BY SAM SPOKONY | The Community Board 2 Transportation Committee has told the city’s Department of Transportation to go back to the drawing board following the department’s proposal to install two new “bicycle corrals” in Soho. Some neighborhood residents also say that this issue has added to their already-growing frustration with D.O.T., which they claim has ignored other recent community requests to implement street safety measures within Soho.
D.O.T. representatives presented the plan at the committee’s Jan. 3 meeting, proposing to create bike corrals at the southwest corner of Spring and Lafayette Sts. and the southeast corner of Mott and Prince Sts.
Bike corrals are clusters of bike racks that are installed in the curbside lane of the street instead of on the sidewalk, and, according to the D.O.T. Web site, are “a great solution” for places where demand for bike parking exceeds the available sidewalk space.
But to some community members, that demand for bike parking is itself exceeded by the need for a safe and unobstructed street, considering the high rate of traffic congestion already present, especially at the Spring and Lafayette Sts. corner.
“That area already has a lot of [car] parking spots, and adding another obstruction there would be really worrying,” said Broome St. resident Lora Tenenbaum, who testified at the Jan. 3 meeting and referred specifically to problems faced at that corner by the neighborhood’s Fire Department trucks.
There are two F.D.N.Y. firehouses in the immediate vicinity — one on Lafayette St., between Spring and Prince Sts., and another on Broome St., between Mott and Elizabeth Sts.
Georgette Fleischer, founder of Friends of Petrosino Square, who lives on Cleveland Place, on the edge of the small park, explained that she has often seen F.D.N.Y. trucks struggling to make the turn at the crowded Spring and Lafayette Sts. corner.
“I’m really afraid that someone would get hurt there if corrals were to be installed,” Fleischer said, “especially considering some of the recent fatalities in the area that resulted from trucks hitting vulnerable people.”
She was referring, in part, to the recent death of Jessica Dworkin, 58, who was killed in August while riding her kick scooter, after a truck turning from West Houston St. onto Sixth Ave. hit her and dragged her beneath its trailer bed.
Both Tenenbaum and Fleischer added that they are not “anti-bike,” or against the concept of bike corrals in general. Recently, Fleischer also vehemently opposed the Parks Department’s plan to place a small food cart in Petrosino Square — a proposal that Parks ultimately withdrew.
Transportation Alternatives, a cycling-advocacy group, had several members in attendance at the Jan. 3 Transportation Committee meeting, but representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Shirley Secunda, the committee chairperson, explained that fierce community opposition to the corrals, particularly at the Lafayette and Spring Sts. corner, played an important role in the meeting. But she pointed out that, instead of deciding to deny D.O.T.’s proposed locations outright, the committee’s resolution instead simply asked for a halt on any new corral installations until the department returns with a more comprehensive set of guidelines that address the overall program’s goals and structure.
“Our major concern was that when we asked [the D.O.T. representatives] if they could show us the full criteria by which they’re choosing locations for new bike corrals, they said they didn’t have one,” Secunda said.
To that end, she added that the representatives in fact told her that D.O.T. chose those areas primarily because restaurants located at the two sites had agreed to maintain the corrals.
When asked about the committee’s response, a D.O.T. spokesperson did not address any specifics, and said only that the department will continue to have discussions with the community board on the overall matter of bike corrals.
Aside from the actual proposed locations of the corrals, Tenenbaum and Fleischer both expressed frustration with D.O.T.’s general methods of operating within their neighborhood.
Tenenbaum accused the department of “tyranny” because it supposedly proposed the corral locations based on the request of the two local businesses, rather than on the safety concerns of local residents. With that in mind, she also condemned D.O.T. for a somewhat related issue that took place last summer, when a local F.D.N.Y. captain complained about problems involving the Grand St. bike lane.
She explained that a captain at the Engine 55 station, on Broome St., told her that D.O.T. had never informed him about the bike lane’s installation, which he said now makes it more difficult for trucks to reach fires because the bike lane has narrowed the street. According to Tenenbaum, the captain also sent a letter to D.O.T. to inform them of that situation, but he told her that they never responded.
Fleischer, in turn, said that there has been “a real failure of public service” on the part of D.O.T., regarding requests she and other residents made last year for safety and quality of life measures along Kenmare St., such as a limit on truck traffic, “Don’t Block the Box” signs and “No Honking” signs, among other things. She noted that, while both C.B. 2 and local elected officials were in favor of those proposals — and while she and other residents had taken the time to perform studies and draw up the necessary maps — D.O.T. failed to implement any of those measures.
“They ask us to suggest treatments, but then they reject every single one,” Fleischer said. “What are we supposed to do?”
Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, was at the Jan. 3 meeting to oppose the Soho bike corrals, but he stressed in an interview earlier this week that, like Tenenbaum and Fleischer, he doesn’t consider himself to be “anti-bike.”
“My battle isn’t with cyclists,” Sweeney said. “It’s with the pinheads at D.O.T. who don’t know the neighborhood, and who don’t listen to the residents.”
However, in 2008, Streetsblog, a leading Web site on New York City cycling issues, gave Sweeney its NIMBY of the Year Award because of his strident opposition to bike and pedestrian initiatives in Soho.