Volume 22, Number 16 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 28 - September 3, 2009

Gerson says bike lane sped through without input

Downtown Express photo by Lincoln Anderson

During a press conference at Mott and Grand Sts. at which critics of the new bike lane said it is underused, a number of cyclists passed by, including the woman above. A motorized hand truck, at left, was also using the lane, easing sidewalk congestion.

By Lincoln Anderson

Charging the Grand St. bicycle lane is endangering both seniors’ safety and stores’ survival, Chinatown residents and merchants joined Councilmember Alan Gerson at Mott and Grand Sts. last Friday, calling for modifications to the new-style lane. Gerson also said the Department of Transportation must do more community outreach and consultation before installing new bike lanes.

According to Gerson and Project Open Door, which provides social services at 168 Grand St. for Chinatown seniors, about two months ago a senior was knocked unconscious on Grand St. by a cyclist who didn’t stop for a red light.

On the other hand, the lane’s critics also contend it is underused. One local merchant claimed he had stood at the intersection for two hours but seen only five bikes go by on the bike lane. Yet right as he said this, one bicycle was passing by and within 30 seconds, another two came along.

Gerson said the seniors dislike that the parking lane on the street’s south side has been moved several feet out into the street to create a protected bike lane by the curb. Having the parking by the curb provided a protected area for seniors, he said.

Gerson accused D.O.T. of “pitting local residents against bicyclists — and this is so unnecessary,” adding, “There’s no question there’s been an increase in crashes between people and bikes since the lane came in.”

The lane should detour onto Kenmare St. between Lafayette St. and Bowery, as proposed by the Little Italy Merchants Association,” Gerson said.

However, the councilmember was challenged at the press conference by several young bike-friendly journalists, one of whom was reporting for Streetsblog. Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, also pulled up on her bike and debated the councilmember. The pro-bike bloggers and Samponaro said that, according to D.O.T., accidents have decreased on the street by 30 percent since the protected lane’s installation.

Samponaro added that she had attended four Community Board 3 meetings at which the bike lane had been discussed prior to its implementation, and that residents’ and merchants’ suggestions had been incorporated into the design. She demanded to know why Gerson didn’t think the community board process was a sufficient community process.

“The community board supports this project,” she stated.

Gerson countered, “They support it with modifications.” He said he intends to introduce a bill to require greater community involvement before any streetscape changes, such as adding bike lanes — or “what happened on Broadway with the bump-outs and the Rutgers St. configuration.”

Gerson said the bill would require “adequate notice, a comment period and a post-implementation review period.”

Afterward Samponaro said of Gerson, “He should be called out for using community process as a front. Ultimately, this is a safer street because of what they’ve done here.”

Grand St. in Chinatown and Little Italy has traditionally been a “market street,” Gerson noted. After the press conference, a Little Italy merchant who didn’t give his name said he supports the bike lane, but changes are needed to help local merchants. Noting that the parked cars in the buffer lane currently can stay there 18 hours a day, he said there should be a two-hour limit. Also, parking should be allowed on Grand St.’s north side at night instead of having no parking there, he said.

“You can’t ‘X’ cars out of the city,” he said. “You need cars for people to come in.”

The lane traverses C.B. 2 as well as C.B. 3. Jo Hamilton, C.B. 2 chairperson, said she looks forward to having a dialogue with Gerson about the issue.

“In general, Community Board 2 has been very supportive of D.O.T.’s efforts to create a safe biking culture in the city,” she said.

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