Elizabeth Carpenter, who was hit by a car while biking, speaking at Tuesday’s meeting.

By Shannon Ayala

A community board committee was split on whether the abbreviated bike lanes on Columbus Avenue should be extended to cover the full length of the Upper West Side, and said they needed more time to figure out how to proceed. Most of the speakers supported the lanes, but Upper West Siders expressed a wide range of opinions on how to proceed.

The nearly two and a half year-old Columbus Avenue bike lane is currently isolated in the middle of the Upper West Side, running between 96th and 77th streets. The issue is more complicated and politically polarizing than a traditional painted bike lane, because these “protected” lanes entail creating a physical barrier between cars and bikes, and often result in fewer parking spaces and potential problems for businesses that take deliveries on the same side of the street as the lanes.

The Department of Transportation presented a report on the status of the lane and prospects to extend it to 110th and 59th streets to a full house at a Community Board 7 meeting. Slides from the report are below, and the full report is available in a pdf here.

The lane has received criticism from locals who say lost parking spaces have been bad for business, pedestrian safety is an issue and that the lane isn’t used much by cyclists.

But the DOT said the existing lane is not heavily used due to lack of continuity and that the new report makes a strong case for extending it (That’s Manhattan DOT Commissioner Margaret Forgione speaking at right).

The report says that ridership on the lane has increased 14 percent and 18 percent in the a.m. and p.m. hours respectively in 2012 compared with 2010 and 2011 counts. Overall, cycling has increased 48 percent on Columbus Avenue since before the lane was rolled out, the report says. The DOT said over 65 percent of cyclists on the route use the path and that cyclists still use car lanes depending on location, whether they are likely to make right turns or to cross over to the bike lane.

The report said crashes in that segment of Columbus Avenue increased 13 percent but total crash-related injuries have gone down 19 percent and sidewalk riding and wrong-way cycling has decreased. It said the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District has an 100 percent occupancy, which is an improvement from a usual 94 percent. And the report said vehicle speeding has gone down to 6 percent from 14 percent, yet travel time for cars reduced: in this statistic, DOT credited less double-parking.

Then after three hours of debate, the board split on a resolution to extend both ends of the lane, and the resolution went back to the transportation committee for further review.

Though the majority of attendees and officials who commented supported the extension, even some who spoke favorably of bike lanes in general had concerns about the impact lanes could have on safety as well as parking and unloading for businesses.

“We already get a ton of tickets,” said Matt Fiore, vice president of West Side Movers, which his family has owned since 1972. He said he supports cycling but worries the business will have no space to unload.

On the DOT presentation, he said, “One stat they showed was that double parking has decreased. But I have a feeling it’s because double parking is so severe.” The DOT had already begun talking to West Side Movers on creating a commercial unloading space but hasn’t yet promised a concrete resolution.

Councilwoman Gale Brewer said that each business has unique needs. Margaret Forgione, the Manhattan DOT commissioner said that DOT has been reaching out to each business to accommodate those needs.

The community board, along with Gale Brewer, Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, and the DOT reached out to businesses after the current stretch of lane was made to make improvements, said Mel Wymore, a member and former chair of the board. “We resolved almost every issue that was brought up,” he said. But now, he says, the DOT doesn’t want to wait until later. “They did that after the fact and now they’re trying to do it before the fact,” he said.

Marc Glazer of the transportation committee introduced an amendment to disapprove of the resolution unless two parking spaces weren’t lost and were restored at the left turning lane of each block, in areas called “Mixing Zones” by the DOT. The zones are intended to help motorists and cyclists see each other. The DOT said they had come up with other ways to create parking by changing rules on streets. Glazer’s amendment too was killed by an evenly split vote.

Gabriella Rowe, director of the Mandell School, said she’s had mixed feelings after one of her students was hit by a cyclist last year. She said the students were planting in the greenery between the bike lane and the car lanes, but from the bike lane side where it was assumed to be safer. “We are fervent supporters of bike lanes but until we are sure there’s going to be better enforcement we can’t support it at this point,” she said.

In contrast, a cycling accident provoked Elizabeth Carpenter, a radiologist, to call for more definitive bike lanes. She said that while cycling, a car hit her, fracturing her arm bone in two parts. The problem, she said, was that she was riding on a shared lane, a non-green lane of white chevrons or arrowheads which cars can drive on.

Lots of people echoed her call for protected lanes, which are lined with barriers. Lisa Sladkus of Upper West Side Street Renaissance pleaded for protected lanes and a lane on Amsterdam as well, defending her proposition with a survey her group took. She said the survey found most people did not feel safe riding in unprotected lanes.

But the DOT is proposing a shared lane between 69th and 65th streets at the top of an area called the “bowtie.”

The bowtie is where Broadway and Columbus Avenue cross between 63rd and 66th streets, creating two triangular islands near Lincoln Center.

The board asked about using using signs telling cyclists to dismount and walk. There are are currently no such signs outside of parks in the city, Josh Benson of DOT said. “It’s just kind of obtuse,” he said, adding cyclists would be confused by it.

However, creation of that portion of the lane would be delayed due to construction of a water main at Lincoln Center and other construction at Fordham University, the DOT said.

CB7 Chair Mark Diller said that the delay in the decision of the resolution would not make a difference as the DOT said it would not roll out the lane in the winter anyway.

Shannon Ayala covers the Upper West Side for the NYCity News Service as part of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. 

Photos by Shannon Ayala.

NEWS | 1 comment | permalink
    1. michele says:

      If we truly need a west side bike path (and it seems the city believes that we do) why not tear our the center median on Broadway and make it a 2 way bike lane, bordered on both sides protecting them from traffic. The borders could still be decorative/planted and no busineses would be impacted, parking would not be lost, the cyclists would be safe. (There would have to be heavy monitering for pedestrian/crosswalk safety though.)