Business Owners Rail Against Hell's Kitchen Bike Lane Plan

By Mathew Katz on September 22, 2011 7:50am 

Carl Mazzella, owner of Mazeella's Market, argues against a plan to extend protected bike lanes to Hell's Kitchen.
Carl Mazzella, owner of Mazeella's Market, argues against a plan to extend protected bike lanes to Hell's Kitchen.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

HELL’S KITCHEN — A proposal to put protected bike lanes on Eighth and Ninth Avenues in Hell’s Kitchen got preliminary approval from the Community Board 4 Transportation Planning Committee Wednesday night, but not before local business owners voiced their opposition to it.

While the majority of locals at the meeting were in favor of the lanes, numerous business owners said the plan, which would extend protected lanes from 34th Street to 59th Street, would be bad for business.

“The installation of this bike lane directly jeopardizes my business,” said Carl Mazzella, who owns Mazzella's Market at 694 9th Ave. “I constantly get tickets now, and you guys want to remove parking spaces from an already impossible area?”

The bike lanes will take on a similar design to those located in Chelsea, where cyclists are protected by a line of parked cars standing between the bike lane and moving traffic.

Mazzella shared a concern with others: that the lane would make it harder to load and unload products to local businesses, since their workers will now have to cross over a bike lane — and potentially be ticketed for being in it — instead of parking loading trucks next to a curb.

But Department of Transportation officials said the lane could give local businesses more time to load from 8th and 9th Avenues,  by allowing businesses to use what is now a no -standing lane on each avenue for truck loading and unloading.

“We’d like to very much work with the businesses in the area and make sure that trucks can still come, load and unload,” said the DOT’s Naomi Iwasaki.

The proposal would not remove any of each avenue’s four traffic lanes, though it would narrow them by roughly two feet each, DOT officials said.

The plan would also take away 50 of 209 parking spots on Ninth Avenue, and 76 of 209 spots on Eighth Avenue. The stretch of Eighth Avenue that runs through Hell’s Kitchen already has an unprotected lane for cyclists.

Many intersections would also get dedicated left turning lanes, shared by cars and cyclists.

Both residents and commuters were excited about the prospects of having new lanes in the neighborhood.

“I’m afraid to use the non-protected lanes right now,” said Daria Chernikova, who uses the lanes on her commute to work. “This particular area is very essential to getting anywhere in the city.”

Others refuted the notion by some business owners that spending money on the lanes wasn’t smart in the midst of a recession.

“I pay a lot of money in taxes, those are for the roads. I don’t drive a car, I ride a bike,” said Melissa Sornic, another local.

The proposal would take some liberties with the tourist-packed, congested area around the Port Authority Bus Terminal. On the Eighth Avenue side of the bus station, where there is a large taxi stand, cyclists will lose their protective barrier of parked cars and gain a three-foot-wide painted marker giving them some space. Ninth Avenue would keep its protected lane in the area along the terminal.

Both committee members and residents expressed concerns that some cyclists are already ignoring the rules in the neighborhood, biking the wrong way on avenues and endangering pedestrians, and were worried that infractions could become more frequent with a bike-sharing program set to kick off next summer.

“The area is completely lawless at this point. Unless you put in strict enforcement, nothing’s going to work,” said committee member Walter Mankoff.

DOT officials said they expect the plan to roll out in two phases: the first would extend the protected lanes from 34th Street to 42nd Street by spring 2012. The second would extend the lanes up to 59th Street by fall of next year.

Despite assurances by DOT officials that similar bike lane plans worked well on the east side, the Transportation Planning Committee asked the department to consult with them about how well bike lane enforcement is working before beginning the second phase of the plan.

“Drivers are civilized on the east side,” said committee co-chair Christine Berthet 

“Here they are not. You’re in a different world.”

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