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Community Board 11 Withdraws Support of East Harlem Protected Bike Lanes

By Jeff Mays | November 16, 2011 9:06pm
Community Board 11 voted to rescind its support of protected bike lanes like this one on Columbus Avenue on Frist and Second avenues.
Community Board 11 voted to rescind its support of protected bike lanes like this one on Columbus Avenue on Frist and Second avenues.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

HARLEM — After an overwhelming vote to support the installation of protected bike lanes along First and Second avenues from 96th to 125th streets in East Harlem in September, Community Board 11 has reversed gears.

The board rescinded its support Tuesday night in a vote spearheaded by two area business owners, Frank Brija of the legendary Patsy's Pizza at 2287 First Ave. near East 116th Street, and Erik Mayor of the popular newcomer, Milk Burger, at 2056 Second Ave., near East 106th Street.

Mayor and Brija, who are also members of CB 11, feared the protected bike lanes — which will remove a lane of traffic — will create congestion and increase East Harlem's already high asthma rates.

"All the facts were not laid out for the residents and the business owners," Mayor said of the DOT bike lane plan.  "There was not enough information distributed."

Mayor and Brija voiced similar concerns at a meeting with the Department of Transportation last week, saying that more than 60 business owners claimed to have not been notified of the bike lane plan and did not support it.

But every business from East 96th to East 125th streets on First and Second avenues was contacted, said Department of Transportation Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione. The agency also made presentations at the community board about the plan.

CB 11 District Manager George Sarkissian and chair of the Public Safety and Transportation Committee Peggy Morales also said they canvassed area businesses to make sure they were aware of the plan.

"People are making inaccurate statements about the project and the process and they need to be clear about what it is they are looking for," said CB 11 chair Matthew Washington, who voted against rescinding support and has been an advocate of the bike lanes.

"If they don't like bike lanes and don't want them to happen they should say that," Washington said. "But the flow of misinformation is not helping anyone."

He said the idea of bike lanes increasing asthma seemed more like a "deflection" than a real issue.

First and Second avenues would lose a combined total of 166 parking spaces from East 96th to East 125th streets, according to the DOT. However, data show that the protected lanes reduce accidents for pedestrians, motorists and cyclists. Forgione also offered to work with business owners to do thinks like provide delivery zones for affected businesses.

According to the U.S. Census, East Harlem has one of the highest bicycle commuting rates in the city.

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. First Avenue already has a non-protected bike lane.

City Council recently passed legislation that will require the DOT to consult with community boards before installing new bike lanes.

Washington said he does not expect the vote to deter the eventual construction of the protected lanes. He also expects the board to vote again on the bike lanes after the DOT makes another presentation.

Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation, a neighborhood advocacy group, said the vote was a blow to the health and safety of Upper Manhattan residents. Bike lanes would give people an alternative to driving and decrease asthma by reducing the number of cars on he roadway, said Ortiz.

"This matter was discussed at length, so for the board to rescind this because of a few influential board members who happen to be property owners is an abuse of their authority," said Ortiz. "The majority of East Harlem residents and business owners support this."