The idea of bike lanes on Madison Avenue seems to be a big issue these days. A lot of people are making up for lost time trying to sort out the positions that businesses and residents are taking. But what most people don't seem to realize is how little information we — the operators of businesses on Madison Avenue — were favored with early on.
Bicyclist and pedestian groups have been kept informed about plans for bike lanes since 2009 or so and have met several times to consider aspects of the issue. Unfortunately, representatives of the Madison Avenue business community were not included in any of these meetings, nor was vital preliminary information shared with us.
In any case, by 2011, when most of us in business on Madison Avenue finally got wind of the possible changes, we made a proactive move and secured an appointment with Mayor A C Wharton to discuss what the plans were for lane changes and how they might impact parking and deliveries for our businesses. At that meeting Mayor Wharton indicated he, too, was very concerned about prospects for development of Midtown and along Madison.
We were introduced to Kyle Wagenschutz, the mayor's appointee to implement the new bike-lane plans across the city. Wagenschutz is certainly more than qualified to answer bike-lane questions, but he has done an extremely poor — or highly selective — job communicating to all the parties involved. He seems to have done an extensive job communicating with various bicyclist and pedestrian groups, even before a recent town hall meeting on the issue at Snowden Elementary School, but he neglected to include the business people of Madison Avenue — perhaps due to concerns about their possible opposition to the lane changes.
At both the Snowden town hall meeting and the previous one with Mayor Wharton, I pulled Wagenschutz aside and asked if he had any statistics or information from elsewhere that would support the prospect of a positive economic change for the businesses involved in changes such as those being proposed for Madison.
Wagenschutz answered that he had plenty of info to share with us, but he never sent the information or met with us again. Meanwhile, to make mattters worse, the TV media began to pitch an oversimplified conflict, pitting some Madison Avenue businesses as being against cyclists.
The reality is that nobody representing Madison Avenue business interests has expressed absolute opposition to the concept of bike lanes.
In the beginning, we considered two scenarios involving coexistence with bike lanes and a third one in which there were to be no bike lanes. None of us was insisting on that third option, but we did emphasize that we had serious logistical concerns.
But the TV media failed to do their homework and reported only what they needed to create a controversial story. The sad part about all this is that, unreported by the media, most of these businesses have spent decades developing long-lasting relationships with families in Midtown. The TV media seem unconcerned about the effect their inaccurate reporting would have on these relationships.
There is hope, however. Finally, Mayor Wharton has helped bring about a three-way dialogue in which the community, the cyclists, and the business owners have been able to meet and reason together about plans for Madison Avenue.
The city has now added six new options to the original three, and somewhere in the mix there is surely a prospect for a good fit for everybody. Serious conflict could have been avoided in the first place if all the parties involved had been included from the beginning.
The business owners on Madison Avenue are just as concerned with matters of economic prosperity, pedestrian welfare, and good neighborhoods as the residents are. We have helped sculpt this area over decades and want to see it flourish in the future as well.
We are not standing in the way of progress. We should simply have been included in on the planning in the first place.
Eric Vernon is co-operator of the Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Avenue and a resident of Midtown.