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Protected Bike Lanes Coming to East Harlem Next Spring

By Jeff Mays | September 7, 2011 2:33pm
DOT Project Manager Alan Ma explains the bike lane extension project to Community Board 11 as East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito looks on.
DOT Project Manager Alan Ma explains the bike lane extension project to Community Board 11 as East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito looks on.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Construction of a protected bike lane on Second Avenue from 96th to 125th streets will begin in March or April of 2012, the Department of Transportation announced this week.

The DOT announcement Tuesday night came after East Side residents and politicians rallied in opposition last year, when the agency announced it was only planning to extend the lanes on First and Second Avenues from Houston Street to 34th Street, instead of to 125th Street as had been promised.

"The pressure always works," said East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who led a rally  on the steps of City Hall to protest the change.

"The original plan by DOT did not incorporate our community and we wondered why our community always gets shortchanged."

A protected bike lane like this one is coming to East Harlem on Second Avenue from 96th to 125th streets in spring of 2012
A protected bike lane like this one is coming to East Harlem on Second Avenue from 96th to 125th streets in spring of 2012
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A section of bike lanes from Houston to 34th Street was completed last year and additional work was announced on a section from 34th to 59th streets in July.

Community Board 11's Transportation Committee voted to support the measure Tuesday night.

"It's important that we start to think of these bike lanes as not just for recreation but also for transportation," said Community Board 11 Chair Matthew Washington.

Census data shows that East Harlem has one of the highest bicycle commuting rates in the city. Citywide, 72 percent of Latinos support bike lanes, according to a recent NY1/Marist poll. In addition to helping reduce East Harlem's high obesity rates, advocates also say the lanes make roadways safer for pedestrians by adding islands that reduce street crossing distance.

Joshua Benson, director of bicycle and pedestrian programs for the DOT, said the plan is to initiate the bike lanes uptown along Second Avenue because it has no bike lane infrastructure in place, whereas First Avenue already has a painted bike lane.

There is no timetable set to begin construction for a protected First Avenue bike lane in East Harlem, said Benson. Protected bike lanes use barriers, such as a lane of parked cars, to shield cyclists from motorists.

DOT officials said they have knocked on the doors of businesses located from 96th Street to 125th Street on Second Avenue to determine whether business owners might have any problems with the bike lanes, such as reducing space for their deliveries or other complaints.

Under the DOT's plan, Second Avenue from 96th to 125th streets would be lose 80 of its 418 parking spaces, or 19 percent, as a result of the new bike lanes.

"In a city that does not have enough parking, that's a lot," said Rose Gelrod, a wellness specialist for Dream Charter School in East Harlem.

Some business owners also expressed concerns about the bike lanes eliminating customer parking spaces.

"The parking is already a problem," said one store owner.

But Brodie Enoch, a member of Community Board 11, said Harlem residents should step up to make the bike lanes fit their neighborhood.

"I don't ride a bike but this is an incredible opportunity," said Enoch. "What we need to do is make sure we are involved in the process from soup to nuts."

In addition, the number of vehicular traffic lanes would drop to three from four. There are 1,855 vehicles that travel on Second Avenue at its morning peak from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 1,652 vehicles during the 5 to 6 p.m. evening peak, the DOT said.

DOT officials said Tuesday night they were not concerned about increased traffic jams because the area has the same traffic volume as 23rd Street and First Avenue, which already has three travel lanes, a bike path and a curbside bus lane.

DOT officials said they are working on providing restricted delivery areas for businesses in the construction area, said Dalila Hall, director of special projects for the DOT's Manhattan Borough Commissioner's Office.

For example, if a no parking loading zone can't be located in front of the store, DOT is looking for space around the corner.

"The majority of businesses did not seem to have issues with the bike lane but we are going back and seeing if there are special needs for delivery," said Hall.

DOT project manager Alan Ma said previously installed lanes on First and Second avenues have caused only minor changes in traffic volume while reducing crashes and injuries.

After bike lanes were installed on Second Avenue from 1st to 34th streets, crashes and crashes with injuries both declined by more than 9 percent while total injuries declined more than 11 percent, according to DOT statistics.

"Our main objective is to enhance the safety of all users," said Ma.

Bicycle volume has also spiked in some areas. In June 2010, there was an average of 1,226 riders from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. between St. Mark's Place and East 9th Street. In June 2011, bike volume jumped 73 percent to 2,126 riders.

"This is one important piece of a larger facility," said Steve Vaccaro, chair of Transportation Alternatives' East Side Committee. "I'm glad the DOT is following through on the original design. it will serve this community and people up to the Bronx."