For eight years Maggie Clarke had pressed the city’s department of transportation to come up with a plan to make cycling safer on Washing Height’s main drag. Finally this June, the department of transportation presented its proposal at a Community Board and Clarke was elated with what she heard: bike lanes in each direction, protected by parked cars, plus one less lane for cars.
But other residents were appalled about having to share the road with bikes. “Where are the cars?!” one resident yelled, Clarke recalled. By the time the meeting ended, Clarke said, “We didn’t even scratch the surface on what’s going to help bicyclists.”
This meeting is held at the end of June 2016. It has been eight years since Clarke and other Washington Heights and Inwood residents first asked for infrastructure on Dyckman Street to slow down traffic. At the end of the meeting, the proposal is postponed portraying the constant pushback between the residents and the board and the board and the department of transportation in Northern Manhattan.
Today Dyckman is a four-lane road (two lanes for traffic in each direction). The lane next to the sidewalk is dedicated to parked cars. The proposal seeks to change Dyckman to a two-lane road (one lane for traffic in each direction). Next to the parked cars a five-foot bike lane will be drawn on the street.
“It [bike lane] might cause a few inconveniences,” said Yani Yapor, a sales person at Furniture Place on Dyckman and a Washington Heights resident. “We would get around it. There is no problem if the bike lanes are drawn.”
Back in 2008, Clarke and Daniel O’Neil, a resident of Inwood, created Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets. The group advocated for safer street infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians i.e. bike lanes protected on both sides by parked cars or shrubbery and on longer crosswalks, a raised sidewalk in the middle where an individual can stop.
Livable Streets presented a traffic-calming proposal to the board three times in 2008. The new design consisted of the sidewalk, a two-directional bike lane, a buffer of greenery, a four-way road, parking and the sidewalk.
(Proposed Dyckman redesign by Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets)
“The reason why we don’t like bike lanes is because they narrow streets,” said Ebenezer Smith, the District Manger of Community Board 12. “In this district, we have a culture of driving and we need parking.”
According to the 2009-2013 American Census Survey, only 21 per cent of Inwood and Washington Heights residents own a car but a part of the community believes cars are a central characteristic of the neighborhood.
Livable Streets continued to push for bike lanes. But after multiple presentations to the board in a three-year span, the group disbanded. Clarke says the constant denial from the board and inner conflict on how to proceed contributed to the falling out.
The board announced a bike lane forum to involve the community in 2011, which brought overwhelming support and interest. At the next meeting, the board approved a resolution asking the city to look into bike lanes in the neighborhood.
“We want the Department of Transportation over the next few months to really take time to look at our community, to see what exists right now, to improve on that which exists,” wrote community board member of the Traffic and Transportation committee Yosef Kalinsky. “And to think about where things can be improved to enhance those that prefer to cycle in our community to make it safe for all people on the street.”
Since 2011 the Department of Transportation proposed and completed bike lanes in Northern Manhattan but all below Dyckman Street. Not until Maggie Clarke was sitting in the board meeting this past June did the Greenway Dyckman Connector receive an official proposal.
“The Dyckman Street Bike Lane project is the result of requests from the Community Board 12 in 2011 and the collaborative work [that] the Department of Transportation did with the local community to implement bike safety projects,” said a spokesperson of the Department of Transportation.
According to the minutes of the Dyckman proposal meeting, the board postponed the proposal on the grounds of the new design creating more chaos than calm since the bike lanes from other avenues feeding onto Dyckman would not be continuous and the possibility of parking spots decreasing.
“We have concerns,” said Smith, the District Manger. “The area is too congested. For Dyckman, we told them [the department of transportation] they need to figure out the delivery for businesses, city wide, not just in our district but it needs to be regulated.”
They also questioned whether there would be penalties for double-parking when there is just one lane of moving traffic. Currently Dyckman businesses rely on double-parking so their customers and delivery trucks can double-park without creating traffic jams since there is a second travel lane.
“They [bike lanes] are going to take some parking spots,” said Manny Munos, the assistant manger of 809 Sangria Bar and Grill, a restaurant on Dyckman Street. “It would definitely be an issue for us because our customers can’t park.”
Yet the proposal writes legal parking will not be affected.
“It’s like an invitation, here is your double parking lane, we painted it green for you,” said Clarke regarding the proposal.
The board postponed the proposal but promises to come up with a better one soon. They said they would hold a workshop in the fall where Washington Heights and Inwood residents can propose new design changes for Dyckman Street.
The board still has not announced when the workshop will be held.