Surprising Setback for Bike Lanes on Columbus Avenue
by Avi - May 12, 2010 at 12:59 am -
In a surprising decision that felt like a slap in the face to local biking advocates, Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee voted not to put bike lanes on Columbus Avenue between 77th and 96th Streets. The city’s Department of Transportation presented a plan on Tuesday to create protected bike lanes on the East side of Columbus that would have eliminated 55 metered parking spaces and resulted in driving lanes on Columbus being narrowed (larger image of the lanes below). But in a 5-5 vote the committee rejected the proposal (a tie means the proposal isn’t approved). The committee could still be overruled by the full community board when it meets next month.
Unlike regular bike lanes that are simply painted stripes, protected lanes have barriers or extra space between cars and bikes, and often result in parking and/or a full lane of the roadway being taken away. In the city’s plan for Columbus Avenue, no lanes of traffic would be eliminated.
A crowd of nearly 100 people showed up, almost all of them in support of the plan. And it seemed likely to pass. Some of the board members even prefaced their remarks with “I realize this is probably going to pass.”
But towards the end of two hours of debate, the chairmen of the committee, Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, each said that the street was too congested and that the Department of Transportation should have picked a different section of the avenue, or a different avenue, to test out the plan first. They brought up traffic congestion and problems for trucks delivering to local businesses.
“I don’t believe this area is the right area for this bike lane,” Albert said. “The delivery problems we’ve heard are probably just the tip of the iceberg. You’re trying to jam something in a corridor that’s extremely crowded.”
“We do need protected bike lanes. This is not the right place and time to do it,” Zweig said.
The proposal would create a new six-foot wide green-painted bike lane on the East side of the avenue with another five-foot buffer lane next to it. The parking lane that the bike lane would replace would simply be narrowed and shifted West, and the rest of the lanes would also be narrowed. Shrinking the size of the lanes has the added benefit of convincing speeding drivers to slow down, said DOT Manhattan Commissioner Margaret Forgione. At major intersections on 86th, 81st and 77th Streets, the avenue would get new concrete “pedestrian refuge islands” with separate bike traffic signals and dedicated left turn lanes for cars. The idea impressed a lot of biking advocates at the meeting.
“The proposed cycle track will allow me to bike to school without getting into confrontations with the motorists,” said Clark Vaccaro, a 12-year-old who bikes to school at Calhoun down Columbus Avenue every day.
But Paul Berger, the owner of food market Food City on 95th Street and Columbus, said the plan would cause him huge headaches, because his trucks make deliveries across the section of the street that would have a bike lane. “It doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s an impossibility.”
Bike lane advocates were steaming about the vote.
“I am really disappointed in this committee,” said Tila Duhaime, who has led advocacy and community outreach efforts for Upper West Side Streets Renaissance. “I find it shocking that the board members are not cognizant of the interests of the community they’re supposed to represent.”
But Robert Josman, a local financial consultant who opposes the plan and thinks the city and biking advocates have cherry-picked statistics to push their agenda, said the committee made a smart move in going back to the drawing board.
“I overwhelmingly support the need to do more studies,” he said.
All that said, the full Community Board could come to a different conclusion when it meets on June 1 and considers the plan again.
“I hope the full board does its civic duty,” Duhaime said.