A Safer Carmine Street? Break Out the Pitchforks!

Plans for a protected bike path on a short stretch of Carmine Street are in jeopardy following a public hearing held by Manhattan Community Board 2's transportation committee last night. The proposal enjoys unanimous support from committee members and has already won approval from both the full CB and the local block association. But the riled-up crowd that commandeered last night's proceedings may have the final word.

The plan would protect the existing bike lane between Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue by restoring on-street parking to the south side of Carmine and converting the two-way street to one lane east-bound. The idea first surfaced two years ago, after merchants balked at the removal of parking to make way for the original bike lane. The parking-protected bike lane had since cleared no fewer than three public votes held by CB2 and the Carmine Street Block Association, which represents the merchants.

"Everyone on the transportation committee said very strongly that this will result in a safer, quieter, more pleasant street for pedestrians and bicyclists," said CB2's Ian Dutton. "In the end we said we would write a letter thanking DOT and agreeing with them, but apparently, due to neighborhood hysteria, now is not the time to endorse."

Here's a taste of some of the arguments opponents put forth last night, as recounted by Dutton. The new configuration will make it impossible to execute illegal U-turns on Carmine. The elimination of the west-bound lane will increase traffic flow. Trash bags will slide into the bike lane, making it slippery and dangerous for cyclists.

This last point was scored by a former saxophone shop proprietor who goes by the name "Dr. Rick." Dr. Rick currently runs this website and last night was heard boasting that he's spent 18 hours a day for the past month convincing people of the dangers that will ensue from the Carmine Street plan.

That's what it takes to drum up a crowd loud enough to cow supporters of safer streets. "Apparently there were some people there to speak in favor of the plan, and they were threatened enough that they didn't speak," said Dutton. "The problem is that the people who show up to these meetings are those who are trying to defend their driving. Nevermind the thousands of people who walk across those intersections every day."

DOT now finds itself in the position of deciding whether last night's mob-like display should override three prior public votes and the proven safety benefits of similar street designs. City offices are closed for the holiday and we weren't able to obtain comment from the agency as of this afternoon. Said Dutton: "We realize that this sets a really bad precedent -- a community board asks for a safer street and DOT delivers, and then a few people overturn it."