If Park Slope gets a bike lane, why not East Harlem?

City Council member says poor and minority communities deserve the same amenities

Kathy Willens/AP The Prospect Park West bike lane.

In October, Manhattan Community Board 11’s Transportation Committee and Full Board voted in support of protected bike lanes on First and Second Aves. from 96th to 125th Sts. Since then, a small group of local business owners has sought to stymie the process, peddling misinformation that has helped sway some community board members to vote to suspend support of the bike lanes pending further investigation.

This is bad news for East Harlem.

The addition of protected bike lanes — which have barriers to make riding safer for cyclists and drivers alike — is nothing short of a social and environmental justice issue. Until recently, nearly all of the proposed locations for these lanes were in primarily white and higher-income neighborhoods — from the East Village to Chelsea to the upper East Side to Park Slope.

But all along, communities of color like El Barrio/East Harlem have needed these lanes too. Despite the stereotype that bikes are mainly used by wealthier Manhattan residents and Brooklynites, my constituents want to bike to work and for recreation, too. They ought to be able to do so safely. And even those who don’t currently do so ought to be encouraged.

Protected bike lanes improve the overall health and safety of a community by encouraging a greener and healthier form of transit, creating islands to help pedestrians cross the street and adding left turn lanes to improve traffic flow. Our community has among the highest rates of asthma and obesity in New York City. Encouraging a culture of safe cycling on our city streets can only help reverse these trends.

Some local business owners are arguing that bike lanes will lead to an increase in car traffic and the emissions that come along with it; thus, they claim, the asthma rates will worsen.

They have it exactly wrong.

The pedestrian strips associated with bike lanes will be beautified with new trees, with each tree removing one year’s worth of car emissions from the air. Additionally, having fewer automobile lanes could reduce overall traffic in communities sandwiched between the FDR and these busy avenues. This is what experts call the “traffic calming effect” of bike lanes.

This gets to the heart of the issue: Some business owners believe that the decline in traffic and loss of parking spots under this plan will impede their ability to attract customers that drive to their businesses.

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.

The truth is that bike lanes make sense for El Barrio/East Harlem. 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. These bike lanes are already working well in neighborhoods throughout Manhattan. We must not allow a vocal and self-interested minority to prevent these important transportation improvements from reaching our community.

Mark-Viverito is a councilwoman who represents parts of Harlem and the South Bronx.

By Melissa Mark-viverito / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Ballfields at $120 million Randalls Island largely unused, not attracting neighborhood kids

Randall's Island

If you build it, they will come – but not to Randalls Island.

Dozens of new ballfields in the sprawling park beneath the RFK-Triborough Bridge went unused last summer by the kids who need them most, the city parks boss admits.

And with school almost out for summer, advocates are complaining the $120 million revamp of Randalls Island Park in early 2010 created a playground for the rich and took crucial dollars from neighborhood ballfields.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe cited the low traffic earlier this year to justify plans for a private sports camp.

“Fields on Randalls Island have gone largely unused during weekday daytime hours in July and August, and thus availability should not be an issue,” he wrote City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito in January.

The deal called for Florida-based IMG Academies to operate the camp on Randalls Island after donating $200,000 to the Randalls Island Sports Foundation. But plans for the $895-a-week camp fell through in April, with IMG citing low enrollment.

Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem/Bronx) slammed the pricey park rehab, claiming thousands of trees were cut down to make way for the artificial turf fields.

“Why would you build so many fields and then have a problem in terms of utilization?” she asked. “It was shortsighted and now we’re paying the price.”

“From day one, we were concerned there was no need to build so many” new fields, said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates. “Now that has come to fruition. The result is the fields are empty.”

The park boasts fancy golf and tennis centers, but no basketball courts, he added.

During the rehab, the city took heat for a $2.2 million-per-year pay-to-play scheme involving Manhattan private schools. It was struck down in court after East Harlem and Bronx community groups sued.

“The fields were built mostly to accommodate the private schools,” Croft said. And Marina Ortiz, of East Harlem Preservation, called the park “a private playground … designed to bring in revenue.”

There’s a move afoot now to try and spread the word about what’s in the park. Randalls Island fields go unused partly because they are isolated and more people need to be made aware of the space, said Frances Masrota of Manhattan Community Board 11.

A renovated E. 103rd St. pedestrian bridge is set to reopen soon, while the M35 bus runs between the park and E. 125th St. – but few youngsters make the trip.

The Parks Department has assigned a representative to attend Board 11 meetings and share info related to Randalls Island to try to spread the word on what’s there.

The fields are “generally permitted to capacity” in the evenings and on weekends, Parks spokesman Zachary Feder said. The park foundation also offers a free summer program, he noted, and softball leagues.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2011/06/14/2011-06-14_kids_unaware_or_unwelcome_after_120m_randalls_island_fixup_theres_a_park.html#ixzz1PIjiHUIy