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Police Express Concern About New Eighth Avenue Bike Lanes

By DNAinfo Staff on October 25, 2010 7:32am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — Police and local business owners are giving the new Eighth Avenue bike lane redesign a resounding thumbs down.

The Department of Transportation is currently completing work on a new protected bike lane on Eighth Avenue between West 23rd and West 34th Streets. Instead of cars parking along the west-side curb, bikes will now hug the sidewalk, while vehicles park in the next lane.

The bike lanes have elicited praise from cyclists, but local business owners and police are worried about the the impact on traffic and car safety.

Inspector Dennis DeQuatro, the commander of the Midtown South Precinct, told a precinct council meeting last week that he has serious concerns about the new lanes.

"[My partner] and I were cringing as we drove along Eighth Avenue today," he said.

He said he's seen cars trying to make left turns pull up behind the row of parked vehicles, thinking they're in line for the turn.

"It's going to create some challenges," he said.

Rafik Budhwani, 40, who has been in business on Eighth Avenue and West 30th Street for 15 years, said the redesign is hurting sales at his MetroPCS.

Cars can no longer pull up to the curb to drop customers off, and parking on the block's west side has been reduced from about 10 cars at a time to just two, he complained.

He estimates his business has dropped between 15 to 20 percent since the work began.

"It’s a bad idea," he said. "Loss of business. Inconvenience. It doesn't make any sense."

George Norman, 34, who has worked at the Eighth Avenue Market at West 29th Street for four years, said that cab drivers on break can no longer stop outside the deli and run in for food.

"We lose a lot of business," he said, estimating he's lost about 20 percent of his business.

Others, including cab driver Sam Mikhail, 28, said the changes have made traffic along the stretch noticeably worse. He estimated that a trip between 29th and 48th streets now takes twice as long.

"It's very bad," he said, standing beside his cab while parked illegally in a cross-walk — the only open spot. "The street is narrower. The traffic is horrible," he said.

Mikhail said he's also concerned about safety.

Last week, he said, he watched one driver accidentally run up onto one of the new cement pedestrian islands being installed by the DOT, badly damaging his car.

"When you're driving, you can't see them," he said.

Midtown resident Tarek Salah, 47, who shuttles his children and his elderly parents around in his car, said that he's worried about the fact that, instead of being able to get out at the curb, they now have to open their doors into either car traffic or bike lanes.

"It's very dangerous," he said. "Now they’re in the middle of the road."

DOT spokeswoman Nicole Garcia said that safety is a top priority and that injuries on Ninth Avenue decreased by more than 50 percent after a bike lane was installed.

An average of 75 pedestrians, cyclists and people in cars were injured on the stretch of Eighth Avenue between W. 22nd to W. 34th streets from 2004 through 2008, the DOT has said.

Raul Quintero, 28, who works at New York Pizza Suprema, said he's pleased to see the new lanes. The store's delivery cyclists feel much safer now and deliveries speeds have improved, he said.

Robert Harper, 63, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said he's also happy with the new lanes — as long as the cyclists actually stay inside them.

After being alerted to the fact that he was standing in the middle of the new lane as he waited for the light to change, Harper took a step back and smiled.

"There's some getting used to it," he said.

Construction on the project is expected to finish in early November, the DOT spokeswoman said.

The agency will continue monitoring the impact and will work with the community to address concerns, she added.