BY JACKSON CHEN | After the city’s Department of Transportation added six proposed Upper East Side crosstown bike lanes to an ongoing public discussion of options, Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee voted to back East 70th and 71st, 77th and 78th, and 84th and 85th Streets for reconfiguration.
The DOT first approached CB8’s Transportation Committee in February with six streets — paired together as East 67th and 68th, East 77th and 78th, and East 84th and 85th — to be outfitted with painted crosstown bike lanes designed so they would not reduce parking or travel lanes.
But resistance from the public resulted in the committee requesting that DOT come up with at least six more alternatives for them to choose from.
And on May 4, the DOT returned with six more streets — East 70th and 71st, East 75th and 76th, and East 81st and 82nd — for the Transportation Committee to consider alongside the original six.
CB8 had also asked the agency to clarify what criteria they used in considering which streets can accommodate bike lanes. DOT officials explained they looked for connections to subway stations and parks or green space, proximity to commercial corridors, and the distance between paired sets of crosstown routes.
The downsides of the three new alternatives presented, according to the DOT, included their distance from Lexington Avenue subway stations and from entrances into Central Park and the East River Esplanade.
Faced with a pool of 12 streets to choose from, the committee majority supported one pair from the new alternatives — East 70th and 71st Streets — and two of the original three pairs proposed on East 77th and 78th, and 84th and 85th Streets.
Scott Falk, the Transportation Committee co-chair, said that in reviewing the three new pairs of options the DOT presented he was concerned with their close proximity to each other. At the same time, the northernmost pair of the three new alternatives was a full nine blocks below the one existing pair of Upper East Side routes at East 90th and 91st Streets.
“My personal concern is when we looked at the three alternatives as a unified plan, they were clustered too close together,” Falk said of his own concerns. “That doesn’t disperse it into anything resembling a network and, to me, that seemed like an unfair way to treat the community.”
As a result, he explained, the committee selected three pairs of routes its members believe balance all the pros and cons of the options the DOT has laid out.
Civitas, a nonprofit focused on Upper East Side and East Harlem quality of life issues, voiced satisfaction that the DOT had taken the community’s concerns and suggestions into account. In March, the group sent a proposal to DOT and elected officials outlining its proposal for bike lanes on East 70th and 71st, 75th and 76th, and 80th and 81st Streets — a scheme that was different from the DOT’s latest proposal only in including 80th Street rather than 82nd Street.
Jameson Mitchell, Civitas’ executive director, said he was very pleased that the DOT continued to solicit comments from the public and wanted to move forward with the community’s support. Though CB8’s Transportation Committee endorsed only one of the paired routes that Civitas recommended — East 70th and 71st Streets — Mitchell was conciliatory in his comments. The group continues to favor its approach, but it is pleased that CB8 has moved to approve bike lanes marked with painted lines on the Upper East Side.
“Civitas’ number one concern with bike lanes is they be placed on streets that are going to promote safety,” Mitchell said. “I think Civitas still prefers its proposal but generally painted bike lanes will be good for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.”
Opposition to new bike lines on the Upper East Side has not been completely extinguished; in fact, its ranks gained a new celebrity ally. According to Gothamist, director Woody Allen — a resident of East 70th Street — upon leaving the CB8 meeting, said the neighborhood wouldn’t be able to accommodate bike lanes in a “graceful way.”
But for cyclists, the committee’s vote was long overdue and would benefit street safety overall.
“I think these are great developments,” said Liam Jeffries, an area cyclist who said he bikes weekly. “When I bike on the Upper East Side, I tend to bike to the 79th Street and 86th Street area, so I’m perfectly okay with this as long as I have safe ways to go crosstown.”
While the three route pairs recommended by the committee lack any in the East 60s, Jeffries — who lives on East 62nd Street — pointed out that the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives has been talking about East 63rd and 64th Street forming a possible future crosstown pair of routes. Jeffries also said he hopes to see a protected bike lane in the two-way East 72nd Street in the future.
The three pairs the committee recommended are up for a CB8 full board vote on May 18. DOT officials said the agency will wait for CB8’s vote to determine an implementation schedule, but hope to start this summer.