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‘Community Engagement’ Over Bike Lanes Includes Anti-Bike-Lane Crusader’s Rant From California 

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

Just two days after some mayoral candidates vowed to engage the community with input over proposed bike lanes in their neighborhoods, Department of Transportation honchos spent much of a four-hour community board meeting being scolded by those very members of the community — including one Upper East Sider who phoned in her disdain for cyclist safety all the way from sunny California.

After installing temporary bike lanes on E. 61st and 62nd streets between York and Fifth avenues this past September, DOT now wants to make them permanent and better protected, but not before soliciting feedback from the community — a controversial and arduous process that many safe-street advocates say only hinders life-saving progress, but something some pols believe is still necessary.

Well, as part of that very community engagement process, DOT reps got an earful — one woman who fled the city for Santa Barbara months ago said it’s not worth taking space away from cars and giving it to cyclists since they come all the way from Queens and don't spend money on the other side of the East River.

“People biking from Queens are not going to spend money on Upper East restaurants,” said Victoria Ordin during the virtual Manhattan Community Board 8's Transportation Committee meeting. “People are discouraged from coming into the city and it’s a ghost town. I’m in Santa Barbara right now and my sub-lettor told me it’s just dead."

Cyclists quickly proved her wrong.

And Ordin, along with a handful of other self-identified long-time Upper East Side residents, argued against the proposed bike paths because traffic is allegedly backed up on those streets, and they say it’s the cyclists' fault.

“The bike lanes cause backups on the 59th Street Bridge. If I’m coming back from Queens, my ride is extended, I waste gas, I breathe hydrocarbons,” said E. 62nd Street resident Don Zolin during the virtual meeting. “It’s bad for motorists and for motorists who can't do business in Manhattan because they can't get into Manhattan all because we are favoring bicycles over everybody else.”

But DOT came back with data that showed car speeds on those blocks has actually increased since the temporary bike lanes were installed.

"We've been looking at speed and travel time data. The travel times actually went down as well," said DOT's Paula Rubira. 

Data from DOT shows speeds actually increased after the temporary bike lanes went in. Source: NYC DOT
Data from DOT shows speeds actually increased after the temporary bike lanes went in. Source: NYC DOT
Data from DOT shows speeds actually increased after the temporary bike lanes went in. Source: NYC DOT

The E. 61st and 62nd Street bike lanes would be a vital connector for cyclists, including many delivery workers, to connect them to the Queensboro Bridge, to Central Park and, through it, the West Side.

But after nearly four hours of comments like Ordin's and Zolin's, board members ultimately had to table a vote on the proposal and tell DOT to come back next month — for more community engagement.

The agency did make a tiny bit of news in its presentation:

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