When even City Council member Gale Brewer’s pharmacist was complaining about the new bike lane in front of his store on Columbus Avenue, she decided that it was time to take a fresh look at the street’s redesign.
In a Sunday press conference in front of that pharmacy on 94th Street, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer announced the results of a survey of merchants’ problems with the new street layout, and said officials are working with the city’s Department of Transportation to make its recommendations reality.
The announcement, which Stringer made along with Brewer and other Upper West Side politicians, may mark the beginning of the end of the fight between Columbus Avenue’s businesses and its bike lane.
The original street redesign, completed in September 2010, was praised by cycling advocates for its protected bike lane running from 77th to 96th streets. But business owners quickly became critics of the layout, complaining that receiving their deliveries was impossible and profits were down since drivers could no longer pull up to the curb.
Ivan Jourdain, the owner of Ivan Pharmacy who has been working with Brewer, said that regulations that prohibited vehicles without commercial plates to park from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. had decreased business in his store by about 25 percent.
“Before the bike lanes, people could park after 10 am. The new regulations caused a tremendous decrease in traffic,” he said.
The survey’s recommendations include a number of new compromises. The amount of parking spaces would be increased by shortening turn lanes, and some parking spaces would become loading areas until 1 p.m. In addition, the parking signs—which locals have complained are often inaccurate or difficult to see—would be updated.
The politicians praised the collaborative nature of the survey, emphasizing that the working group went door-to-door to the businesses along the east side of Columbus Avenue, home to a mix of commercial and residential buildings, in order to identify the root of the complaints.
“This is what community-government-business partnership is all about,” Brewer said.
Stringer said that the city’s old way of presenting traffic plans has to change.
“The old way was not about consultation,” he said. “There has to be an ongoing consultation process. Sometimes it becomes my way or the highway.”
Over the last few months, the street redesign has been a contentious issue, raising tempers in community board meetings. Richie Zingone, owner of the grocery store Zingone Brothers between 82nd and 83rd streets, started a petition against the bike lane and had to be restrained at a November meeting of Community Board 7 after confronting a DOT representative.
The biggest issue for merchants was the loss of parking spots and loading zones, with 86 percent of the 36 survey respondents identifying it as cause for concern. According to Stringer, the reduction of space has also led to difficulty in receiving deliveries and to an increase in parking tickets for double-parked cars, which are more conspicuous because the parking lane is so removed from the sidewalk.
Tila Duhaime, a community organizer for the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance—an organization that has supported the bike lane—came down on the other side of the debate. But on Sunday, she also praised the survey’s recommendations.
The survey, she said, “took something great and made it even better than you thought it was going to be.”
Stringer said he intended to take the working group model to Grand Street in downtown Manhattan and the other boroughs.
“This is a wonderful model, not just for Manhattan, but for the rest of the city,” State Assembly member Linda Rosenthal said.
The remarks could be seen as a response to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who has been notably outspoken against a DOT initiative to install a bike lane along Prospect Park West. On Saturday, Markowitz pulled into the auditorium where he delivered his State of the Borough Address on a comically oversized tricycle.
He said, “As you can see, I’ve taken advantage of the Department of Transportation’s newest bike lane. Of course, I can tell it’s still under construction, because the DOT hasn’t yet removed all the seats in the auditorium to make room for it!”