Surprising Setback for Bike Lanes on Columbus Avenue

by - May 12, 2010 at 12:59 am -

bike lane proposal
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.

bike lane crowdUnlike 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.

bike lane proposal

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  1. Jacob says...

    Let’s be clear. This does not mean that the plan is dead. It is still on the agenda for the full board meeting, and the board will have a very hard time voting against something with such strong and overwhelming community support. I’ve gone to several of these meeting, and at all of them Mr Josman was pretty much the only person not on the board that was against the lanes.

    These will happen. The community wants them. The BID wants them. They make the street safer for everyone, whether walking, biking, or driving, and I have yet to hear a compelling argument against them.

  2. Brad Jones says...

    They should reduce the size of the sidewalks on either side by a couple feet to help make the extra space. The sidewalks are very wide but foot traffic isn’t so heavy. Narrowing the traffic lanes will lead to side-swipe car accidents due to the narrower margin for error.

  3. leon sutton says...

    Bicycling is “in,” so a tiny and vocal percentage of the populace gets to inconvenience everyone else!

    Sorry, there’s no way bicycling in Manhattan is, or ever can be, safe.

  4. Spud Spudly says...

    How about this? We make a deal. Bikers get their bike lane if they agree to obey all traffic laws, stop at all red lights, not ride on the sidewalk, etc. Can they do that? Probably not.

  5. Christine says...

    I’m with Spud Spudly. When is there going to be proper enforcement of existing laws regarding bike usage? I am tired of getting nearly mowed down by bikers going the wrong way on a one way street and not stopping for lights. There are many violators, not just delivery guys. Please make biking and driving and walking safe for all by obeying and enforcing the laws.

  6. Michael says...

    I’m all with Spud & Christine. But only if it applies to everybody, cars, pedestrians, …

    Let’s be honest many (i’m even tempted to say most) cars break frequently some laws by speeding, blocking the box, not signaling, taking right of way of pedestrians, etc; pedestrians jaywalk and as you said many cyclists don’t stop for lights etc.

    But New York being New York this is unlikely going to happen (anybody remember Giuliani’s attempt on stopping jaywalking?). So maybe a better approach would be to emphasis one of mutual respect (aka considerate breaking of the law :-) and also a mutual recognition that everybody has a right to share these public spaces and also has a right for appropriate infrastructure.

  7. Jeremy says...

    Yeah – I’m with Leon, Spud and Christine. Bicycle advocates portray themselves as representing a much larger portion of the community than they really do (see how they skewed the poll above). They happen to be vocal, and clearly have some friends in the mayor’s office, but they are simply a very small subset of the Upper West Side.

    I agree that bike lanes often make sense, but not at the current level of traffic enforcement. You just have to check out cyclists bad behavior on Riverside Drive to understand what dangers heavy bike traffic would bring to Columbus.

  8. Eli says...

    I’m a full-time bicycle commuter (about 100 miles per week) and my full-time job is as a paramedic, so I’m on the roads all day long.

    While I do see all too many cruddy cyclists (and I hold them to a high standard, being a cyclist myself), I have to say that in sheer numbers AND in proportions there a LOT more moron motorists and pinhead pedestrians.

    As I use the roads in all three modes a lot more than most others I feel safe in saying that way to many obliviots of ALL types are on the roads with their self-centered heads on cloud-nine instead of paying attention to what they’re doing.

    Of course boneheaded roadway behavior is GREAT for my job security as a paramedic, so keep it up people! Have a cigarette while you’re at it!

    As for the protected bike lanes that are the actual subject here, I can’t say I like them.

    Protected bike lanes sound nice for people riding THROUGH the neighborhood, but I LIVE here! Will someone please explain to me how I’m supposed to take a right turn off Columbus with these things? Don’t answer that I should wait for a red light on Columbus to take the green on the cross-street because that’s ridiculous.

    So, T.A. et. al… convince me how these lanes benefit people living here!

  9. Steven Kopstein says...

    Protected bike lanes have been a huge success in crowded downtown areas and will work perfectly well on the UWS. They are always opposed before being built and praised afterwards.

    Let’s get on with it.

    This is 2010 not 1960.

    Global warming, obesity, asthma spiraling health care costs on one side of this debate and people selfishly clinging to their cars and their parking spaces on the other in the middle of an area very well served by public transportation.

    It’s time for NYC to join the rest of the civilized and progressive world.

  10. John says...

    But New York being New York this is unlikely going to happen (anybody remember Giuliani’s attempt on stopping jaywalking?). So maybe a better approach would be to emphasis one of mutual respect (aka considerate breaking of the law and also a mutual recognition that everybody has a right to share these public spaces and also has a right for appropriate infrastructure.