By Jacob Rose
Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee voted on Tuesday night to ask the city to build a new bike lane on 72nd Street, and to give restaurants greater leeway in outdoor seating arrangements.
The new lane would stretch from Riverside Drive to Central Park West. It would be the neighborhood’s first protected crosstown lane, meaning it would be separated from traffic by physical barriers. The committee voted 11-0-1 in favor of asking the Department of Transportation (DOT) to approve the protected bike lane. One benefit to choosing 72nd for the crosstown lane is that it’s wider than most other crosstown lanes in the neighborhood. It has six lanes. Committee co-Chair Howard Yaruss noted that cars often double-park on 72nd too. Eight bicyclists and 17 pedestrians have been injured on this stretch since June 2018, Streetsblog points out.
The committee also discussed outdoor restaurant seating. The discussion comes after CB7’s Business and Consumer Issues Committee meeting last week, in which the group debated but ultimately decided against writing a letter to the DOT asking for more comprehensive guidelines and assistance in equipping restaurants to serve patrons outside.
The Transportation Committee decided this time to write the letter, asking on behalf of restaurants for an expanded ability to set up outdoor seating, so long as the seats do not interfere with other storefronts or present a safety hazard. Yaruss said this measure might help “cut businesses some slack” during a time when many are struggling to survive.
“The space that restaurants are given is very restrictive, it’s basically just their frontage on the street,” Yaruss said. “This is an existential moment for restaurants. There are estimates about 50% of restaurants closing. And I’m just raising the issue of how restrictive the city should be with regard to this.”
Several committee members pushed back, saying that the outdoor seating at some local restaurants has already interfered with neighboring businesses. Other committee members took issue with current arrangements that have waiters crossing busy bike lanes to get to tables on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue.
Committee member Barbara Adler urged a safety-first approach in expanding restaurant seating. “There are a number of restaurants that have crossed over the bike lane,” she said. “In certain instances, it just makes for a very dangerous situation. It’s an absolute disaster waiting to occur and something should be done about it.”
The committee discussed temporarily repurposing the Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue bike lanes as restaurant seating, but CB7 Chair Mark Diller warned that the DOT would likely reject this temporary program. However, Diller believed the DOT would be receptive to the proposal for more liberal enforcement of outdoor seating arrangements. The committee moved forward with that proposal.
The committee also voted 11-0-0 to urge the Offices of the Mayor and Governor to promote increased subway use with signs detailing subway cleaning practices. Committee member Rich Robbins cautioned that gridlock could surge in the fall, as more and more workers opt to commute by car. Any move to promote ridership would come as the MTA considers considers raising fares and massive service cuts in order to reduce a shortfall that could reach as high as $12.6 billion by the end of 2021.