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Upper East Side Protected Bike Lanes Safe … for Now

9:26 PM EST on January 7, 2021

The East 61st Street bike lane at Lexington, pictured on Aug. 31, before its completion. Photo: Liam Jeffries

An Upper East Side panel on Wednesday night endorsed the continuation of two temporary crosstown bike lanes, even as some neighborhood residents clamored to rip out the life-saving infrastructure.

The Transportation Committee of Manhattan Community Board 8 voted 10-3, with two abstentions, to defeat a resolution that would have asked the Department of Transportation to remove the lanes on E. 61st and 62nd streets between York and Fifth avenues, which were put in during September. 

The lanes connect the Queensboro Bridge to Central Park and, through it, the West Side, and thus constitute an important artery for cyclists, including delivery and essential workers commuting to and from the East Side’s many medical institutions. The DOT will soon present a proposal to make the lanes permanent, according to agency representative Colleen Chattergoon.

Yet some local residents asserted — without evidence — that the lanes had worsened traffic in the area, a longstanding problem that stems not from the presence of bicycles or lanes for them but, rather, from a surfeit of cars. Others described situations in which, they said, the lanes impeded access to local buildings, including, notably, a dialysis center between First and Second avenues.

The DOT rep said that the department was working with the center to find solutions for the egress of its patients; one curbside solution that the department has used in similar situations is called a “residential loading zone” — which, in theory, could salve several of the complaints aired at the meeting.

The panel’s decision heartened safe-streets advocates and pointed the way forward for further measures for reducing the depredations of automobiles in the area. The toll of death and destruction wrought by local motorists staggers: From August 2011 through December 2020 (according to the invaluable, CB8 was the site of 35,957 reported crashes (roughly 11 per day), which killed three cyclists, 35 pedestrians and three motorists, injuring 856 cyclists, 1,918 pedestrians and 3,381 motorists.

“These lanes have significantly calmed traffic, and all but eliminated reckless driving on these streets, to the point that it actually feels safe to walk these streets now, not to mention bike them,” said Upper East Side resident Liam Jeffries, a college student. “These are the types of lanes I wish were around when I was learning how to ride a bike here years ago, and the fact that the people who want them ripped out can't see these benefits boggles my mind.”

The meeting and vote also illuminated the differing approaches to street safety of two panel members seeking election to the City Council for the Upper East Side's District 5. 

One, Billy Freeland argued in favor of the bike lanes, placing the debate over their future into a vision of a safer and more equitable city and showing a facility for conciliating clashing points of view. “No one from 61st Street spoke out against the lane on that street,” he noted, a keen analysis that indicated a talent for negotiation.

Another, Tricia Shimamura, took a more conservative view. She insisted that the DOT address the concerns of those who said they were being hurt by the bike lanes — and abstained from the vote endorsing them.

For now, the community board — and residents — await the DOT’s plan.

"I'm a resident of East 62nd Street and I was absolutely elated when they put in the new protected bike lane,” said Devin Gould. “Protected bike lanes make streets safer for everyone: for cyclists, for pedestrians, even for drivers. The problem with these bike lanes is that they're not protected enough — and having a flexi-post every 20 feet is simply not sufficient to protect cyclists from drivers who illegally park and illegally drive in these lanes. I strongly support the DOT making these lanes permanent and truly protected."

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