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East Harlem Businesses Celebrate Protected Bike Lanes With a Ride

By Jeff Mays | November 1, 2013 10:45am
 To celebrate the completion of the lanes after an arduos journey through the city's bureacracy, bike and pedestrian advocacy group Transportation Alternatives will host a celebratory bike ride Saturday in East Harlem with Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito with stops at bike-friendly businesses and area murals along the way.
The protected bike lanes are welcomed by some East Harlem businesses
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HARLEM — As the co-owner of Coco Le Vu Candy Shop and Party Room on 110th Street in East Harlem, Christine Milano thinks the recently extended protected bike lanes on nearby Second Avenue will help bring her business in a couple of ways.

"People will have an easier way to get to us because the bike lanes makes us more accessible," she said.

More importantly, "biking will counteract the calories you get from eating our candy," she joked.

To celebrate the completion of the lanes after an arduous journey through the city's bureaucracy, bike and pedestrian advocacy group Transportation Alternatives and Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a celebratory bike ride Saturday in East Harlem with stops at bike-friendly businesses and area murals along the way.

"Protected bike lanes are great for local businesses because they bring people right to their doorstep," said Miller Nuttle, manager of campaigns and organizing for Transportation Alternatives.

Mark-Viverito and local groups held a protest and fought hard for the protected lanes. In 2011, the Department of Transportation announced that the lanes would initially only extend on First and Second Avenues from Houston Street to 34th Street, instead of up to 125th Street as had been promised.

Once they successfully lobbied for the lanes to be extended all the way uptown, East Harlem's Community Board 11 went back and forth over whether to support the protected bike lanes, withdrawing their support only to reinstate it.

Former Community Board 11 member Erik Mayor, who owns Milk Burger on Second Avenue between 105th and 106th streets, raised objections to the plan along with Frank Brija, owner of Patsy's.

Both felt the loss of a lane of vehicle traffic would cause more congestion which would lead to more pollution being emitted by idling cars into a neighborhood that already suffers from some of the highest asthma rates in the city.

Those claims are rejected by most experts because there is no research to back them.

Mayor, who said he resigned from the community board this summer because of the way he was treated when he questioned the bike lanes, said business has been tough since the protected lanes were installed.

"It's devastating," he said. "Business has slowed down for business owners on the side of the street with the bike lane. No one I speak to likes the bike path."

Among the problems his business faces because of the bike lane is the loss of parking spaces for customers.

First Avenue and Second Avenue lost a combined total of 166 parking spaces from East 96th to East 125th streets with the instillation of the protected bike lanes. With a camera protected bus lane outside his store, customers tell Mayor they want to come more often but finding parking is tough.

"It becomes the most expensive burger in New York City because of all the parking tickets," said Mayor who said he sometimes drives around for 90 minutes while looking for a place to park when he comes to open up the restaurant.

Deliveries of supplies has also become more difficult, he said.

"We are already dealing with the construction of the Second Avenue Subway," he said.

Nuttle said they've gotten largely positive feedback about the bike lanes from area business owners. A study from the DOT shows that business can improve for establishments near bike lanes.

On Ninth Avenue between 23rd and 31st streets, businesses saw a 49 percent increase in sales after bike lanes were installed. Along the protected bike lanes of First Avenue and Second Avenue in the East Village, there was a 47 percent decrease in storefront vacancies, according to the city study.

"The bike lane infrastructure makes riding a bus, bike or walking more feasible," Nuttle said. "It gives an array of options on how to explore the neighborhood."

Artist Thornton of the newly-opened SpaHa Soul restaurant on First Avenue between 116th and 117th streets, said he loves biking to work.

The bike lane has been good for business as well. Groups of bike tours headed up First Avenue to the Bronx often stop at his restaurant for a respite.

"I'm super excited about the bike lanes," said Thornton. "This is becoming a great thoroughfare."