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City Proposes Expanding Columbus Avenue Bike Lane by 26 Blocks

By Emily Frost | December 13, 2012 8:12pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Transportation is calling the Columbus Avenue bike lane a success and a life-saving improvement and is now asking for the community's approval to expand it by 26 blocks next year.

The bike lane was installed in March 2011 from 77th to 96th streets and could soon extend north to 110th Street and south to 65th Street, the DOT said at a public meeting Tuesday night.

Since the bike lane was installed, there has been a 41 percent decrease in the number of pedestrians getting injured by traffic along the avenue, said Hayes Lord, the DOT's bicycle program coordinator.

The current protected bike lane runs along Columbus Avenue next to the sidewalk, with a line of parked cars and pedestrian islands shielding bikers from regular traffic and shortening the crossing distance for pedestrians. 

"Cycling along the corridor has increased by 48 percent," Lord said, adding that "over 65 percent of the cyclists are using the bike path." 

DOT Bicycle Program Director Josh Benson said 80 percent of the cost of the proposed extension would be covered by the federal government, with the city picking up the remaining 20 percent.

"It’s not a heavy construction project. It’s a low-cost, lightweight project," said Benson, who declined to estimate the total cost. "We do think that cycling is going to continue to grow and we do think this is going to be a valuable down payment."

More than 100 people gathered at Congregation Rodeph Sholom on West 83rd Street Tuesday night to hear about the DOT's plans to extend the lane to encompass the entire Upper West Side. 

Neighborhood resident Randy Cohen, known for his longtime advice column "The Ethicist" in The New York Times, said he was thrilled by the safety improvements. 

"It seems a moral obligation; it seems like an ethical obligation [to extend the Columbus Avenue bike lane]. I’m no theologian, but the concept of hell does come in," he told the transportation committee of Community Board 7, which is weighing the DOT's proposal. 

The community board canvassed the neighborhood widely before the hearing to encourage a variety of people to attend. Aside from one business owner who said he was concerned about losing loading space, the majority of speakers were bike lane supporters, ranging from 10-years-olds to 79-years-olds.

Transportation committee member Marc Glazer, who owns the nightclub Columbus 72, and Barbara Adler, president of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, both voiced concern about losing parking spots.

Though the protected bike lane allows for a line of parked cars about 10 feet away from the sidewalk, about two spots are lost at every intersection where left turns are allowed, in order to give bikes and cars more visibility. In all, about 61 parking spaces would be lost on the east side of the avenue if the extension were approved, according to the DOT.

Adler said that despite its concerns about parking, the BID supports the bike lane.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer said she supported the extended lane as well, but she urged the DOT: “We can’t lose parking. Figure it out. You gotta work on parking.”

Benson said while the DOT seeks to create a united network of bike lanes in Manhattan, massive construction in Lincoln Square would put bike lane plans for 65th Street to 59th Street on hold until the projects there were completed sometime in 2014. 

The DOT hopes the bike lane will ease congestion entering Lincoln Square and make crossing the 60-foot-wide street easier for pedestrians. 

Because of Lincoln Square traffic, the DOT is proposing an "enhanced share lane," primarily for bikers but which cars could use as well, from 69th Street to 65th Street. Benson said examples of this type of bike lane run along Second and First avenues. 

With some committee members arguing for a protected bike lane along all of Columbus Avenue and some arguing against any plan that led to lost parking spots, a resolution regarding the new lane did not pass. 

"The [transportation] committee is not done with the issue," CB7 Chairman Mark Diller said.

"DOT assures us that if a resolution should pass in January and be approved by [the] full board in February, it would not delay implementation at all because they do not do this work during the winter."