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