Queensboro Bridge Bike Lanes Prove Controversial

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The Department of Transportation's proposed Queensboro Bridge bike lanes have cyclists relieved and local residents on edge

Upper East Side residents, community members and longtime cyclists convened at a Community Board 8 committee meeting to discuss new bike lanes proposed by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Alan Ma of the DOT, who outlined the proposed expansion, explained it is intended to fill in a gap in the bike lanes left by past construction in the Queensboro Bridge area. Ma described biking there as a "harrowing experience."

According to DOT research, over 2,700 cyclists traverse the zone in question for their daily commute and are left to awkwardly and dangerously circumvent the unmarked areas.

The bike lane extension would create a smoother connection for existing bike lanes and be tailored to meet current traffic demands. The proposed route would also make the biking connection much shorter than what currently exists and skip a circuitous uphill path on E. 61st Street.

The proposed plan involves installing enhanced shared lanes as well as some two-way bicycle paths below the bridge.

Ma said there has been some concern over the beautification of the Jersey barriers which separate bike lanes from traffic lanes and explained in the past local artists have tailored designs to the area on these dividers, a practice which could be used going forward.

"This allows us to incorporate land use with barrier design," noted Ma.

Above the bridge, the proposed plan includes a mixing zone and pedestrian island from E. 60th to 61st Streets. Currently there are no bike lane markings heading Eastbound on E. 59th; the plan would add shared lane markings in both directions while retaining curbside access.

This would increase safety for roadway users, shorten pedestrian crossings and lead to greener streets, explained Ma.

One community member and resident of the area noted some concern about the impact the bike lanes would have on 1st and 2nd Avenue, pointing out that further studies - including empirical data - are needed to support the safety of adding to the bike lanes in these areas.

Taking away traffic lanes coming off the Queensboro Bridge, she added, would have an environmental impact by squeezing more trucks into smaller spaces. She said, as a current resident of the area, traffic is already a "nightmare" in a space known as a major hospital zone.

The resident questioned why cyclists cannot use the bike lanes instead.

DOT representatives responded not only do bike lanes improve the safety of the street, they also lead to an increase in overall cycling.

Josh Benson of the DOT indicated NYPD crash data comparisons done by the department to show how successful bike lane expansions had been in the past in reducing the number of crashes and injured people.

Eunice Foreman, another area resident, said she stands at E. 60th and 1st Ave every morning and watches the cyclist come off the bridge with "little regard for pedestrians," including riding on the sidewalk.

"It's a hazard, I think enforcement has to go along with [the expansion]," she said.

Cyclists who regularly bike the zone in question pointed out cyclists are seen to be dangerous simply because they do not have their own infrastructure in which to be safe.

"They go where they feel comfortable in a city designed for motor vehicles," said Albert Ahronheim.

"You put in bike lanes and injuries go down for everyone, even motorists," he added. "Drivers drive slower and are more aware of their surroundings. This may not be the final way but cyclists need safety amenities."

Another longtime cyclist, Detta, pointed out "pedestrians have sidewalks no matter how they behave," and perceived behavior by cyclists should not be a deterrent to adding bike lane extensions.

Philip, a Queens resident of 13 years who regularly commutes over the Queensboro Bridge by bicycle, said there are many more cyclists than there used to be because people already feel safer. He said cyclists should not be vilified any more than motor vehicle drivers who often fail to follow the rules themselves.

"Do we want 1st Avenue to stay a nightmare," he asked, "or see how we can help?"

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