crosstown bike lanes get a look

| 26 Oct 2015 | 04:20

Under cloudy skies and cool temperatures last weekend, roughly two dozen cyclists and pedestrians crisscrossed a few Upper East Side streets on Saturday with a purpose.

Organized by Bike New York and Transportation Alternatives, Saturday's so-called Street Scan sought to survey and identify crosstown streets that might be best suited for protected bike lanes and accompanying streetscape improvements, such as pedestrian islands and curb extensions.

On bikes and on foot, the group surveyed 61st, 62nd, 67th, 68th and 72nd Streets from Fifth Avenue to as far east as each street extended.

“Call it selfish if you will, but having a (crosstown) bike lane will make my ride safer,” said Joe Enoch, an avid cyclist, who bikes to work every day from the East 90s to 11th Avenue in the 50s.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Enoch concluded that all the streets he studied should have the bike lanes. He said that 61st and 62nd Streets were “particularly wide” and had a natural connection to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge used by cyclists riding to and from Queens.

Sharon Pope, the community outreach manager for Bike New York, and Thomas DeVito, the director of organizing for Transportation Alternatives, said they would be releasing a report — as well as the organizations' recommendations — in a few weeks. The organizations will then submit any suggestions to local decision makers and to the Department of Transportation, which oversees the design and installation of the city's bike lanes.

Regardless of the survey results, any conclusions are certain to spur opposition.

Michele Birnbaum, an Upper East Side resident, considers the First Avenue bike lane already too intrusive, and notes that crosstown streets are far narrower, said that adding crosstown bike lanes would be “entirely inappropriate.”

“As much as biking has increased, it is still a teeny tiny percentage of the population and there's no reason to turn this city upside down to accommodate them,” Birbaum said.

Susan P. Siskind, a member of the New York Alliance for Pedestrian Safety and a First Avenue resident, said any crosstown lanes would merely increase what she characterized as bicyclists' unruly conduct.

“Adding crosstown bike lanes is like rewarding a spoiled child with a new toy when they misbehave,” she said. “I witness the lawless behavior of bicyclists every day and until all bicyclists obey all the rules of the road and the NYPD provide enforcement, a great majority of pedestrians will continue to feel unsafe.”

But Pope, who on Saturday walked from 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue to the cul-de-sac east of York Avenue and back again, said the survey and any conclusions are designed to ease any tensions.

“We don't see this as car vs. bike vs. pedestrian. We really want a collaborative community effort where everyone follows the rules of the road, and can share the streets safely,” Pope, a recreational cyclist, said.

Pope and DeVito both point out that with the recent expansion of the Citi Bike program and a rise in the number of two-wheelers and their riders, the Street Scan survey is timely.

“The increase in cyclists creates both a greater need for infrastructure to keep them safe, as well as heightens the need to rationalize the streets so all users — whether on bike, foot, or in cars — have predictable spaces they can commute on ... sidewalks for pedestrians, protected bike lanes for cyclists, and regular moving lane for cars,” DeVito said.

Nancy Lustgarten Wessel, who along with her 16-year old son, is a recreational cyclist and participated in the survey, said she often feels unsafe, even in bike lanes, because of turning cars and people standing within the lanes. But, while she understands that adding dedicated bike lanes along 72nd Street might not be possible, she is hopeful that least something can be done to make it safer leaving Central Park.

“It would be lovely if there's room for it even if it has to zig-zag a little bit,” she said.

Despite the opposition, Pope said she's hopeful that with a greater emphasis on education and understanding, all sides can share the streets more peacefully. “There might be a need (for crosstown bike lanes) and Bike New York is hoping that if that's what the community wants, we'll help facilitate it.”