Upper East Siders attending a Community Board 8 Transportation Committee meeting last week expected vigorous debate on a proposal to install six crosstown bike lanes. They got that, and the chance to express both support and criticism of the plan.
But, following the late introduction and passage of a surprise resolution, the full board is now expected to consider a much grander scheme: To have the city Department of Transportation study the plausibility of adding crosstown bike lanes to every street in Community Board 8’s district. The resolution, introduced by committee member Jordan Wouk, was approved 10 to three with two committee members abstaining. The full board will take it up when it next meets, on March 16.
For the second consecutive month, a proposal to install crosstown bike lanes on 67th, 68th, 77th, 78th, 84th and 85th Streets was the committee’s centerpiece agenda item, and an overwhelming number of residents attending the meeting in the auditorium of the New York Blood Center on March 2 spoke out against the plan.
“Unmitigated disaster,” “absolutely impossible” and “someone will get hurt” were a small sampling from the majority opinion; “thrilled to have a bike lane” and “everyone will be safer” were among the supporting sentiments.
Critics cited increased traffic and what they suggested were potential dangers of the lanes to streets that include bus routes, schools, fire departments and hospitals. To try and ease those concerns, the Department of Transportation’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner, Margaret Forgione, along with two colleagues, explained that, in Manhattan alone, there are already bike lanes that pass by eight hospitals, 85 private and public schools, as well as many bike lanes that share streets with bus routes and fire departments. “There have been no issues. No children injured,” Forgione said. Critics of the DOT’s plan, she said, “are making it a bigger issue than it really is.”
But Mary Larkin, the principal of Saint Ignatius Loyola School disagreed, saying that a bike lane running passed the East 84th Street school would be a danger to children, parents and teachers.
Sharon Pope, who sits on the transportation committee and is also the community outreach and strategic planning manager for Bike NY, said the DOT gave ample consideration to the plan.
“I realize that from the outside looking in, the process can be exceedingly frustrating, but it’s a collaborative effort between the residents, community board and the DOT, and at the end of the day, we’ll have bike lanes and that will benefit the entire community,” she said.
The debate was perhaps encapsulated by residents and bicyclists Meredith Fink, who said narrow, heavily trafficked 67th Street in particular was a poor choice, and Hindy Schachter, who said that for too long cars and motorists have monopolized streets and that now was the time to further expand travel lanes for cyclists. After almost two hours of heated public discussion, Gorman Reilly, vice president of CIVITAS, a nonprofit that works to improve the urban environment, presented a detailed five-page proposal that garnered great support from most in attendance. Reilly offered three different pairs of streets for the DOT to consider: 70th-71st, 75th-76th and 80th-81st. In contrasts to the streets earmarked in the DOT proposal, those pairs, he said, are “lightly trafficked.”