FORT GEORGE — Protected bike lanes recently installed by the city on Fort George Hill have residents fearful that the reduction of roadway could lead to car accidents for drivers coming around sharp curves.
Eileen King, president of the board of directors for Fort George co-op building Inwood Tower, brought a petition with more than 100 signatures from building residents to Community Board 12 last month, asking that the city restore the street to its former traffic pattern, which was changed to accommodate the bike lane.
Under the new configuration, the street has been reduced to one 36-foot-wide shared lane for both car traffic and and angled parking, with a two-way protected bike lane installed next to the parking area.
Before the reconfiguration, Fort George Hill had three total lanes, with a lane for parking and a 10-foot moving lane on the west side of the street. A 36-foot-wide lane used for both moving and angled parking stood on the east side of the street. Cars on the east side of the street backed up to the curb in order to park.
Although the shared lane is technically the same width as before, some residents said the design feels more dangerous. In the past, cars had more of a buffer when maneuvering in and out of the angled parking spaces because drivers could use the second moving lane to give parkers more space, King said.
“What happens is that cars, as they park, they’ve lost 10 feet because of the bike lane,” King said. “They are in the moving lane.”
She noted that the loss of a buffer for parking is especially problematic because of the sharp curves on the hill.
“The most serious thing is when you are coming out [of a parking space], you cannot see who is coming up the hill,” King said. “You have to be out in traffic before you can really see now.”
The road changes were also intended to reduce unsafe driving on the street, where there have been 26 accidents over the past two years, according to NYPD data. Two accidents have occurred since the DOT installed the new traffic configuration in April 2015.
"In its previous state, the excess road space allowed drivers to speed and weave through traffic," said Gloria Chin, a DOT spokeswoman. "The new configuration removes that extra space, leaving a 20 foot wide space which allows for vehicles to enter and exit the angled parking"
However, King said she has not noticed any reduction of speeding on the street.
“This has not addressed the speeding,” she said. “Speeding cars need to be ticketed.”
Residents who were not part of the Inwood Tower petition had mixed reactions to the changes.
Elaina Guzman, 50, drives up Fort George Hill about two times per week and preferred the new design.
“I like it,” Guzman said in Spanish through a translator. “It’s more safe, because when the lanes were wider people would race up here.”
Bryan Paris, 22, also regularly drives on Fort George Hill, but he disagreed with Guzman’s assessment.
“People still try to drive like it’s a two-lane street,” he said, noting that cars speed up the hill and attempt to pass one another in the wide lane.
Julius Martinez, 24, said that the new configuration is not only better for cyclists, but for the drivers who share the road with them
“Before, people would just bike down this hill straight into traffic,” he said. “It’s safer now.”
The Department of Transportation and Community Board 12’s transportation committee recently joined King and other residents for a walk-through of the area.
Chin said that the DOT is now considering several ways to improve the street's layout in response to residents' concerns. These may include new markings that would direct vehicles away from the angled parking area, defined loading zones for ambulettes to provide safe loading, signs to warn about hidden driveways, speed humps and convex mirrors to help drivers see around the road's curves.
King said that at the very least, she would like to see the bike area reduced to a single lane, since many recreational bikers would have a difficult time cycling up the hill anyway.
However, she plans to keep pushing for the street to be returned to its former layout.
"I still think intrinsically that it’s a mistake and I want to address that," she said.