It is now widely agreed upon that former Mayor Ed Koch’s was about 40 years ahead of his time when he installed a bike lane on Sixth Avenue.
But it didn’t last after he received criticism from not only Governor Hugh Carey, but also President Jimmy Carter, and removed what was the first bike infrastructure in the city, ceding asphalt back to motorists.
The city Department of Transportation has resurrected the Sixth Avenue bike lane as one in five miles of roadway in the city now has space for cyclists and the Green Wave Plan pushed forward.
Former DOT Commissioner “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz said Mayor Koch’s bike lane, built in June 1980, came at a time during the transit strike when people were turning to bikes much like they are today.
“What happened was not enough people were using the lane and worse than that, people were angry – angry at bike riders – it was a different atmosphere. There was no advocacy for bikes,” Schwartz said. “One day, Mayor Koch called me into his office telling me… ‘I can’t go anywhere in this freaking city without somebody complaining about these bike lanes.”
The removal of the bike lane however, did spark activism with cyclists laying down in the bike lane and covering themselves in ketchup, Schwartz said.
The new Sixth Avenue bike lane not only comes after a bloody year for cyclists with 29 killed in 2019, and seven killed over the summer as the city came out of hibernation from the COVID-19 lockdown.
Since then, cycling has been booming
Pre-pandemic – in the before times, we talked about how DOT would be delivering 30 miles of protected bike lanes throughout the year including ten in Manhattan and I’m happy to report that, even despite the setbacks of COVID… Nonetheless we are on the way to reaching those goals,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said Wednesday. “Fast forward 40 years to today and obviously New York City is in a very different place, even post-COVID, we have had an exponential growth in cycling.”
With ten miles of bike lanes installed since February, DOT has 15 more in the pipeline, according to Trottenberg.
But while research has pointed that vehicle congestion is nearing pre-pandemic levels, Trottenberg is skeptical of this claim, pointing to Sixth Avenue during the Wednesday morning press conference which was markedly calm.
“I know there are hotspots where you might feel that we’re having congestion problems but we’re still not back in general to the levels we were before the pandemic,” Trottenberg said.