A Bike Lane Dispute Brings to Light Clash of Powerful Politicians

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg dined privately with a small group of guests that included his former transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall, and her husband, Senator Charles Schumer, last March.

By that time, both Schumer and Weinshall had made known their displeasure over a bike lane that had been built across the street from their home – on Brooklyn’s leafy Prospect Park West.  

According to sources familiar with what was said at that dinner, Schumer asked the Mayor: “Can’t you get rid of that lane?”

“You don’t like it?” the mayor responded. A beat. “I’m going to make it twice as wide.”

Neither Schumer’s office nor the mayor’s office would comment.

But the clash of two powerful politicians is typical of the story of the Prospect Park West bike lane, which is about much more than a about a strip of pavement – it’s about the perennial New York City question of who decides what goes where and how.

The city’s aggressive effort to install new bike lanes roiled many neighborhoods. But only one group – the one that included the former commissioner Weinshall -- sued to have a lane removed.  

Emails unearthed by Streetsblog, a pro-bike-lane website, shed new light on how this group of influential New Yorkers managed to raise their fight above all the rest, marshalling the services of one of the city’s premier law firms, and then, as the emails show, tried to make sure that information never got out.

The emails were obtained through a freedom of information request to the City University of New York, where Weinshall works as vice chancellor.

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Comments [8]

Recently I got hit, I meanT-boned by a car that ran a red light, I have lived and been biking in NYC for over 7 years and it is amazing that I have gone this far without getting hit.

We need more bike lanes! We need cops to inforce speed limits and those out there driving without proper credentials. We need to educate pedestrians to not stand in the bike lanes.

Pretty much all of new York needs to spend a day on a bike riding around and then 97% need a good slap in the face.

When a car hits a biker, they usually die, is it that EFFIN hard to get through your head?

Screw aesthetic appearances and congestion, I would rather have a world backed up and safe than speeding along carelessly.

Oct. 21 2011 12:08 AM
Emily from Brooklyn

I live in Park Slope near the bike lane.

I object to the way the bike lane was designed.

It's hideous, as it looks like a traffic jam all the way down Prospect Park West.

It's more dangerous near Grand Army Plaza than it used to be.

I rarely see anyone ever using the bike lane. As another pedestrian commented to me, maybe it's doubled the number of bicyclists--it used to be one, now it's two.

This is not a matter of "autocratic" and "undemocratic" opponents. I don't know ANY individual in the neighborhood who likes the change.

Oct. 20 2011 04:52 PM

From this article one can conclude that Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer, and Iris Weinshall each consider New York belongs to them.

They are all wrong. (And obnoxious.)

Oct. 20 2011 02:15 PM
Kirt Ley from Brooklyn!

I remember when bike lanes in the city were the thoughts of folks who were often seen as mad as Galileo when he suggested that the earth goes around the sun.

A very seasoned cyclist am I, and, having survived various "interactions" - to put it mildly - with vehicular traffic; I am delighted to be able to ride from my home in Crown Heights to as far as the Manhattan Music School with my children in tow and do it all in bike lanes with a mere fraction of the risk I would have faced just a few years ago.

Thanks much for having friends of cyclists in city government.

The children and I also bike along Prospect Park West as we take advantage of the number one park in all of the city.

I also drive.

The bike lane manifests itself negatively when one is parking or pulling out of a park; but that can be balanced out if we were to work on being more patient drivers.

If there is overwhelming resentment about the bike lane as it is, perhaps the following change can be made.

The sidewalk as it circumvents Prospect Park could be made into a shared space for cyclists and runners as it is the case along parts of the West Side Highway. I have seen not only cyclists and runners, but also skaters and skateboarders navigate thinner stretches of that beautiful vista - without incident.

Unlike the West Side Highway, you would not have a multitude of rather fast cyclists being part of the equation. Those guys and gals tend to prefer the bike lane inside the park.

A bike lane as suggested earlier; as it passes along Flatbush Avenue would encourage cyclists to connect with Ocean Avenue and Empire Blvd. without the risk of being flattened by the many speeding vehicles. Many shoppers at the green market head for points south and might very well be encouraged to bike if Flatbush had a bike lane. This would also be of help to runners; currently the sidewalk is overgrown and cracked in multiple places and each step must be taken with caution.

Well, that's my crazy idea, oh, one more thing, maybe there could be a bike lane that runs from the beginning of Eastern Parkway to as far east as Washington, AND, at the risk of being greedy... how about repainting the bike lane along Eastern Parkway? Many folks don't seem to know the proper way to use the space and it makes for less fun while riding and walking.

Kirt Ley.

P.S. To the many cyclists with inexpensive bikes and expensive locks, but, NO helmet. Hmmm! To the cyclists who ride in the car lane along Eastern Parkway where there is a bike lane AND much slower/safer service roads in both directions; I ask...WHY?

Oct. 20 2011 12:57 PM
Alex from PP

I am a resident of PP. Have been for 16 yrs. I bike regularly. I also drive regularly. The bike lane is 100% times safer than riding on PPW used to be. Its a lovely ride. Narrowing the lanes of traffic on PPW from 3 lanes to two seems to have caused somewhat more congestion and therefore driver aggression and impatience, but not in a game changing way. Traffic still flows and is rarely backed up. I have two suggestions to help ease tensions and improve the situation.

1. Pave the roadway and keep it well maintained. It is a mess now. The potholes amp up the last minute zipg zagging amps up aggression. A smoother surface promotes more controlled driving.
2. Create free 15 or 30 min load in and load out zones on the East and West side of PPW. This will help ease double parking when deliveries are being made. You may have to give up a few parking spots, but I think this is worth it.

I wonder if either of these concepts have been part of the debate?

Oct. 20 2011 10:49 AM
Rob from NY

The opponents of the bike lanes are autocratic and undemocratic.

Community groups had been advocating for these bike lanes and traffic calming for years before DOT took any action.

Bloomberg may have been cavalier with his remarks to Schumer, but in this case he was defending a long, open, and democratic process.

Oct. 20 2011 09:27 AM
John from SoHo

"“I’m going to make it twice as wide.”

So typical of the arrogant, unilateral and non-democratic way this mayor and his DOT commish force these lanes down our throats.

There is no plan. There is no methodology. There is no rhyme-or-reason for the placing of these lanes. That is why there is so much opposition. (Not to mention that, even when installed, cyclists still ignore them and flout the law.)

Lanes that community boards want installed get ignored and lane placement that makes no sense gets constructed instead. The wishes and concerns of other city agencies are ignored (Small Business, Landmarks Preservation, to name just two).

Only two more years of his punitive reign and the autocratic rule of the DOT commish remain. Not soon enough.

Oct. 20 2011 09:05 AM
Jay Casey from Brooklyn, NY

"And when they came for witty party banter I said nothing, because at least they weren't making jokes about a golf swing..."

Oct. 20 2011 09:03 AM

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