New York City is adding lanes for bicyclists at a pace of 50 miles a year, causing more New Yorkers to take up the sport but altering the cityscape in a way that is drawing protests.
A City Council committee drew residents from both sides of the debate for a hearing Thursday on the effects of the biking boom.
New Yorkers frustrated with the increase in cyclists said they walk the streets in fear of being struck by reckless riders, and bicycling enthusiasts applauded the growing bike lane network -- stretching nearly 500 miles -- as a way to travel more safely throughout the city.
The estimated number of people who commute by bicycle has grown by 255 percent since 2001, or about 4,900 to 17,500, the city says, based on a regular count of cyclists at major city crossings. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration aims to more than triple the city's bike lane mileage to 1,800 miles by 2030.
Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said creating a more bike-friendly city means fewer cars on the road, safer streets and more New Yorkers engaged in healthy activity.
But some residents said they feel their streets have been invaded. "What has been created is nothing less than a nightmare,'' said Brooklyn resident Lois Carswell, who lives on a main thoroughfare in Brooklyn where a two-way bike lane has drawn heated debate since its recent installation.
The city says cycling has tripled in one year on that street, which runs along the west side of Prospect Park. "You have no idea where bikes are coming from,'' said Carol Linn, who also lives there.
There have been similar complaints in other parts of the city. Councilmembers recounted stories of elderly constituents who say they are terrified of bikes, and said they field numerous complaints that bike lanes, some of which are painted bright green, interfere with vehicle traffic and parking.
The transportation commissioner acknowledged more should be done to crack down on rogue riders, and said plans include a major media campaign with celebrities telling cyclists to ``stop riding like jerks.''
But overall, Sadik-Khan said the cycling expansion has been wildly successful.
The city has seen a reduction in collisions between bicycles and cars, and a so-called calming effect on vehicle traffic within streets where there are bike lanes.
The city's approach has not been perfect. It removed a strip of bike lane that snaked through one Brooklyn neighborhood and another in Staten Island, after opposition from residents.
Cycling supporters, who packed the hearing room and occasionally booed the anti-cycling sentiments, meanwhile begged the administration for even more lanes.
"New Yorkers want to ride and we need to make the streets safer,'' said Noah Budnick, deputy director of the group Transportation Alternatives. "Making streets safe for cyclists also make the streets safer for everybody else.''