Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007

Bike lane brouhaha over what’s best cross-town route

By Julie Shapiro

Any bike lane is better than no bike lane.

That’s what Community Board 2 decided last Thur., April 19, when it approved a bike lane that many residents, cyclists and community board members see as a second choice.

The original plan was a bike lane on W. Houston St., but the Department of Transportation deemed that route too dangerous, according to Josh Benson, D.O.T. bicycle program coordinator. With input from C.B. 2 members, D.O.T. devised an alternate route that runs eastbound on Clarkson, Carmine and Bleecker Sts. and westbound on Bowery, Prince and Charlton Sts.

C.B. 2 approved the alternate route as an “additional, interim” bike lane, but also expressed strong support for a Houston St. bike lane in the future.

“It is disappointing that [the Houston St. lane] didn’t happen,” said Noah Budnick, deputy director for advocacy at Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit organization promoting pedestrian and bicycle uses over cars. “But it is reassuring that the city put a lot of thought into this plan.… It shows thoroughness and thoughtfulness.”

“I think it is wonderful that we are finally starting to think like Europe,” said Florent Morellet, owner of Florent restaurant, speaking before last Thursday’s C.B. 2 vote. “We are behind the curve. Things are changing in Paris and London.” Morellet, who bikes to work every day, said most of his customers don’t come to his restaurant by car.

Community members agreed with Morellet that cyclist safety is important. But they disagreed with each other on the best way to achieve it. Some wanted to continue pushing for a Houston St. lane, while others thought the alternate route was a step in the right direction.

“Houston St. is the most dangerous place to ride in New York,” Tobi Bergman, C.B. 2 member, said. “I’m not exactly sure what to expect on Prince St.... It could be great.”

Ellen Belcher, of the bicycling organization Time’s Up!, said the hazards make a Houston St. bike lane all the more necessary.

“I think the community board must demand — demand — a separated bike lane on Houston St,” she said. Belcher mentioned that three bicyclists were killed by trucks on Houston St. just in the last two years.

Safety means more than just avoiding cars, said Ann Arlen, former chairperson of the C.B. 2 Environment Committee. Arlen said she dislikes the idea of a Houston St. route, “Because Houston St. in Lower Manhattan is among the four most toxic avenues in Lower Manhattan. Especially children breathing toxic diesel fumes — you’re really pumping when you’re biking.”

The Bleecker and Prince lane will be a painted stripe along the curb, designated for bikers, D.O.T.’s Benson said. There will be no physical barrier to prevent cars from driving through or parking in the lane. The Bleecker and Prince route would eliminate 187 parking spaces, most of which are currently only legal on nights and weekends, Benson said. Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, for one, has said he opposes the loss of parking spaces for the bike lane.

Some residents are concerned about the lane’s effect on vendors and pedestrians.

“It’s definitely got to be on Houston St.,” said Emily Hellstrom, an 11-year Crosby St. resident. “I walk on what would be the bike lane on Prince St. because there’s not enough room on the sidewalk.”

“A bike lane on Prince St. would be an immediate failure,” said Stan Patz, father of Etan Patz, the 6-year-old boy who disappeared in Soho in 1979, who lives on Prince St. and is a biker, thinks the bike lane would give vendors free rein. “We would create a no-auto zone: Vendors would set up their tables.”

A voice in favor of the alternate lane came from Mayumi Ijema, who lives on Thompson St.

“That would be great to have a bike lane on Bleecker St., so I could go to Hudson River bikeway directly,” she said.

Later, in executive session, new board member David Gruber urged the board to fight for a Houston St. lane. However, Brad Hoylman, the board’s Transportation Committee chairperson, said D.O.T. won’t budge — Houston St. is just too dangerous.

“I think we as a community board shouldn’t be bullied by D.O.T,” Gruber replied, proposing a substitute resolution that advocated a Houston St. bike lane. “If we on the board say ‘We’re strongly for Houston St., but we’ll take it for now on Bleecker St.,’ they’ll never do it.”

Hoylman responded, “A vote for David’s resolution is a vote against bike lanes.”

The board approved the Prince and Bleecker bike lane.

Although the C.B. 2 resolution is optimistic about the future of an additional Houston St. bike lane, Benson does not envision it. The multiple lanes, high traffic volume and high speeds make Houston St. unfavorable, he said. Particularly dangerous are the trucks and buses that frequent Houston St., since large vehicles are more dangerous to bikers, according to a D.O.T. report. Also, once the Bleecker and Prince lane is built, Benson thinks a Houston St. lane would be redundant.

D.O.T. will now enter the “detailed design phase” for the Bleecker and Prince bike lane, Benson said, with plans to install the lane this fall.

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson

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