East Harlem to Bloomberg: Protected Bike Lanes Must Extend Uptown

East_Harlem_Bike_Lanes.jpgEast Harlem will only be getting a bike lane upgrade on First Avenue this year (top). Protected lanes like those slated for downtown (bottom) have not been guaranteed.
East Harlem residents are outraged by the city's backtracking on plans to bring protected bike lanes to their neighborhood. 

At a public meeting about the re-design of First and Second Avenues held by Community Board 11 last night, neighborhood residents demanded that safe cycling conditions extend uptown, but DOT representatives were unable to guarantee future improvements. Up until this week, DOT had publicly indicated its intention to construct protected bike lanes on the corridor in East Harlem, in conjunction with the rollout of Select Bus Service. But three days ago, Mayor Bloomberg announced a re-design for the avenues that specifically called for protected bike lanes only between Houston and 34th Streets -- a stretch that will itself be compromised on nine blocks of Second Avenue (more on that later).

From the beginning, East Harlem residents expressed anger about the Bloomberg administration's neglect of their neighborhood. James Garcia, a local bike commuter, testified first and denounced the lack of protected lanes north of 34th Street. "I pay my taxes like everyone else, and we deserve the same treatment north of 96th Street," he said. "We deserve the same development that Lower Manhattan gets." 

DOT bike coordinator Josh Benson first explained the scaled-back plans by telling the group that there's only so much construction that can be completed in a year, and that completing the full corridor this summer would be impossible. 

But that answer didn't satisfy those in attendance. "Why don't we start in East Harlem?" asked one community board member. 

The response from Joe Barr, DOT's director of transit development, was that the agency prioritizes the extension of bike infrastructure where it already exists, in order to build an interconnected network. "My sense is that -- and this isn't a fair answer for this community -- we have a lot of bike infrastructure leading up to First and Second Avenue" from the south, he told the crowd.

This too met with a determined call for equitable access to safe streets. "There's always some reason that the people making these decisions start in the areas that already get excess attention," said CB 11 transportation committee chair Peggy Morales, "while ours gets put on the back burner." Later, noting the high rates of obesity and asthma in her neighborhood, Morales asked Mayor Bloomberg to "stop telling us what's wrong with us and help us fix it."

Further disappointing neighborhood residents, officials were unable to make a firm commitment to eventually building protected lanes uptown. The target is 2011, said Benson, but when pressed to make guarantees, he demurred.

"It's good to keep that pressure up," Barr told the disappointed crowd. "The more we hear from the community that, 'Yes, we want this,' the more likely it is that it gets done next year." 

After the meeting, Morales said she was ready to take a resolution demanding protected bike lanes in East Harlem to an official meeting of her committee. She had no doubt that such a resolution would pass.