HARLEM — After switching gears on protected bike lanes along First and Second avenues in East Harlem, Community Board 11 is once again on board with the plan to install them from 96 to 125th streets.
The board voted overwhelmingly to support the plan last September, but then withdrew its support in November after two business owners— Frank Brija of Patsy's Pizzeria at 2287 First Ave. and Erik Mayor of Milk Burger, on Second Ave. — argued that the lanes would increase traffic and aggravate the area's already high asthma rates.
But, after the Manhattan Borough President's office suggested a couple of working groups to answer the board's concerns regarding everything from traffic, emergency access and asthma, CB 11's Public Safety and Transportation Committee voted 7 to 0, with one abstention, to support the plan Tuesday.
The vote was taken as DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione looked on.
"We are much more comfortable than in the past with where the project is headed," said committee chair Peggy Morales.
The City Council recently passed legislation that requires the DOT to consult with community boards before installing new bike lanes.
Board members said they heard from everyone from the fire department, sanitation department, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health.
"I did have concerns about First Avenue becoming the FDR Drive starting at 96th Street," said board member Judith Febbraro, who said many of her concerns were addressed in the meetings.
The reversal was at least partially embarrassing because CB 11 representatives and area Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito rallied on the steps of City Hall in 2010 after DOT announced it wasn't immediately extending the lanes as far uptown as originally announced.
Mark-Viverito said the issue of bike lanes received "much input and overwhelming support" from her CB 11 constituents. She expects the support to carry over to the full board.
"This is a validation of CB11's original vote which was only reversed as a result of a campaign by a select few to confuse and derail the implementation of these bike lanes," said Mark-Viverito.
CB 11 board member Brodie Enoch said the DOT should bring along representatives from other city agencies so that the concerns of community boards can be addressed right away.
"I hoped they learned from this," said Enoch
As for concerns about asthma, board member Frances Mastrota said that she believed cardiovascular disease and obesity from a sedentary lifestyle posed a much greater health risk.
"We've exhausted every discussion possible," said CB 11 chair Matthew Washington. "Everything has been put out there. There may be people who ultimately disagree with the project, which is fine."
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. The DOT has also pledged to work with business owners to provide delivery zones for affected businesses.
Washington said there may be a couple of alterations to the plan such as reducing the length of left turn cutouts so that an extra parking space or two could be added. There's also talk of leaving more space for fire hydrants, he said.
Construction for protected lanes on Second Avenue was slated to begin this spring, and Washington said he believes that timeline is still in place.
Washington received many calls and e-mails in support of the bike lanes from community members who believed they will help reduce the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing pollution and asthma.
East Harlem already has one of the highest bicycle commuting rates in the city, according to the U.S. Census statistics. The next goal is to get the city to extend its new bike sharing program to East Harlem, said Washington.
"In the short-term the impact will be providing another place for recreation and for people to ride their bikes safely," said Washington.
"In the long-term, this will become a viable means of transportation."
The project still has to go before the full board for a vote.