Residents Prepare Lawsuit on Brooklyn Bike Lane

Friday, February 04, 2011

A group of Park Slope residents protest a two-way bike lane on Prospect Park West in Park Slope, which reduced the street’s car lanes from three to two. (Erin McCarthy/WNYC)

It’s a who’s who directory of city government. Iris Weinshall, the former city transportation commissioner and wife of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. A dean at Brooklyn College. Norman Steisel, the former deputy mayor under Edward Koch and David Dinkins. And the other former deputy mayor, Randy Mastro (under Rudolph Giuliani) who introduced the group to a colleague at his high-powered law firm, Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher. And what is all this former government firepower being assembled to do? Remove a bike lane on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn.

Controversy over the bike lane began even before it was installed last June. Though the local community board approved the lane — both to provide a safe haven for commuting cyclists and to slow traffic along Prospect Park West — some residents and their supporters were outraged. They said the two-way lane — which is separated from automobile traffic by a row of parked cars — would cause congestion, change the historic character of the leafy boulevard, and make pedestrian crossing dangerous and confusing.

Marty Markowitz, the Borough President of Brooklyn, who’s known for trying to put the whole borough on a diet and for brandishing Star Wars lasers at graduations, called the city transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, a “zealot” for wanting to install this lane. But cyclists and the local community board remained steadfastly behind it, saying it would improve quality of life for Brooklyn residents, make travel safer, and encourage people to use bikes instead of automobiles.

Last month, the city DOT released its findings. The lane had cut speeding dramatically. One in five cars now speeds, the city says, compared to the three out of four who used to. The consequences, the city DOT says — are potentially life-saving. A pedestrian hit by a car driving 40 mph has an eighty percent chance of dying. A pedestrian hit by a car driving 30 mph will survive two thirds of the time. That, the DOT says, is the difference the lane has made.

There’s more, the agency says: cyclists ride in the lane, not on the sidewalk. Thrilled residents say the lane makes getting around the neighborhood by bike much easier. But opponents, who have formed a group, called “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” say they distrust the data. They say they’ve been forced to file a freedom of information request to get complete data. 

"We’re not saying we don’t want a bike lane in this city,” said Louise Hainline one of the leaders of the group and a dean at Brooklyn College. “What is the real data that people were ever driving too fast?  All that I’ve ever asked from the beginning is what is the data. It’s taken months to get the data.”

Hainline says she’s made over a hundred of hours of video tape of the traffic along Prospect Park West, and that it shows frequent traffic jams as drivers try negotiate around delivery trucks in what is now a two lanes of car traffic, instead of three.  And she says the problem could be solved by moving the lane into the nearby park.

But supporters say the bike lane now gives them a safe route for travel and that congestion isn’t an observable problem. They said slower automobile speeds make the lane a success for all the users of Prospect Park West.

City Councilmember Brad Lander did a survey of 3,000 Brooklynites, and found that three-quarters support the bike lane. And that even where opposition is highest along Prospect Park West, half the residents still think the lane should be part of the permanent landscape.

But Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes is not giving up. In late December, a lawyer working pro bono, Jim Walden, wrote a letter to transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan asking for additional data, saying he hoped “this begins a constructive phase of dialogue between DOT and the affected community members.”

Other than the freedom of information request, there’s been no official legal action, though that’s expected to come next week. Neither Hainline, Walden, nor Mastro would comment, and Steisel said he was travelling and would be available next week. The city DOT also would not comment on a potential lawsuit. 


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Comments [9]

Deb from Ditmas Park

I can't help but think that Marty Markowitz is waving a red flag at bicyclists with his left hand and no one is watching the right hand.

Feb. 07 2011 12:36 PM

Both sides of this argument have valid points.

On the one hand, bike lanes improve safety and encourage residents to live greener, not to mention healthier, lives.

On the other hand, too many cyclists give us all a bad name by not obeying traffic signals and endangering pedestrians.

