Protected Bike Lanes Coming to Columbus Avenue

by - June 2, 2010 at 2:06 am -

A protected bike lane like this one in Chelsea wil be coming to Columbus Avenue.

A protected bike lane like this one in Chelsea wil be coming to Columbus Avenue.

Columbus Avenue will be redesigned this summer to allow for a protected bike lane along the East side of the street from 96th to 77th Streets, creating a barrier between traffic and bicycles as well as concrete pedestrian islands on some blocks. Community Board 7 voted 23 to 19 on Tuesday night to approve the lanes after nearly three hours of debate that included appearances by actor Matthew Modine and New York Times Ethicist columnist Randy Cohen.

The protected lanes will be the first in the neighborhood, although more basic bike stripes have been painted on Central Park West and a few cross streets. The more elaborate protected lanes already exist in parts of Chelsea and the Times Square area, as well as on Grand Street in the Lower East Side.

A cheer rose up from the crowd of more than 100 people who sat through the debate at the community board meeting when it was announced that the proposal had passed. Bike lanes had been voted down in the board’s transportation committee last month, but lobbying by groups like the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance helped push the vote over the top. The group, led by Tila Duhaime, encouraged 457 people to write letters to the board encouraging it to pass the proposal. Advocates say it will make pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists more safe.

bike lane proposalThe bike lanes (design at left) will result in lanes on Columbus Avenue being narrowed. A bike lane will replace the parking lane on the East side of the block, and the parking lane will move one lane over. At high-traffic intersections on 77th, 81st, 82nd, 86th, 91th and 96th Streets, the city will install “pedestrian refuge islands” with separate bike traffic signals and left turn lanes.

Because of the design, the street will lose 55 parking spaces, or a net of about 17 spaces once muni-meters are put in place.

The board’s resolution made it clear that the lanes are a test and will be reviewed six months after they are installed. Board members said they were concerned about businesses in the area having trouble accepting truck deliveries and were not sure whether narrowing lanes on Columbus would make traffic there better or worse. Others on the committee said West End Avenue would be a better spot for a bike lane. They vowed to dismantle the lanes if they aren’t working.

“If this works, great, let’s extend it,”said Community Board Chair Mel Wymore. “If it doesn’t, we’ll modify it or remove it.”



Actor Matthew Modine of Full Metal Jacket and Gross Anatomy spoke at the meeting in favor of the bike lanes.

“Biking is something this city has fallen in love with,” he said.

Modine told us that he biked everywhere when he first moved to New York and lived on West 73rd Street.

“If I hadn’t had a bike I don’t know what I would have done,” he said. “I had no money. I couldn’t even afford a token.”

Randy Cohen, the New York Times “Ethicist” also spoke in favor of the bike lanes, and told us afterwards that he had had to get special permission from his editor and promise never to write about ethical issues regarding bikes before he came to the meeting. He made it clear he was speaking as a private citizen and not as “the Ethicist.” It was actually kind of intimidating just how ethical he was being.

The Columbus Avenue lanes may eventually be extended throughout the neighborhood so that they can connect with the 9th Avenue protected bike lanes. Lanes may also eventually be built on Amsterdam Avenue. Construction could start within weeks and should take a month or two.

(flickr photos by Richard Drdul and David Shankbone)

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  1. tree says...

    Good idea but Bad for us whose apartments buildings are on Columbus ave. The truck traffic is overbearing, and this has become a major truck traffic corridor since trucks cannot travel on any other downtown avenue (besides Broadway), and the bottle neck and tied up traffic when they take away a traffic lane is poor planing and understanding of the reality of how Columbus ave is used as a truck and greyhound, bolt bus and all the other bus lines corridor.
    Build a west side highway trucks and buses can use and get them off our streets then creating pedestrian and bike malls makes sense.

    But to just take away traffic lanes and not deal with truck and out of town bus traffic is horrible urban planing by people who don’t know Columbus avenue.

    Signed a bike rider and tree hugger!
    But who wants real urban planing not the thoughtless changes being made.

  2. New Yorker says...

    There is a beutiful-to-ride bike lane, indeed most of the time a few bike lanes, a block away from Columbus Avenue.
    It is called the West Drive in Central Park, and it starts on 110 Street and ends on 59 Street. That’s over 50 blocks!

    Going through the expense to install a questionable bike lane a mere block away for a short 20 blocks distance, or about 4000 feet, or about 1500 average human steps, seems to be truly totally unnecessary.
    By the way, have you heard of the recent guidelines about walking 10,000 steps per day to help your health?
    Do you know that riding a bike at 10mph burns 26 calories per mile?
    Do you know that a tablespoon of fat, it can be olive oil or butter, has about 120 calories?

    It seems to be far more beneficial to ride your bike a block away in Central Park where you can achieve higher speeds and burn more calories than the Columbus Ave. bike lane.
    Indeed, walking those 20 blocks will be more beneficial to your health than bike riding them.

    So, why this obsession by all these “vocal proponents” who “represent the community” to do this?

    It clearly seems as an unnecessary and expensive thing to do given the above and today’s financial realities, if not downright “nutty”.

    A “real” bike lane going down Queens Blvd. from the Quensboro Bridge to Jamaica and beyond makes clear sense.
    A 20 block bike lane on Columbus Ave., a block away from a beautiful park with bike lanes, clearly does not.

  3. Hugh C Taylor says...

    For sure, the Columbus protected lane needs to be longer. It’s just a start, but the idea is to give people a safe, encouraging place to bicycle for everyday travel, not make them bike blocks out of their way to Central Park. For a lot of people, bikes are way of getting around town, quickly and conveniently. People are already riding on Columbus, now they can do so much more safely. The Columbus Avenue protected bike lane is working. I’ve walked past it a couple of dozen times, and biked on it about a dozen times, including with my middle school age daughter, and during the morning and evening rush. I haven’t seen any problems with delivery vehicles or traffic jams or anything bad you could attribute to the lane. If anything, there seems to be less speeding and reckless driving. I’ve lived on the UWS side since 1982. The protected lane seems like a sensible idea to me. As usual, the predictions of catastrophe are totally overblown and unfounded.