Crosstown bike lane plan moves forward

| 09 May 2016 | 10:42

A proposal to install painted bike lanes along East 70th and 71st Streets, 77th and 78th Streets, and 84th and 85th Streets has cleared Community Board 8’s transportation committee.

As it has for several months, the proposal continued to elicit strong sentiments on both sides of the issue, with about 100 Upper East Side residents attending the committee meeting last week, held at the Church of the Holy Trinity on East 88th Street.

Committee members were considering three pairs of crosstown streets forwarded by the city’s Department of Transportation — 70th, 71st, 75th, 76th, 81st and 82nd Streets — as an alternate plan to the one forwarded by city officials several weeks ago. That plan had garnered pronounced critiques because, residents pointed out, those paths would be along bus routes, near schools and otherwise heavily trafficked corridors.

At the meeting’s outset, committee Co-Chair Scott Falk emphasized that bike lanes would be installed, and that it was just a matter of where they would be set down.

“Whatever streets are put forward, I’m sure you can find a lot of people to speak against them,” he said. Falk then gave a brief history of the issue, which arose last fall when DOT forwarded a proposal to install the lanes along 67th, 68th, 77th, 78th, 84th and 85th Streets. Considerable backlash from the community ensued, however, with several residents pointing out those streets are already crowded with traffic to schools, hospitals and even fire departments. In turn, the DOT drew up the alternate plan.

In preparation for what he anticipated would be clashing opinions, the committee’s other co-chair, Charles Warren, joked, “We’re meeting in a church tonight, so maybe that will help a little bit.”

Residents, though, were nevertheless fervent during the nearly three-hour devoted to the issue.

“I’d much rather have a bike lane on the street my kids ride on because I know, being a cyclist, that it slows the motorists,” one resident said to loud applause from supporters. “What are the possible reasons not to do it?”

Tracy Spivey, who identified himself as the director of security at the Manhattan High School for Girls on East 70th Street, near Lexington, was opposed. “As a direct result of you implementing a bike lane on 70th Street, you would be infringing on my school zone,” he said to equally generous applause.

Another resident called for bikes to be licensed and to have insurance. “I’ve seen many of these bikes going faster than any car on the street,” he said. “The difference is [people who are hit by cars] can sue. ... If [a biker] goes by you have no idea who he is.” A DOT representative said licensing bicycles would be “cumbersome” and would be a barrier to cycling in general.

Although that same resident also expressed his dissatisfaction with the number of tickets the 19th Precinct hands out to bikers, the precinct’s new commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Clint McPherson, recently said the 19th gives out the second-most citations to bicyclists in the city.

The committee eventually approved, by a vote of 9-2, a combination of both proposals.

At the meeting’s start, DOT representatives detailed the agency’s research that went into proposal, which they said involved measuring roads and sending a team of cyclists to survey each route.

DOT statistics show that while bicycle use increased by more than 400 percent between 2001 and 2013, the average risk of a serious injury to cyclists decreased 75 percent during that same period. That and other figures did not mollify opponents of the lanes, though.

Many speaking out against the bikes lanes are senior citizens, who cited their own safety concerns as well as that of schoolchildren. They also cited traffic congestion, hospitals, double-parked cars and bus routes among reasons for not building any additional lanes. “I’m very concerned about what’s happening here,” said Betty Cooper Wallerstein, a founding member of the E. 79th Street Neighborhood Association. “It’s not right. 77th and 78th shouldn’t be [an option] and ... 75th and 76th have major problems.” Several similar complaints were voiced by her peers and neighbors.

The plan’s supporters, on the other hand, many of them younger residents, are eager at the prospect of more bike lanes, which they said make bicycling a less daunting prospect. “I would very much like to have a safe way of riding my bicycle,” a resident said. “When I’m a cyclist I have all sorts of bad things happening to me; when I’m going for a green light, pedestrians walk in front of me then yell at me when I swerve and fall over trying not to hit them. I want somewhere safe to ride my bike.”