wake of the pandemic. Community Board 7, which represents the area, should work with city agencies to draw up a comprehensive plan to make their vision a reality.

And why should only the Upper West Side get in on the action? Residents of many neighborhoods want the same basic improvements.

Lisa Orman (@streetopiaUWS) is the director of Streetopia Upper West Side, a project of OpenPlans (full disclosure: the parent company of Streetsblog).

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