Why Are There No Bike Lanes in Low-Income Neighborhoods?

01/06/2012 3:22 PM |

Harlem needs these too!
  • Harlem needs these too!

The city’s best bike lanes—and the bulk of those 260 miles of lanes added in the last four years—are in wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoods like Chelsea, the West Village, Park Slope, and so on, and now a plan to build two protected bikes lanes in East Harlem has come under fire from local business owners. But councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents parts of East Harlem and the South Bronx, says the city’s poorest neighborhoods need bike lanes even more badly than the wealthiest.

“The truth is that bike lanes make sense for El Barrio/East Harlem,” Mark-Viverito writes today in a Daily News op-ed piece. “We deserve the amenities that other communities take for granted as a way of improving the health of our community and encouraging a culture of cycling, particularly for our youth.”

The councilwoman says that the “small group of local business owners” opposing the extension of protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues from 96th Street north to 125th Street—with, among other claims, complaints that bikes are too noisy—”[has] it exactly wrong.”

Mark-Viverito notes that East Harlem has among the worst asthma and obesity rates in the city. Bike lane opponents claim that traffic jams resulting from the bike lanes will worsen the air quality, but between new trees planted alongside the lanes and projected reductions in traffic, the bike lanes will be beneficial for East Harlem’s air quality and asthma sufferers. And the fitness benefits of providing safe spaces for biking are self-explanatory.

More significant is Mark-Viverito’s response to the oft-employed complaint that losses in parking spaces and convenient loading areas will make it harder for businesses to stay afloat.

There are clearly a number of pressures on local businesses in my community, but it is hard to believe that bike lanes could make or break their ability to continue to turn a profit. In fact, the protected bike lanes have the potential to encourage cyclists from other neighborhoods to visit our community, try out the restaurants and check out the local stores and cultural attractions. This has been the result in other cities, where bike tourism has brought more affluent consumers to neighborhoods that they would not otherwise have visited were it not for convenient bike lanes.

Bike lanes: beneficial for air quality, road safety, traffic congestion, your health and local businesses.

Follow Benjamin Sutton on Twitter @LMagArt

6 Comment

  • Bike lanes are an asset.

  • “Bike lanes: beneficial for… your health…”

    Except that studies show that cyclists using them are more likely to be involved in a collision than they are while cycling on an unmarked road.

  • Can’t believe that’s really true about the collisions and bike lanes. Maybe there are more collisions with pedestrians from walking into the bike lanes and not looking first? Would be interesting to see exactly how these studies looked at the data. I live in Copenhagen where there are bike lanes everywhere and bicycle safety is high. When I lived in the Bronx (Bedford Park) I noticed very few of our neighbors biked. And it was only guys and never girls/women. It’s just not en vogue in these neighborhoods the same way it is in the affluent areas of NYC or anywhere else for that matter. The Bike the Bronx initiative seems to be having great success getting people out on their bikes though. It’s just great! I’m in favor of bicycle lanes in these neighborhoods. It can only encourage cycling. It’s also safer for kids who are interested in bicycling. Just have to keep the cars from blocking the bike lanes.

  • Wow. i did not know that. Can you provide a link or a reference for that, Mr. Cooper. That is very interesting. My immediate impulse is to think, well, if bike lanes are making it more hazardous for cyclists, then maybe we should ban automobiles outright on streets so there are no “lanes” for cyclists–the entire street can be just pedestrians and cyclists and whatever superiority cyclists deign to have over automobiles would be erased.

  • Partial answer to the title question:

    There are no bike lanes in low-income neighborhoods because those neighborhoods tend not to have bike activists to push for the lanes, and then (when they get the DOT on board) to back the proposals at CB meetings and so forth when the local business come out in opposition, as they inevitably do.

  • This is just not true. No bike lanes in low income areas is incorrect. Not enough maybe, but none is a false generalization. My main route from jamaica to brooklyn heights was through low income areas – mother gaston through bergen. The bergen bike lanes start right in east new york/ brownsville.

    This generalization about there being absolutely none is horrifying. Perhaps the author should travel more or do more research about low income nabes bc he is just incorrect.