Three Meetings, Nine Hours Later, Upper East Side Board Backs Crosstown Bike Lanes 

The East 61st Street bike lane at Lexington, pictured on Aug. 31, before its completion. Photo: Liam Jeffries
The East 61st Street bike lane at Lexington, pictured on Aug. 31, before its completion. Photo: Liam Jeffries

After all that.

An Upper East Side community board voted on Wednesday night in favor of a pair of protected bike lanes on two crucial crosstown routes, after a total of nine hours of arguing over them — arguments that included an earful from one California resident last month who phoned in her opposition to cyclist safety, claiming she was an Upper East Sider.

After installing temporary bike lanes on East 61st and 62nd streets between York and Fifth avenues this past September, DOT now wants to make them permanent and better protected, but not before soliciting feedback from the community — a controversial and arduous process that many safe-street advocates say only hinders life-saving progress, but something some pols believe is still necessary.

Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee failed to reach a vote on the project twice before last night’s vote by the full board.

The arguments in opposition followed the usual anti-bike lane rhetoric from old timers and self-proclaimed long-time residents of the Upper East Side who said that cyclists go the wrong way down the street, speed, ride on the sidewalk, and should have licenses just like drivers of motor vehicles.

“I’ve lived in the city almost 25 years. I have had four-near death experiences as a pedestrian. I still feel the cab brushing against my knee cap, it was my fault, I should’ve paid attention. The other three near-death experiences were at the hands of bicyclists,” said Ed Harzog. “While it appears motor vehicle drivers have gotten the memo, it seems to be wide open, it is anarchy for bicyclists. That bike lane went in at First Avenue and you learn to deal with the fact that a six-lane has been choked down to effectively three. The trucks are double parking in the third lane, the buses have the right lane…the bicycles have their own dedicated lane. It’s not about retribution. It’s about respect.”

During the first meeting on March 3, some board members couched their opposition to the bike lanes in likely faux concern for a nearby dialysis center they said they feared would not have enough curbside access during emergencies, tabling the committee’s vote until the next month.

But then again on April 7, many of those same board members still opposed the bike lanes, even after the Department of Transportation came back with an updated design that allowed for more space for the dialysis center’s ambulances and vehicles.

“They feel the designs will be able to work for them,” DOT’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar said during that four-hour meeting.

Still, the committee could not reach a majority vote, again sending it to the full board, which on Wednesday night — after another three hours — ultimately voted 34-to-9, with five abstentions, in favor of DOT making the already-temporary 61st and 62nd street bike lanes permanent.

But those changes still didn’t stop some NIMBYs from opposing the bike lanes, even after emotional pleas for better bike infrastructure from Hindy Schachter, whose husband was killed in 2014 by a teen biker in Central Park; Upper East Side Council Member Ben Kallos; and in the form of a video by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr., which played at the beginning of the meeting, highlighting the need for a bigger bike lane on First Avenue to accommodate the demand.