East Side biking on a roll, with more yet to come
By Kurt Cavanaugh
In its annual review, Bicycling Magazine named New York City the eighth most bicycle-friendly city in the country. With the Hudson River Greenway, protected bicycle lanes along Eighth and Ninth Aves. and painted curbside lanes on Prince and Bleecker St., cyclists on the West Side of Manhattan may ask, “Eighth? Why so low?” Because of the street design, Chelsea and the West Village buzz with bicyclists as the spring weather settles in.
The opposite question — “Why such a high ranking for New York City?” — may fairly be asked east of Third Ave. The East River Greenway is incomplete. There are no protected bike lanes north of Houston St. The avenues are congested with vehicles illegally parked in bike lanes. Combine this with slow crosstown bus service and inconvenient subway access, and the current lack of cycling infrastructure, despite increasing demand, is mystifying.
In 2007 the East Village Community Coalition first called for sustainable street overhauls by hosting the first annual Kids’ Art Bike Parade for the Lower East Side. The event invited neighbors to visualize our streets as communal spaces that serve a purpose higher than just moving motor vehicles. We asked, What if streets were designed for all users? What if our streets were safe enough for children to play, and served as social meeting spots for people to enjoy one another’s company? The result, in addition to hundreds of creatively decorated bicycles, was a day of safe bicycle riding, smiling faces and a strong sense of community.
Since then, we have collaborated with local bicycling advocates, our community board and elected officials on making our streets more sustainable. The Department of Transportation is taking a serious look at improving the East Side for bus commuters, pedestrians and bicyclists. Steps will soon be taken to start Select Bus Service (“Bus Rapid Transit”) along First and Second Aves., which is designed to decrease travel times. The plan also includes protected bike lanes in our neighborhood akin to those along Eighth and Ninth Aves. Additionally, cyclists wishing to access the Williamsburg Bridge will soon ride in green-painted curbside lanes on Rivington, Stanton and Suffolk Sts. and approach the bridge without having to ride on Delancey St.
There is still much work to be done to make our streets safer, but we await promised improvements. Bicycle riding, be it for commuting or recreation, has increased citywide in the last few years, and New Yorkers can breathe a little easier because of this. Celebrate with us on May 8 in Tompkins Square Park at the third annual Kids’ Art Bike Parade. It’s free, family-friendly and promises to be quite fun. Much can happen in three years. Ride in the bike parade, witness change up close and see how friendly our historic streets can be with imagination and leadership.
Cavanaugh is managing director, East Village Community Coalition