A rare setback for bike lanes News

| 24 May 2016 | 01:07

The Upper East Side’s Community Board 8 voted 25-19 to reject a controversial proposal to install painted bike lanes in the neighborhood, a rare public rebuke to a biking expansion throughout the city.

The rejection by the full board came despite a vote earlier this month by the board’s transportation committee recommending that CB8 approve bike lanes on 70th and 71st, 77th and 78th, and 84th and 85th streets. Roughly 100 Upper East Siders attended the CB8 meeting on Wednesday, expressing both passionate opposition to and approval for the plan.

Judy Toby, who has lived at 85th Street and First Avenue for 12 years, said she feels “threatened” by bike lanes and cyclists in general. “I don’t want to be knocked down,” Toby said. “I walk with a cane; it’s hard enough as it is. I just find this whole thing infuriating.”

Andrew, a 27-year-old Upper East Sider who rides a Citi Bike to his Bryant Park consulting gig nearly every day, said the lack of crosstown options is obvious. “There aren’t that many,” he said. “It would be nice.” He suggested that officials explore eliminating car traffic altogether on some streets, leaving them to buses and bikes exclusively. In addition to keeping bicyclists safe, the arrangement would speed the buses. And, he said, “You would see more people use bicycles.”

Conversations about bike lanes are happening across the city, as frequent cyclists clash with those who feel bikes should not have more street space. A proposal for bike lanes on Queens Boulevard, for example, saw significant opposition and was rejected by its corresponding community board, but earlier this month Mayor Bill de Blasio said the plan would move forward anyway. Community boards can recommend courses of action, but they are not compulsory.

Tom DeVito, director of organizing at the pro-bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, participated in a street scan last fall to determine which streets would be best suited for bike lanes. “The Upper East Siders that we work with were very disappointed in the community board’s failure to pass the safe streets resolution on what were often very flimsy objections,” he said. “These are all concerns that have been addressed very thoroughly by the DOT … It’s not compelling to vote against something that will increase safety for thousands of Upper East Siders based on debunked theories.”

Despite DeVito’s and the DOT’s information showing how bike lanes could increase safety, Charles Warren, co-chairman of the CB8 transportation committee, was not surprised that the proposal was rejected. “Our board has generally come down in support of bikes, but I would say that there are certainly people in the community and on the board who feel that a lot of bikers just don’t obey the rules,” he said. “Then there’s a whole group of people who believe that biking is good for the community.”

A spokesperson for the DOT said the department is determining its next steps, which could range from going ahead with the installment despite the board’s disapproval to proposing a third set of alternate lane pairings for the board’s consideration. Community Board 8 Chair Jim Clynes is “sure the DOT will go back to the drawing board and come up with some new options.”

Clynes said he would like to see more safety measures taken to prevent cyclist-on-cyclist collisions since the east-west bike lanes would intersect with north-south bike lanes at several points. “I’m calling for the DOT to come up with safety measures such as warning signs, speed bumps, and other things of that nature,” he said.

Steven Sladkus, an Upper East Sider and attorney who has represented property owners in cases against Citi Bike, thinks speed bumps or other measures to slow bikers down would be a good idea. “My own children have expressed fear getting out of a car because they don’t want to get hit by a bicyclist,” he said. “I personally think it’s a bit of a hypocrisy that the city would help promote [biking] when no one wears helmets.”

Clynes predicted that by the board’s July meeting they will be ready to revisit the topic.

Warren said several board members would have preferred to vote on the proposed street pairings separately, but some procedural confusion prevented that from happening. “A number of people on the board wanted to vote separately … [on the pairs] and there was back and forth on that,” Warren said. “We got into a bit of a procedural wrangle and the end result was the package was voted on together.”

Warren chalked this up to an accident, though it seems the outcome would have been the same anyway due to considerable opposition to the pairing of 84th and 85th streets.

St. Ignatius Loyola, an elementary and middle school, is located at E. 84th Street, where a portion of the road is closed off during weekday afternoons for use as a play space. “That’s inconsistent with having a bike lane,” Warren said. Had the board voted on the street pairings individually, they might have approved 70th, 71st, 77th, and 78th streets and only rejected 84th and 85th streets.