By Shannon Ayala
An Upper West Side community board committee will once again try to decide whether to extend the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane tonight, after a vote last month on the lane ended in deadlock. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Goddard Riverside Center at 593 Columbus Avenue.
Last month, the DOT presented data on the lane, which now runs from West 77th to West 96th streets, and proposed stretching it South to 59th Street (the protected part of the lane would likely stop at 69th) and North to 110th Street.
When DOT first installed the lane in 2010, several merchants said they weren’t consulted, and complained about the loss of parking, increased congestion and difficulty unloading supply trucks. Some said the DOT had simply ignored their concerns. A working group of local leaders had to go business by business to fix things.
In the past few weeks, we talked to Columbus Avenue merchants, mainly at small businesses, to see what they think about extending the lane.
Above 100th Street on Columbus the small business owners and employees we talked to were generally open to the lane.
“Do what you have to do. It’s cool with us,” said a hardware store employee on 109th who gave his last name, Inoa.
“I love it because I bike ride too,” said Angel Martinez of Zanny’s Café. “I have a lot of customers, they come from Central Park,” he said, then noted the store’s bike rack out front.
“It sounds fair because it’s so hard to find parking, you have to ride a bike,” said Karina Rasheed of Josephine’s Hair Care Salon. “It’s a good promotion point for the business owners.”
Others, however, see hassles ahead.
“It’s going to suck for delivery,” said Feliz “R,” at a plumbing shop on 105th Street. He said it could be dangerous because “we’re dealing with pipes and things like that,” pointing to huge pipes on the wall. But, he said, “as far as people riding bikes, I have nothing against that.”
Below 77th, opinions were mixed.
“In theory the bike lanes are a good idea,” said Ben Bowman, a bartender at Emerald Inn near 69th Street. “However, Columbus Avenue is so congested as it is,” he said, “that to slow down the flow of traffic here I don’t see the benefit of doing that.”
“Columbus Avenue is a busy street but it’s not so busy that there will be any issue,” said Michelle Kohl of Club Monaco nearby on 70th Street.
Asked how long it takes for trucks to unload, she said 10 minutes. Other merchants said it can take 15 minutes or an hour, and happen several times in a day.
“It’s very hard now [without the lanes] because we have a lot of delivery people,” said Ron Muzo, the manager of West Side Pharmacy. “It would be very convenient not only for commuters but for the business as well, providing more safety.”
Others expressed more concern. “You’re going to block all the traffic up,” said Guldeep Sethi, of 24-year-old Artiste Jewelers on West 70th Street, adding that traffic starts 20 feet into the road. “People can’t get through so people don’t come,” he said. “It’s detrimental to business. Just so people can ride their bikes on the road.”
“I hate the whole idea,” said Phyllis Debiase of the 17-year-old lingerie shop, Brief Encounters. “It’s one more piece of space it’s taking up,” she said. “People are not riding their bikes to go shopping.”
A bicyclist outside the store, however, said he uses the lanes to get to local businesses. “I ride up and down Columbus quite a bit,” said Ronen Voloshin, who wasn’t aware of the extension plan and lives on West 72nd Street. “It’s frankly more useful here, because there are businesses here.”
Some merchants who have stores where the lane already exists (77th to 96th) had gripes, and said the lane had hurt business.
“It sucks,” said Michael Desousa of Trattoria Pesce and Pasta, which has been on West 90th Street for 14 years and has had the lane outside for two. “It clogs up traffic. It takes all the parking away,” he said, adding that the list went on. He estimated he’s lost 10 percent of customers “which is a lot for me anyway because I’m a small business.” He’s against extending the lane.
Martha Mancebo, who works at a hot dog stand in the West 80’s says since the lane she’s had “menos,” (less) customers, while a fruit vendor south of her says nothing’s changed.
“It has pros and cons like everything in life,” said Taso Manga of Mani Market Place on West 94th Street. He said he doesn’t think the lane has impacted business. Asked if he supports the extension, he said, “Once they got it this far, why not?”
“The business is a little bit of an effect,” said Gurmukh Singh of Café Daniellos Pizzeria. “Nobody could find parking. Business lose. Otherwise, bike lane is okay for us.” Asked to explain, he said, “If you think only about the business, that’s a second thing. If you think about bikers,” he said, “it saves a life.”
“It really does matter but bike lanes, also more important,” said Bhavin Patel of New Westlane Wines and Liquors south of West 94th Street. “It hurts the business not that much in a sense but a little bit.” He said, “Once there are so many people that want to extend it, that’s nice,” but he’s not supporting it as of yet.
“Most of our customers are not driving because they’re getting wasted,” said Tim Spence, a manager at Prohibition, a bar and restaurant on 84th that opens at 5 p.m. Spence himself rides, and the hostess, Kristen Voss said she cycles to work in the summer, and that the kitchen staff rides.
“It’s great because we don’t have the cars so close to the sidewalk,” said Nathalie deLaFontaine, of the 14-month-old Machiavelli, a fine dining restaurant on West 85th Street. “The only thing about the cycling: how many times have I almost been hit?”
Shannon Ayala covers the Upper West Side for the NYCity News Service as part of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Photo by bicyclesonly.