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Bike Lane Supporters Say Upper West Side is Behind the Curve

By Emily Frost | October 5, 2012 12:30pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Two years after the Department of Transportation created the Upper West Side's first protected bike lane along Columbus Ave, plans to extend it and build a new one on Amsterdam Avenue are being discussed.

Community Board 7's Transportation Committee was initially split on the one mile stretch of bike lane along Columbus Avenue from West 96th Street to West 77th Street, which runs next to the curb with a row of parked cars between cyclists and traffic.

The lanes have fueled a bitter debate between bike riders, car drivers and businesses who were split on them.

But dozens of cyclists and cycling advocates voiced strong, often emotional support for increasing the number and span of bike lanes in the neighborhood — and took CB7 to task for dragging its heels on the process of introducing more.

"As the rest of the city whizzes past us in getting bike lanes, the Upper West Side sits back,” Lisa Sladkusof the bicycle advocacy group Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, said.  “We get left behind because parking is more important than people."

Mary Beth Kelly, who said her husband was hit by a truck six years ago, spoke with anger about the inertia she felt was gripping community leaders.

"We are a neighborhood that is behind. The rest of the city is getting things that we are not getting to make this a liveable neighborhood."

But committee member Marc Glazer said he was concerned about representing the other interests and facets of the community on this issue. 

"We have to serve the entire community, not just the bicycle enthusiasts," he said, looking out at a packed crowd of people wearing neon stickers proclaiming support for protected bike lanes.

"I’ve also spoken to many of our neighbors; they don’t like the bike lanes," he said.

"I like bike lanes, but we have to balance. There are a whole lot of things that go into running the neighborhood," he said, referencing businesses which he said have complained about the Columbus Avenue bike lane.  

Glazer said that the 20th Precinct told him that there were "more accidents on Columbus because of double parked trucks."

The committee is expecting a full assessment of how new bike lanes would affect traffic and activity in the area and a potential design by the DOT by early November.

The committee will post the information on its website and hopes to get input from as many constituencies as possible at its November meeting, including local businesses, schools, parents, and senior citizens.

One of the biggest points of contention of the evening, in the absence of data from the DOT, was whether the new bike lane improved safety in the neighborhood.

Fellow member Ken Coughlin said protected lanes slow traffic: "What we get are pedestrian refuges. Cars are no longer able to cut the corners, and we don’t know how many lives that has already saved."  

Local biker Detta Ahl testified that when she rides on regular streets she feels like she's in  "rough waters with sharks and then in the bike lane I’m in a pool with lifeguards."

Committee member Elizabeth Starkey voiced her support for increasing the network of lanes.

"We will do a much better job if we extend the Columbus Avenue lane," she said.

"The idea that people are going to ride for a mile and then find themselves in traffic has always struck me as a nonsensical idea."