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.
Follow Benjamin Sutton on Twitter @LMagArt