What They’re Saying About Protected Bike Lanes in East Harlem

signing_east_harlem.jpgWriting letters to the mayor in support of protected bike lanes for uptown. Photo: BicyclesOnly/Flickr

Last Saturday, a group of volunteers with Transportation Alternatives set up a table on East 117th Street, gathering handwritten letters urging Mayor Bloomberg to extend protected bike lanes up to 125th Street, as originally planned. I’ve been meaning to write up a short dispatch about it all week. After a short period where we’ve seen some highly sensationalized bike
on CBS2 (last night’s installment being the exception), grand
theories about bike-related culture wars in the Daily News, and
equivocating from Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith about the
administration’s commitment to street safety improvements north of 34th
Street, lets get back to the basic reasons why the way we allocate street space matters.

New Yorkers don’t feel safe when they have to deal with streets like this:

First_Avenue_Two.jpgFirst Avenue at 117th Street. Photo: James Garcia

Here’s what people were saying on Saturday:

  • Dina Montes, 35, moved from the East Village to 112th Street six years ago. "Riding uptown is just a lot more nuts than riding downtown," she said. Right now, she rides for recreation and to make trips to the store, often with her two-year-old daughter in a rear-mounted toddler seat.

    She goes out of her way to avoid Second Avenue. "I will detour all the way to Fifth to avoid Second," she said. "I definitely would feel safer having an on-street lane that notifies drivers to stay off that path. That’s what we need, because drivers drive crazy around here."

  • Valerie Tossas, 27, has lived in East Harlem since she was born. She doesn’t ride a bike now, but she said that could change if she could use protected lanes. "I think I would," she said. "I’m not very confident about other drivers on the street, so that’s why I’m reluctant."

    Protected lanes for the East Side, she said, "would not only make the street safer, but it’s a healthier and more environmentally friendly form of transportation."

  • Heather Gillis lives in the neighborhood and teaches music at a public elementary school. "I’d like to see more opportunities for children to exercise and learn healthy habits," she said. "If we make it bike-friendly, then parents will be more likely to take their children out and teach them healthy habits."

  • Otoniel Santiago was out with his wife, Clara Reyes, and their daughter Milena and son Cahid, both grade school age. Otoniel works in a restaurant on the Upper East Side and bikes in the neighborhood. With Milena translating, Otoniel said that without the protected bike lane, he wouldn’t ride with his kids, because it’s not going to be safe.

  • A man who gave his name as Patrick has lived in East Harlem for nine years. Patrick is 48, works as a real estate agent, and hasn’t been on a bike in ages, because he’s been afraid to ride in the city. "I do a lot of walking," he said. "I’m concerned about the safety too."

otoniel.jpgVolunteer Steve Vaccaro with Otoniel Santiago, Clara Reyes, and their kids, Cahid and Milena. Photo: James Garcia

East Harlem already has some of the highest bike commute rates in the city. Children there are also more likely to be killed in traffic than in neighborhoods downtown that have received street safety improvements, according to a report published by Department of Health earlier this summer. But there’s no guarantee yet that East Harlem will get the same changes.

James Garcia, who was collecting signatures alongside the event organizer, Steve Vaccaro, put it this way: "I pay my property taxes. Why can’t my money pay for infrastructure above 96th Street? We deserve the same improvements."