By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
CITY HALL — The city needs to extend new bike lanes on First and Second avenues along the entire East Side to help improve the safety and health of residents in underserved communities, a group of transportation advocates said at a rally Wednesday.
The protected bike lanes that were installed this summer on both avenues in the East Village currently stretch up to 34th Street, but the city has not yet followed through on its promise to run the lanes all the way to 125th Street in East Harlem, said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, which hosted the event.
He came holding a stack of 2,500 handwritten letters from East Siders addressed to Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressing their desire to see the lanes lengthened.
"These designs are working for everyone," Steely White said, "and we want them extended northward."
The Department of Transportation outlined plans early this year to redesign First and Second avenues to better accommodate bus and pedestrian travel along the high-traffic blocks, from Houston to 125th streets.
But progress on the new lanes has not gone above 34th Street, something advocates see as unfair to the neighborhoods still waiting for an overhaul.
"We're calling on the city to finish what they started," said East Side Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, whose district stretches from the Lower East Side to Midtown East. "We don't want lanes to nowhere," he added.
The call was echoed by elected officials from East Harlem, who said the rate of childhood asthma, obesity and diabetes in communities like theirs are linked to a lack of exercise — something the bike lanes could help fix.
"We have to do the right thing," said State Sen. Jose Serrano, whose district covers East Harlem, noting that a reduction in emissions from vehicles that the bike lanes would bring would help decrease the rate of youths suffering from asthma.
East Harlem City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito added that it's only "equitable" to continue the lanes through her district, especially given the growing amount of cyclists in the community.
Kevin Chatham-Setephens, a pediatrician at East Harlem's Mount Sinai Hospital, noted the "striking health disparities" between the city's wealthy and poor neighborhoods, explaining that 43 percent of girls and 50 percent of boys ages 6 to 8 in East Harlem are obese.
"We must stop viewing the bicycle as solely a toy," he said, adding that young patients tell him they want to bike more as a way to improve their health, but that they don't feel safe cycling on the area's streets.
East Villager Brina Bishop recalled at the rally hearing the news that her friend Bob Bowen had been killed in an August cycling accident on Second Avenue and 59th Street. She said the tragedy could have been avoided had the road conditions been more bike-friendly.
"There's no place for a cyclist [in that area]," she said. "That just shouldn't be the case."
A spokesman said the Department of Transportation is taking a wait-and-see approach toward the lanes.
"The current protected lanes on First and Second avenues were only recently installed as part of this transit mobility and safety project," said DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow, "and we will continue to monitor the entire corridor before making any additional installations."