Volume 78 / Number 13, August 27 - September 2, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Fear bikes will ride roughshod over ‘Gay Boulevard’

By Gabriel Zucker

The steady march of bike-lane installations in Downtown Manhattan hit a surprise roadblock last month in Chelsea. Community Board 4, citing concerns that a proposed protected bike lane on Eighth Ave. would hurt local businesses and alter what many in the L.G.B.T. community call Gay Boulevard, rejected its Transportation Committee’s resolution in support of the proposal.

“It makes the feel of the neighborhood, as you walk down the block very, very different,” C.B. 4 member Tony Juliano told The Villager’s sister paper Chlesea Now last month. He based his comments on the similar protected bike lane on Ninth Ave. “You feel disconnected from the block as a whole and what’s going on across the street and around,” Juliano said. “I think it’s going to have some real impact on whether or not people are going to feel comfortable strolling the boulevard and then actually going into the different businesses and buying stuff. They’re just going to wind up moving away from it.”

The news was met with shock and dismay from the bike lane’s proponents at Community Board 2, who did not expect opposition from a community board that supported the installation of the city’s first protected bike lane on Ninth Ave. But according to Department of Transportation spokesperson Ted Timbers, C.B. 4’s opposition is not likely to affect the department’s plans going forward.

“Community boards play an advisory role in this process and we will continue to work with them to address any concerns they may have,” he wrote in an e-mail, adding that construction would begin at the southern end of the lane at Bank St. in the fall.

Still, many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are upset about how the issue has played out.

“I guarantee that D.O.T. would not have reached out to the L.G.BT. community unless they were asked to,” Allen Roskoff, a C.B. 4 member, told Chelsea Now.

Meanwhile, at C.B. 2, which unanimously approved the Eighth Ave. lane and overwhelmingly approved a partially protected bike lane on Grand St., C.B. 4’s surprise opposition has left board members shocked.

“Board 4 has taken leadership on several pedestrian improvement issues,” said Ian Dutton, vice chairperson of C.B. 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee. “They’ve been very aggressive in raising the flag on how negative this issue of pervasive driving has become. I’m stunned, I’m really stunned.”

To Florent Morellet, a prominent gay activist who is a public member of C.B. 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, C.B. 4’s arguments are nonsensical.

“As usual, people are very scared about change,” he said. He pointed out that the L.G.B.T. community would enjoy an improved Gay Boulevard with the addition of the bike lane. “It’s going to make it much more comfortable. If anything, it’s going to make it more like a promenade,” he said, noting with a laugh that the biking would also be “very gay.” “I am baffled by that argument. It’s so absurd.”

“Somehow,” Dutton said sardonically, “two lanes of parked cars and four lanes of speeding traffic is more conducive to the gay community than planters and a protected bike lane.”

Shirley Secunda, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee, was confounded by the arguments. She noted the pedestrian improvements of the bike lane’s “beautifying greenery, island havens shortening walkers’ crossings and narrowed lanes calming traffic,” as well as studies demonstrating that pedestrians, not cars, are more valuable to businesses.

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