DOT is proposing significant bicycle and pedestrian upgrades in Washington Heights, but the Manhattan Community Board 12 transportation committee wants to nibble away at a protected bike lane in the plan. The committee voted to support the DOT plan but with modifications that would shrink a proposed protected bike lane on Edgecombe Avenue to preserve parking.
The plan [PDF] would provide river-to-river links between the Hudson River Greenway and High Bridge Park, where cyclists and pedestrians would be able to connect to the Bronx. The proposal comes after the approval of bicycle and pedestrian upgrades for the Bronx side of High Bridge Park [PDF].
The plan would result in a net loss of approximately 20 parking spaces. Most of the change is concentrated on Edgecombe north of 165th Street, where parking would be removed for the bikeway on sections of Edgecombe with two-way car traffic.
At its meeting Monday evening, the CB 12 transportation committee deadlocked, 2-2, on a vote to support the plan after members Jim Berlin and Anita Barberis protested the loss of parking. Berlin has a long history of prioritizing parking over street safety at CB 12, which covers a neighborhood where about three-quarters of households are car-free.
“This is a working-class area,” Berlin said, according to DNAinfo. “People don’t have the luxury of riding their bike in the morning and leaving their Beamer at home.”
“I’ve lived here my whole life, and the working-class people I know have MetroCards,” Maria Lopez replied to Berlin, reported DNAinfo. “I drive, but I support this plan.” Lopez is also a staffer for Council Member Mark Levine. After her reply, according to multiple meeting attendees, Berlin began a condescending response by calling her “honey child.”
“The entire room gasped,” said one person at the meeting. “It was racist, misogynistic and ageist all at once, and it was stunning…I just don’t think he realized how inappropriate that was.”
Eventually, the committee agreed on a compromise resolution, with a 4-0 vote, that supported the plan but asked DOT to shorten the protected bikeway on Edgecombe in order to preserve parking.
“It was somewhat disappointing, because one particular person, their opinion can really influence what happens in an entire community. And it was clear that the people from the community that came out really supported it,” said Ana Reyes, a Washington Heights resident and executive director of I Challenge Myself. The group offers bicycle education courses to high school students, including at the George Washington Educational Campus on Audubon Avenue.
“A lot of people don’t like to ride in traffic,” Reyes said. “The benefits outweigh the loss of parking spaces in terms of the amount of kids, particularly, that would be able to access this park.”
The plan includes a lot of big improvements for safe walking and biking in the neighborhood.