Volume 23, Number 15 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 18 - 24, 2010
More spin and counter-spin on protected bike lanes
By Lilly O’Donnell
New York City already had a “green” way to commute — one of the world’s best subway systems — but city planners are taking it a step further, trying to make the city as bike friendly as Amsterdam. But before the Bloomberg administration can pat itself on the back about the new bike lanes on First and Second Aves., one has to ask if the alterations are having the desired effect, to encourage more people to bike in the city by making it safer to do so.
“The city has goals to cut emissions and to make our city a more sustainable place to live and get around, and part of doing that is to encourage people to walk more and bike more,” said Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives. The new bike lanes, she said, “make it possible for people of all ages and abilities to try biking as a way to get around. They can appeal to people who might have been afraid to give bike commuting a try,” she said.
The East Village’s new “protected” bike lanes on the two avenues, separated from street traffic by a “floating” row of parked cars, are designed to keep bike traffic separate from car traffic, and to make it clear for everyone where bikes are supposed to be, thus making it safer for everyone. According to Samponaro, this system is effective.
But not everyone is sold on the idea. Ronald Demouthe, manager of Ginger, a sushi restaurant on First Ave., explained how the lanes are inconveniencing businesses and the trucks that deliver to them.
“When we get deliveries, they can’t park out front, so now they have to go across the street, or they have to go around the corner,” he said. “And if they have 10 cases of beer, that’s ridiculous.”
He charges that the new lanes also make it more difficult for customers to get to the businesses.
“We used to have 10 parking spots [on this block]; now we’re down to two,” he said.
Samponaro took the business complaints as part of the process of change for the better.
“These aren’t insurmountable challenges,” she said. “Sure, there are adjustments to be made, but in terms of getting business done, the city has a track record of working with businesses.” The system for truck deliveries might have to change, but according to Samponaro the inconvenience will be worth the improvement to the city. “Everyone’s adjusting when a street changes, but that doesn’t mean that the change is bad,” she said.
But, according to some, the bike lanes are a bigger problem than a temporary inconvenience and adjustment, and might actually be doing the opposite of what they were designed to do — make it safer to ride a bike in the city.
“The people crossing the street don’t see you coming, and when they walk in front, you can’t go around because of the cars,” explained Jonah Ruiz, a bicycle deliveryman who regularly travels up and down First and Second Aves. The floating parking lane blocks the bikers into the narrow bike lane, leaving them unable to avoid collisions with pedestrians crossing against the light — which happens all the time in New York — or with car doors opening into the bike lane from the parked cars.
“Last week I saw somebody get out of a cab into the bicycle lane, and a bicycle rider had to swerve around them,” said Demouthe.
“People with bicycles can ride with traffic, and they do fine. I think these new lanes are extremely dangerous,” he added.
With as many people as there are in New York, in cars and cabs, on bikes or on foot, and so few of them obeying all of the traffic rules — crossing in the middle of the street or going the wrong way in a bike lane, not to mention the notoriously reckless way cab drivers navigate the streets — some think that “making things more complicated” might not be the way to go, despite the best intentions behind it.
“I think no one really understands the plan, or which lane is what,” said Alfredo Nadler, a Village resident.
However, T.A.’s Samponaro said installing the new bike lanes is for the best.
“There are statistics that say that safety improves for everyone on the street when these kinds of bike lanes are put in,” she stated.