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Plan to Extend Sixth Avenue Bike Lane to Central Park Stalled

By Jill Colvin | October 26, 2011 6:45am | Updated on October 26, 2011 9:22am
Midtown's existing bike network. As the map shows, Sixth Avenue's bike lane currently ends at Bryant Park.
Midtown's existing bike network. As the map shows, Sixth Avenue's bike lane currently ends at Bryant Park.
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Department of Transportation

MIDTOWN — A proposal by a Midtown Community Board 5 member to extend Sixth Avenue's bike lane all the way up to Central Park was met with resistance Monday night.

Eric Stern, one of the board’s newest members, had asked the Transportation Committee to explore the possibility of extending the Sixth Avenue bike lane north of Bryant Park.

Today, the closest north-bound lanes that travel up as far as 59th St. are on First Avenue to the east and Eighth Avenue to the west, creating a gap that spans much of Midtown, he said.

“If we’re going to have many more people riding in our district, maybe we should have a bike lane in the center,” argued Stern, referencing the city's new bike share program, which is expected to add ten thousand new bikes to the roads.

Bike lanes used to run along Sixth Avenue, but were removed in the early '90s when the street’s sidewalks were extended, said Jon Orcutt, a policy director at the Department of Transportation.

The New York City Bicycle Master Plan, issued in May 1997, includes the extension of the Sixth Avenue bike lane all the way from Washington Square Park to Central Park.

Stern had said earlier that if members were interested in pushing for more bike lanes, they should act now, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his bike lane-loving Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, are still in charge.

But fellow board members were weary of the idea.

“The status of Sixth Avenue is profoundly, intensely trafficked by pedestrians and vehicles, including commercial vehicles,” said board member Kate McDonough, who said she was concerned about the growing demands being placed on local streets, from new pedestrian plazas to more newsstands and more cyclists who require neither helmets nor licenses.

While cities like Cincinnati or Los Angeles may be able to support more cycling, “This is Midtown,” she said.

Committee Chair Michael Keane said he didn’t think the idea was feasible or necessary, given the high traffic volume on the street and its proximity to the Eighth Avenue bike lane.

“I don’t see the benefit of trying to implement a bike lane in this corridor. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Others supported the proposal, arguing that the more information the board has the better.

Board member Daly Reville said the lane could be especially helpful to tourists who rent bikes from vendors to ride in Central Park, and often ride on the sidewalk on their way to the park.

“I think it’s worth asking them to look at,” agreed member Joel Maxman, who thought the added lanes might help discourage riders from biking on the sidewalk.

In the end, the committee gridlocked in a six-to-six vote, which is treated by the board as a "no."

A recent survey found that while 66 percent of Manhattanites think the expansion of bicycle lanes in the city is a good idea, only 53 percent want them placed in their neighborhoods, as opposed to 40 percent who do not.