By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — New bike lanes on Columbus Avenue have become such a hot-button issue on the Upper West Side that local officials are conducting their own research to get to the bottom of the charged issue.
Community Board 7 chair Mel Wymore and representatives of City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Borough President Scott Stringer and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal walked door-to-door recently to interview merchants about whether the bike lanes are hurting their businesses.
The shoe-leather research will help separate the facts from opinion on the bike lanes, said Wymore, which have been a near-constant source of controversy since they were installed in August, popping up in heated discussions at public meetings even when they're not on the agenda.
"There's been a lot of confusion and misinformation," Wymore said. "We're just trying to be as reasonable and scientific as we can be and separate the facts from the opinion. Sometimes the bike lanes are politicized."
The June meeting where Community Board 7 voted to approve the bike lanes featured impassioned testimony from cyclists, some of whom had lost loved ones in traffic accidents. Actor Matthew Modine showed up to say he wouldn't have had an acting career without his bike, which he rode to auditions.
In November, angry merchants lined up at Community Board 7 to complain that the new lanes delay truck deliveries and eat into their bottom lines.
Cyclists piped up too, saying the lanes and other changes that were made to Columbus Avenue have vastly improved safety.
Some locals have raised concerns that the bike lanes could make it more difficult for firefighters to reach buildings along Columbus Avenue.
Others have griped about the number of parking spots that were taken away when the lanes were installed. The Department of Transportation originally said the new lanes would eat up only 55 spots, but ended up removing 67 parking spaces from Columbus Avenue, a DOT official said at a recent meeting.
To gather concrete information on the how the new lanes are affecting Columbus Avenue, Wymore put together a group made up of four merchants, representatives of elected officials, and a representative from Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, a non-profit that advocated for the bike lanes.
The group will collect suggestions from merchants about how the bike lanes could be improved, then takes those ideas to DOT to see whether it's possible to make the changes, Wymore said.
The group interviewed merchants from West 81st Street to West 86th Street, because that's where most of the complaints about the bike lanes came from, Wymore said.
An online survey on Community Board 7's website will collect information from some merchants who weren't available for face-to-face interviews. It asks whether the redesigned Columbus Avenue has had a positive, negative or neutral effect on businesses.