If you can't beat 'em, join 'em: That's the attitude a few Madison Avenue business owners are hoping will catch on in response to the new bike lanes along the Midtown thoroughfare.
As city workers were putting the finishing touches on the lanes last week, a handful of business owners were discussing the formation of a Madison Avenue merchant's association to begin meeting early next year.
"With all the rhetoric about bike lanes, there seemed to be too much animosity. We need to promote Madison Avenue as a great place to shop, so Boscos is putting in the seed capital to start developing a plan for a merchant's association," said Jeremy Feinstone, president of Boscos Squared.
Mark Weber, owner of the Mail Center on Madison, was one of those who argued against dedicated bike lanes. But now he's joining Feinstone in promoting the merchant's association.
"I still have my reservations about the bike lanes, but here's the deal: We were always going to have bike lanes one way or another," Weber said. "What we opposed was the configuration of one [traffic] lane in either direction. We were looking for the shared lane. But we were always going to have bike lanes, so we need to figure out how we can take advantage of that and promote it."
Weber recently launched BikeMadisonAvenue.com as a way to promote Madison Avenue businesses to cyclists. The site is still under construction, but Weber plans to update it soon since the lanes are now officially open.
"It will be an informational site with some support from the merchants on the street, very much like the merchant's association," Weber said.
Once the merchant's association is organized, they will push for street improvements and provide a way for Madison merchants to promote their businesses.
"There's a ton of things that could be done to make the street more attractive. If you've ever looked at the light poles, you'll notice they're not just old, but they haven't been maintained. They're rusty. They're ugly. Maybe we can get the city to look at that," Feinstone said. "We'd also like to have some benches and to encourage property owners of vacant lots to cut their grass regularly."
Such streetscape improvements are exactly the sort of thing a new Madison Avenue steering committee will address. Last week, Mayor A C Wharton asked his staff to convene a committee of Madison stakeholders to begin meeting by the end of the year. The committee will look at ways to make Madison a destination rather than just a thoroughfare.
Additionally, the mayor has asked the engineering division to begin monitoring traffic counts to determine how the lanes are affecting the flow of traffic along the street. A pre-bike-lane study showed an almost negligible effect, according to the city's bike and pedestrian coordinator, Kyle Wagenschutz.
"I don't know everything about traffic patterns along Madison, but from what I can see, it's only heavily utilized a couple times a day," Feinstone said. "If you want to talk about something that's hard to access, try shopping off a street that's overly crowded, where it's much harder to get in and out of traffic. But I look forward to Madison being pressured by our success to become a busier street."