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Some UES Residents Fear New Bike Lanes Could Cause 'More Pollution'

UPPER EAST SIDE — A city plan to revamp bike lanes near a dangerous intersection along the Queensboro Bridge has prompted protests from some neighborhood residents who worry that proposed connections to the span could increase traffic congestion and create "more pollution than ever before."

These concerns were voiced at a recent Community Board 8 transportation committee meeting, where city officials detailed plans to complete the bike route on First Avenue between East 56th and East 61st streets. The Queensboro Bridge path now leads to First Avenue via East 60th Street — meaning bicyclists heading toward Second Avenue must contend with vehicles entering and exiting the bridge.

The Department of Transportation wants to add a shared bike lane from East 56th to East 59th street and make a two-way bike lane between East 59 and East 60th streets, so that Second Avenue-bound bikes can avoid much of this danger. The two-lane part of the DOT's plan would remove one lane from First Avenue and create an 8-foot buffer area between traffic and bikes.

Another "moving lane" would be removed from East 60th to East 61st streets, replaced with a parking lane and a buffer protecting one-way bike travelers from traffic. Shared lanes for eastbound and westbound bike traffic would also be installed on East 59th street, according to DOT officials.

The schematics presented at the meeting, though heralded by the members of cyclist community present, were not treated as warmly by some other attendees. The most vocal skeptic — a woman who declined to be named or sign in to the public meeting despite her repeated, adamant on-the-record opposition to these changes — said she didn't know whether the plans reflected community need.

"Have you done a study of the bike lanes you've already installed before installing more?" said the woman, who would only tell a reporter that she lived in the East 70s. "You said they would be safer — you didn't say they're be safe."

DOT officials countered that the department had used NYPD crash data to analyze whether accidents occurred with greater or lesser frequency on streets with bike lanes. The number of crashes and injuries decreased on streets with bike paths, they said.

Still, the woman remained unconvinced about the safety data.

"What is your empirical evidence that shows that these bike lanes are the cause of these safer streets? You're making a statement here, in front of this community, that says that they're safer because of the bike lanes," she said. "Just because, in the crash data, it shows there are fewer crashes, there could be a lot of reasons for that‚ not just the bike lanes."

She then argued that taking away traffic lanes could delay emergency vehicles and would cause congestion — and vehicle emissions to accumulate.

"I just don't understand how you can possibly say that there's no environmental impact," she said. "There's going to be more pollution than ever before."

The woman, who said she didn't necessarily oppose bikes or their lanes, said the city should consider another road-sharing initiative.

"What's the problem with cyclists using those bus lanes? They're much wider than what's proposed," she said. "I dont understand why that hasn't been tried before you start messing with all those traffic patterns."

Albert Ahronheim, an Upper East Sider who lives on East 80th Street, came out in support of the lanes, saying they'd boost safety as well as calm alleged incidents of bad biker behavior.

"A good part of the reason that cyclists are seen to be daring or aggressive or annoying or seem to be dangerous is because they dont have an infrastructure that they feel safe in," said Ahronheim, 59. "Pedestrians suffer from this. Cyclists suffer from this, and motorists end up cycling from this also."

And Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer and activist who represents many cyclists, echoed the DOT's claims that safety gains had been noted across the city — and dismissed accusations that bike lanes could slow down emergency vehicles.

"You know we'd hear about it," he said. "I really think it's a red herring."

Though the transportation committee agreed to revisit the issue at its May meeting, some CB8 members had lingering questions — such as whether cyclists are chipping in enough for road improvements.

"I know what I have to spend to have a car in New York City," said CB8 member Teri Slater. "What do they have to give back to the city to get these resources? You have to give something back when you receive precious resources."