Crosstown Bike Lanes Remain CB8 Flashpoint

Ted Wright, director of the DOT’s bicycles and greenway program, addresses the audience Monday night as CB8 Transportation Committee co-chair Chuck Warren looks on. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

After the board couldn’t agree back in 2016 on what Upper East Side crosstown lanes were acceptable, the Department of Transportation returned this week to propose two new pairs of painted bike lanes at 65th/ 66th and 84th/ 85th Sts.

“This is the second time around,” said Chuck Warren, co-chair of CB8’s Transportation Committee. “Some people were upset about [the crosstown bike lanes]. People always talk about bike issues generally — not just the particular streets — but the idea.”

The two pairs at 65th/ 66th and 84th/ 85th Sts. would connect Central Park to the East River Esplanade, providing crosstown bike lanes spanning the Upper East Side. They would not remove any parking lanes, but rather, add painted lines to delineate spaces for traffic, parking, and cyclists.

Though cyclists voiced support for the plan, many in the crowd were against the proposal. They feared the bike lanes would put at risk children who go to nearby schools, including Saint Ignatius Loyola School, the Ramaz School, Marymount School of New York, and the Chapin School on E. 84th and 85th Sts.

Others recounted instances when they were hit by cyclists, suffering cracked ribs and broken bones.

“This is not right,” Betty Wallerstein, a longtime community activist who started the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association and spearheaded the M31 bus line’s Sunday service, said at the meeting. “We cannot do this. It’s wrong. People are going to get hurt.”

The crosstown bike lane saga, in part, began when the board asked the DOT for the bike lanes in a November 2015 resolution. The following year included about half a dozen meetings, after which the board couldn’t agree where to put the bike lanes. Since the board is only advisory, the DOT implemented painted lanes in two pairs on 70th/ 71st and 77th/ 78th Sts. Since they’ve been implemented, City Councilmember Ben Kallos noted, the only complaints he’s received are of people parking in the bike lanes, though an 84th St. Citizens Alliance co-chair remarked that measuring opinion after implementation was no fair measure of community sentiment.

“I understand you don’t have any repercussions where the lanes are already put in, but quite frankly it’s after the fact,” Wendy Abrams said. “You’re not going to hear opposition from something that is already put in place.”

The painted lanes may be a minimal street treatment, but the DOT has found the lanes at 70th/ 71st and 77th/ 78th Sts. have increased public safety.

There has been a 46 percent decrease in crashes, a 75 percent decrease in vehicle passenger injuries, a 54 percent decrease in pedestrian industries, and an eight percent decrease in cyclist injuries along those corridors since the the lanes were painted, according to preliminary DOT figures.

“It improves safety for everyone because it encourages drivers to drive more slowly,” said Ryan Smith, an Upper East Sider and graduate biology student who lives at York Ave. and 66th St.

There was skepticism about the statistics among committee members, notably Valerie Mason, president of the E. 72nd St. Neighborhood Association. Mason questioned why the data wasn’t broken down by each street, to which the DOT’s director of bicycle and greenway programs, Ted Wright, responded that statistical analysis of that specificity would require more data points to be accurate.

For recently minted Transportation Committee co-chair Craig Lader, however, the safety data may be preliminary but appear positive so far.

“It seems that there is compelling information within that data that should be followed, and whether it becomes a trend to be paid attention to very closely,” Lader said.

Though the full board won’t vote on a bike lane resolution this month, Lader added, it’s key that the board at least take some position. Previously, the board’s failure to agree on a proposal led the DOT to act unilaterally.

“We are obviously looking to get as much community engagement as possible, and we like to believe that DOT is going to follow our lead and our recommendations,” he said. “But in reality, I think it’s important to keep in mind that DOT still has policy initiatives that they are working to implement and some of them are going to transcend community board preferences.”

Kallos — aiming for unity — said that ultimately the problem is people don’t feel safe.

“To a person — whether you drive, you ride a bike, or you’re a pedestrian — you’re scared on our streets,” Kallos said at the meeting. “Folks would just like everyone to obey the rules of the road. Cyclists would like cars not to hit them and kill them. That is the big thing folks would like from motorists. And pedestrians would like to see motorists not him them and kill them.”

The councilmember added, “I would say the paint helps bring people there and it also helps create a respect between the motorists and cyclists and it gives folks a delineated space.”

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