In the end, a bike accident is more minor than a car accident, and I feel the lanes should stay but the cyclists who don't follow the traffic rules should be ticketed like drivers. If you don't want to stop for a red light on PPW go into the park where you can ride unfettered and stop giving bicyclists a bad reputation.

Feb. 07 2011 09:39 AM
DAVID MIRETSKY from 11th street, Park Slope,Brooklyn, ny

My grandaughter and I often cross Central Park West on a signal "WALK". The cars stop yet the bicyclists never stop and keep on riding. 11th street crossing directly leads to the Park entrance and hundreds of children and adults are at the danger of being hit by a bicycle ryder.
People from the neighborhood comment on the dynamics of the SPW, that the new setup is for the benefit of very small number of bike users against mostly the commercial traffic, which grows every year with the rate which can not be offset by slow growing number of recreational riders. And the fact is that the Park has fantastic scenic lanes for the recreational bike user.

Feb. 06 2011 07:51 PM
Jude Moonshade from Long Island

The bike lane is too important for bicyclist safety to remove it. What if the city removes the bike lane and a cyclist gets killed by a speeding cab?
The motorists in New York are always speeding, very few obey the laws.

Only a small percentage of New Yorkers have cars. Why should we cater to them? Everyone can use mass-transit, or ride a bike.

Feb. 06 2011 12:37 PM

This is a frivolous lawsuit and a slap in the face to the many pedestrians and cyclists who benefit from the new lane. According to the group filing the suit, the convenience of motorists and the ability to speed trumps the safety and mobility of everyone else.

Feb. 05 2011 08:32 PM

At a time when we all need to be working towards making cities more sustainable, it is discouraging that people are undermining efforts to reduce reliance on cars as a means of transportation. Increasing the number of bikers and reducing car traffic has numerous benefits for the environment, pedestrians (because of traffic calming effects of bike lanes), bikers themselves, and even the economy. As a cyclist, I am disturbed by the anger and animosity that is targeted at people trying to get around the city by bike. We need to shift from heated exchanges that amount to few positive changes towards a serious conversation on ways we can improve mass transit in the city, reduce the amount of traffic congestion that has a far more negative impact on the economy than bike lanes, and improve cycling facilities throughout the five boroughs.

Feb. 05 2011 03:00 PM
Rob from Westchester

These politicians should be embarrassed for going to such lengths to stop a safer road, and one that helps our environment. (Most are Democrats!)
This lawyer should be embarrassed taking on a case "pro bono" for what is obviously a very wealthy and well-connected group.

Feb. 05 2011 02:12 PM
Heywood Yablowmee from Prospect Park West

The bike lanes are awful. They should be removed at once. They eliminate parking spaces, hurt small businesses, increase congestion and are aesthetically unappealing. In addtion, the arrogance and total disregard of traffic laws by the cyclists is outrageous. The other day I saw a cyclist whiz past a red light and barely miss and elderly woman. Another day, I saw a similar incident where a cyclist nearly hit a pedetrian. The pedestrian yelled at the biker who turned around, came back to the pedestrian and "gave him the finger." Not smart. The pedestrian, a burly young man in his 20's, hit the arrogant cyclist with a right-hand shot to the face...knocked him out cold...the crowd of onlookers cheered...only in New York, only in New York...I am sure the bike lanes will be removed. They are a nuisance and totally unnecessary.

Feb. 05 2011 01:17 PM
ch from NYC

The data speaks for itself. Reducing the risk of death from 80% to under 40% in the event of a MVA-pedestrian accident by simply reducing traffic speed is very significant. In statistical terms, this means that for 2 car accidents, you will save one life. This could potentially result in saving hundreds of lives over the next decade, just by installing an inexpensive bike lane (roughly a few thousand dollars per life saved).

The solution to the traffic jam problem is not to eliminate the bike lane. Rather, it should be to reduce double-parking and illegal standing. Better enforcement would reduce delays and increase city revenues.

Feb. 05 2011 11:49 AM

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