Fear and Loathing on the Upper East Side


A Curbed tipster sent along this photo of the "controversial" new bike lane going in along E. 90th Street.

In the last week or so, the New York Times, the Sun, Gothamist and Curbed have all run stories about the City’s plan to build new bike lanes across the Upper East Side and the community members who are flipping out about it. The whole thing is entirely reminiscent of the intense irrationality surrounding the City’s recently implemented plan to stripe bike lanes on 9th Street in Brooklyn.

The Upper East Side controversy centers on the block of 91st Street between Second and Third Avenues. That particular block is a quiet, pedestrian "play street," closed to motor vehicle traffic for about thirty years now. Here’s how the Times reported it on Sunday:

this month, the quietude has been interrupted by a tug of war over a
plan to install a bicycle lane
through the space. The bike lane would
connect Central Park and the East River bike path with one-way paths
along East 91st and 90th Streets.

Here’s the thing: The Times story, like all of the others, is incorrect. DOT has no plans to install a bike lane on that stretch of 91st St. DOT’s preference and plan is to leave that block alone.

Streetsblog was the only press to cover the Community Board 8 transportation committee meeting on July 9 where the City presented its plan. At that meeting, DOT representatives said repeatedly that they preferred to "to keep the residential feel" of that block by not striping a bike lane or any other markings on that stretch of 91st Street.

Rather, the bike lane would start and end on either side of the block. The pedestrian street would be part of the bike route leading to Central Park’s "Engineers Gate" at 91st Street and Fifth Ave., but it would not be physically changed in any way at all. It would still be a public street and "shared space" prioritizing pedestrians. Cyclists moving through the street would only be permitted to travel westbound, which is actually a relatively steep uphill bike ride. Eastbound cyclists would be directed to 90th Street.

DOT’s "controversial" plan, in other words, is to do absolutely nothing to the community’s beloved "play street" except, perhaps, guiding all potential fast-moving, downhill cyclists away from 91st Street over to the new eastbound bike lane on 90th.

Below is the slide from DOT’s Powerpoint presentation discussing that particular block (download the whole presentation here). Note that, rather than dictating terms to the Community Board, DOT presented four different options for this stretch of 91st Street. Granted, none of the options was, "No Bike Lane on 91st St.," which is what Board members ultimately voted for. The feeling in the room was summed up by one CB8 transportation committee member who said, "I for one believe bicycling is a recreational activity. I don’t believe that it is a legitimate mode of transportation."

And these, dear readers, are the people who help oversee New York City transportation planning and policy on the neighborhood level. Have you looked in to the possibility of becoming a member of your local Community Board?