New battle erupts over Chinatown bike lane

A fierce debate has been brewing between local bike riders and merchants since the Department of Transportation (DOT) established a bike lane on Grand Street in Chinatown in 2008. However, construction of City Water Tunnel No. 3 has kept many parts of the bike lane closed.

To establish the bike lane, three years ago, the DOT turned Grand Street from a two-way into a one-way street. At the time, many residents in SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown protested, to no avail. Now, though, with the bike lane occupied by construction projects, many cyclists are riding in the vehicle lanes, resulting in accidents.

The water tunnel is one of the city’s largest capital projects and will take at least five years to finish in this area, said local community leader Chi-Keung Leung, so this situation is going to exist for a while. He said the Grand Street bike lane has hurt local merchants and drivers to serve cyclists, “but nobody has been benefited so far.”

Some people suggest that the DOT completely remove the bike lane to broaden the road and improve traffic flow. They think that would also help the construction work.

On the other side, Asian Americans for Equality, Good Old Lower East Side, Green Map System, Hester Street Collaborative, Recycle-A-Bicycle and four other community groups have formed the Local Spokes, a bicycling coalition to engage local residents in envisioning the future of bicycling in Chinatown and Lower East Side neighborhoods.

At a meeting that Local Spokes hosted last week, Binfeng Zheng, a representative of Brooklyn bikers, suggested that Grand Street should become an entire bike-lane street. He said pedestrians bring more business to local restaurants.

Local Spokes also released a survey involving 1,200 people, 67.6% of whom were English speakers while 22% spoke Chinese. It concluded that the number of bike owners is proportional to income level. Only 33% with low income have a bike, while the number doubles among high-income interviewees. However, all those interviewed expressed a desire to possess a bicycle.

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