News | Upper West Side

Columbus Avenue bike lane expansion fails to pass CB7 committee

  • FLAT TIRE | A Community Board 7 committee voted down a proposal to expand the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane Tuesday night. The existing lane stretches from 77th Street to 96th Street.

A proposal to extend the Columbus Avenue bike lane from 65th to 110th streets failed to pass the Community Board 7 transportation committee Tuesday night, even as new data showed that the existing lane between 77th and 96th streets has increased bike ridership and decreased crash injuries in that corridor.

The proposal, from the city’s Department of Transportation, would have expanded the existing protected lane on Columbus from 69th to 110th Street with a shared lane for both bikes and cars from 65th-69th streets. It would take away about 24% of available parking space on the east side of Columbus, with more parking lost for loading zones that will be created for delivery trucks.

Construction and high traffic volumes from 59th Street to 65th Street on Columbus would make implementing a permanent bike lane difficult, DOT representatives said. Bike advocates had been hoping for a northbound bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, but the representatives said that was not under consideration.

The CB7 committee voted five in favor of the proposal, four against and one abstention—not enough to send the proposal to a vote of the full board. Committee members will try to reach a compromise over the next month and plan to vote again at their January meeting.

Biking activists, who have harshly criticized the committee for its inaction on bike lanes in the past, said that they had public opinion on their side.

“I think the people in the audience were outraged that their voices weren't heard, and very disappointed in the lack of leadership coming out of our transportation committee,” said Lisa Sladkus, director of Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, a transportation advocacy group.

Also at the meeting, DOT representatives presented data on the current lane. They said a department study had observed a 48% increase in weekday cycling volume along the lane, a reduction of vehicle speeds from 26.8 mph to 22.3 mph, and a 19% decrease in crashes with injuries.

Over 100 people attended the meeting and, though both residents and politicians were divided, most testified in favor of the proposal.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the proposal would improve safety and reduce car traffic if cyclists were kept accountable to road rules.

“We really have an opportunity to get this right,” Stringer said, adding, “This really will be a model process for the rest of the city.”

Though City Council member Gale Brewer said she supported the proposal, she stressed the need for educating bikers on how to ride safely and for the DOT to work closely with businesses. Josh Benson, DOT bicycle and pedestrian programs director, said the department would work with West Side Movers, Petco and several other businesses on the street that require large deliveries.

Audience members reserved some of their loudest applause for two 10-year-olds, Yoshi and Oscar, who each said protected bikes lane made them feel safer on their bikes and when they were commuting to school.

“I really like to ride my bike, so having a bike lane makes me feel safer than just having to ride on the street with no protection, and I think that that having a protected bike lane really helps,” Yoshi, who lives on 71st Street, said.

Senior citizens also said the protected bike lanes would improve safety.

“It’s the protected bike lanes that really make a difference,” George Beane, who has been biking in the city for 45 years, said. “I’ve been hit by doors flying open next to bike lanes…I’ve also been sideswiped by cars several times over the 45 years. That doesn’t happen on these protected lanes.”

Yet others expressed concern about the loss of parking. Barbara Adler, Columbus Avenue BID president, said that she supported the proposal but wished that the dedicated left-turn lanes that are part of protected bike lanes could occupy fewer parking spaces.

“It’s important to note the numerous merchants on the avenue who pay up to 350 dollars per square foot have continued to be opposed to the loss of parking and have said that this contributed to the loss of business,” Adler said.

Gabriella Rowe, head of the Mandell School on Columbus Avenue between 98th and 100th streets, said that while she supported the original bike lane, she found education and enforcement of bike laws “less than optimal,” and didn’t support the current proposal.

Rowe said that adding the lanes would require kids to cross them on their way to school—a potential safety hazard.

CB7 chair Mark Diller said that the committee would discuss potential amendments or find other ways to obtain a clear majority vote at its next meeting in January.

“A little bit of flexibility, one way or another, could tip the scales into a majority view,” Diller said.

Ultimately Diller said he is hopeful that CB7 will have a final resolution to be brought to the full board in January—especially with an extra month to collect more information about safety issues and business concerns

“That’s one good benefit of going on to January,” Diller said.

This article was updated to clarify the expansion will be voted on again next month.

avantika.kumar@columbiaspectator.com

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