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Dozens of East Harlem Business Owners Resist Protected Bike Lanes

By Jeff Mays | November 10, 2011 7:04am
Some East Harlem business owners said they were against the plan to put protected bike lanes,  like this one on Columbus Avenue, along First and Second avenues from East 96th to East 125th streets.
Some East Harlem business owners said they were against the plan to put protected bike lanes, like this one on Columbus Avenue, along First and Second avenues from East 96th to East 125th streets.
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HARLEM — More than 60 East Harlem business owners are opposed to plans to bring protected bike lanes to the area in the spring of 2012.

Frank Brija, owner of Patsy's Pizzeria and a member of Community Board 11, said he surveyed business owners along First Avenue from East 106 to East 125th streets.

Of them, 61 signed a petition saying they hadn't been contacted by the Department of Transportation about the pending bike lanes and they didn't support the idea.

Owners cited increased traffic, blocked delivery zones, reduced parking and what they believe will be higher asthma rates as reasons for opposing the lanes. They also said East Harlem does not have enough bicycle riders to justify the change.

"All we do is complain about traffic, all we do is complain about asthma," said Brija. "Now the DOT is going to create more traffic."

Sheikh Gulzar, the owner of a Getty gas station at First Avenue and East 106th Street, said he was concerned about additional congestion.

"It's not benefiting us," he said.

"There's already too much congestion. People already have a hard time getting in and out of my business."

The protected lanes are expected to be installed in the spring 2012. Second Avenue from 96th to 125th streets would lose 80 of its 418 parking spaces, or 19 percent, according to the DOT. First Avenue will lose 86 of its 515 spaces, or 17 percent.

DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said every business from East 96th to East 125th streets on First and Second avenues was contacted about the change.

The City Council recently passed legislation requiring the DOT to consult with community boards before installing bike lanes, but Forgione said that is already a policy the agency had in place.

The DOT is also willing to work on specialized solutions for business owners affected by bike lanes, such as signs that prevent parking during certain hours for deliveries.

Installing parking meters along First and Second avenues to increase the turnover of parked cars is another option the DOT is considering to help businesses, said Forgione.

East Harlem already has one of the highest bicycle commuting rates in the city, according to census figures.

The protected lanes also make the streets safer for cars and pedestrians, said DOT officials.

Cyclists in protected bike lanes have barriers, such as a row of parked cars, that are used to shield the lane. Islands created by the lane allow pedestrians to stop safely if they can't make it across the street before the traffic light changes, the DOT claims.

Forgione said FDNY officials also like the protected lanes because they use them to traverse the roadways when there is a traffic jam.

"What we find when we implement this plan is that it makes the street safer for all users," said Forgione

Brija and other business owners such as Erik Mayor, owner of Milk Burger and a member of Community Board 11, questioned the board's 47 to three vote to support the protected bike lanes because he feels the opinion of the business community was not taken into consideration.

But CB 11 members and area Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito rallied on the steps of City Hall when the DOT announced they were only planning to extend the lanes on First and Second avenues to 34th Street from Houston Street, and not all the way up to 125th Street as originally planned.

DOT officials announced in September that construction of protected bike lanes on Second Avenue from East 96th to East 125th streets would begin in March or April of 2012. No date was announced for construction of protected First Avenue lanes.

Matthew Washington, chair of Community Board 11, said the concerns of the business community are important, but that he doubts it would have changed the outcome of the board's vote.

"These bike lanes are about better transportation and better safety. We think of the expanded bike lanes not as just recreation, but transportation," said Washington. "If business owners have issues with drop off or deliveries, that's something we can work to address."

The city is also launching a new bike share program that will make bike-riding a much more ubiqitous means of transportation, said Washington.

Mayor said his concerns about air quality were not taken into full consideration. East Harlem has one of the highest rates of asthma among children in the city and the country.

Peggy Morales, chair of CB 11's public safety and transportation committee, disagreed. She said she saw the issue from many angles — as a person who suffers from asthma and has children who have asthma, is a motor vehicle owner and is also a regular bicyclist.

"The reality is that this community is changing and we need to leave room for incremental change," she said. "Maybe the new bike lanes will help people become accustomed to the idea of leaving their car at home and taking their bike."