Local cycling advocates have expressed concern that West Harlem and the Upper West Side do not have enough bike lanes to accommodate the recently announced expansion of New York City’s bike-sharing program into Upper Manhattan.
The program, known as Citi Bike, will bring kiosks with rentable bicycles as far north as 125th Street by 2017. Exact locations have not yet been announced.
Thomas DeVito, a member of safe streets advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, said that compared to the areas of Lower Manhattan that already host kiosks, the Upper West Side lacks sufficient safe options for bikers.
The downtown installment of Citi Bikes “was implemented in a built environment that had a relatively robust infrastructure network in place that made cycling safe,” DeVito said.
“In the Upper West Side, there’s a safe streets network on Columbus Avenue going south, but there’s nothing going north,” he added. “There’s going to be a lot more cyclists out there now, and they’re only gonna be able to come south.”
Currently, bikers can ride in dedicated lanes on 106th Street and portions of St. Nicholas Avenue, Central Park West, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, in addition to the southbound bike path on Columbus. Lower Manhattan, by comparison, has a far denser network of bike lanes.
“If we don’t have protected bike lanes, we’re just going to have to deal with it,” George Beane, a cyclist and a member of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, said.
Ollie Oliver, a member of Transportation Alternatives, said replacing cars with bicycles would make uptown intersections safer for non-motorists.
“There’s a safety-in-numbers effect,” Oliver said. “When people driving get used to looking out for people biking, it’s safer. Whether the infrastructure is there yet, it will be safer.”
“Eighth and Ninth avenues have good bike lanes now, and Department of Transportation statistics show the average vehicle speed actually improves after the protected bike lane design went in,” he added.
According to DeVito, cyclists have long advocated for expanding bike lanes to Amsterdam Avenue, both to increase safety and to allow for northbound cycling.
“It’s the only four-lane, one-way street on the Upper West Side,” DeVito said. “It has a tremendous speeding problem. There are cars, trucks barreling down it going 30 to 40, 50 miles per hour that we’ve recorded. It really needs traffic calming, and it’d be the perfect place to put it.”
Ken Coughlin, a member of Community Board 7’s transportation committee, said he personally supports creating bike lanes on Amsterdam Avenue, adding that the community board has been waiting to hear back from the DOT about moving forward with the plan since December 2013.
“We need a physically protected, northbound bike lane similar to the one that currently exists on Columbus from 110th to 69th streets,” Coughlin said.
“Amsterdam Avenue is the best first choice, because turning it into a ‘complete street’—with the pedestrian refuges and loading zones that come with that—will help tame traffic on what is now a four-lane, overbuilt, dangerous street running through the heart of a heavily populated area,” he added.
Still, DeVito said developments have not been forthcoming.
“It took six or seven months of organizing on the part of hundreds ... to get this leadership to even hear it. They wouldn’t put it in the agenda for months,” he said, referring to members of Community Board 7’s transportation committee.
Despite the current lack of bike lanes in the neighborhood, several cycling advocates said more locals have the potential to take up cycling.
“The vast majority of people in Harlem do not own a car,” Oliver said. “Having the option of a public bike share available improves travel time for a lot of people.”
Few Harlem and Morningside Heights residents own cars, compared to other Manhattanites. According to the New York Economic Development Corporation, the neighborhoods have among the lowest car ownership rates in the city.
Coughlin also said the expansion of Citi Bike will encourage the development of bike lanes.
“I anticipate a virtuous cycle—the influx of Citi Bikes on the streets and better infrastructure to accommodate them will entice the many interested-but-concerned, would-be cyclists to give biking in the city a try,” Coughlin said.
“This will draw still more cyclists to the streets and build a stronger constituency for infrastructure that encourages cycling,” he said.