Mark-Viverito: Misinformation Won’t Stop East Harlem Bike Lanes

Patsy's Pizza owner Frank Brija, right, claimed at a CB 11 meeting that protected bike lanes in East Harlem would make asthma rates worse. Photo: Jeff Mays/DNAinfo

After a misinformation campaign by two local business owners, East Harlem’s Community Board 11 rescinded its vote in support of plans for protected bike lanes along First and Second Avenue Tuesday night. The board will soon vote again on the project, which has the backing of local Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Community Board 11 has already voiced its support for the protected bike lanes twice. In 2010, the community board expressed outrage over being first promised a protected lane, then having the Bloomberg administration recant. Then, this September they voted 47-3 to support the construction of the protected lanes, setting the stage for construction as soon as the spring.

But, as DNAinfo first reported, after restaurant owners Frank Brija and Erik Mayor organized against the project, the board voted to take back its most recent endorsement. The community board will vote again on the bike lanes after considering the businessmen’s arguments and hearing a new presentation from the Department of Transportation.

“They’re ready to do Occupy Milk Burger.”

Community leaders, including Mark-Viverito and CB 11 chair Matthew Washington, support the bike lanes and promised to ensure that the board has accurate information about the project.

Brija and Mayor, the owners of Patsy’s Pizza and Milk Burger, respectively, gathered signatures from 61 business owners in East Harlem. Mayor claimed that the businesses had not been contacted about the project, though DNAinfo’s Jeff Mays reports that DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said her office contacted every business along First and Second Avenues, as did the board’s district manager and transportation committee chair.

The East Side project would bring protected bike lanes and new pedestrian refuges to a neighborhood with some of the most dangerous streets and severe asthma problems in the city. Mayor and Brija threw the kitchen sink at the proposal. In addition to arguing that the lanes would remove parking spaces and be underused, Mayor and Brija claimed that the bike lanes would increase congestion and actually worsen asthma rates in the neighborhood.

“There was a lot of confusion and misinformation provided that night,” Mark-Viverito said of Tuesday’s vote. She added that she’d personally be working with the board leadership to make sure that CB members get the best information possible about the effect of bike lanes.

“I don’t see this as any sort of slowing down of the process to get the protected bike lanes we want and need in East Harlem,” she said. “The vote was not to say no to the bike lanes.”

Added Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson, “There is a strong commitment on the part of Council Member Mark-Viverito, the Department of Transportation and the Community Board to work collectively to move this forward. The Council Member is still 1,000 percent behind ensuring that we have protected bike lanes in East Harlem.” Mark-Viverito has rallied for the bike lanes on the steps of City Hall and spoken on the issue at previous community board meetings.

Washington, who voted against rescinding the board’s prior vote for the lanes, blasted bike lane opponents for using deceptive rhetoric to make their case. “People are making inaccurate statements about the project and the process and they need to be clear about what it is they are looking for,” he told DNAinfo. “The flow of misinformation is not helping anyone.”

Local residents decried the board’s decision to walk back its support for safety. “It’s not fair,” said Dina Montes, who rides in the neighborhood with her 4-year-old daughter. “They’re putting these people’s safety on hold because these two people don’t like having bike lanes in front of their shops.”

James Garcia said he’s launched a petition drive to counter Mayor and Brija’s efforts and is already receiving an enthusiastic response from his neighbors. “They’re ready to do Occupy Milk Burger,” he said. “You have these wide streets where people speed down. It becomes a hazard not only for cyclists but children and the elderly.”