How bike lanes became the front lines of a political power struggle

Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 11:42 AM

Transportation Nation's Andrea Bernstein posted a great piece that pulls back the political shroud around the battle over bike lanes in Brooklyn. It's a meticulously traced story of how high-profile political players--Senator Charles Schumer's wife, former Giuliani aides, and others--use their status for personal battles.

The lede here is priceless:

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

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 two 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.”

Thus ensued a political battle wrapped up as a NIMBY issue:

But the clash of two broadly powerful men is typical of the story of the Prospect Park West bike lane story, which was never really about a bike lane. Or rather, it was never only about a bike lane, but rather about the perennial New York City question – who decides what goes where in the densely-packed urban streets we call home, and how they get to decide.

It's well worth reading the entire article here.


More in:

Comments [5]

PPW Resident

The bike lane is here to stay.  NBBL's support diminishes every day and the embarrassment to Weinshall and Schumer grows.  If it were to come out right now, it would be bad news for this couple.  The neighborhood loves it, it's working, and some people now can't imagine the street without it.  Remove it?  Maybe.  But NBBL will be even bigger pariahs than they've already become.

Oct. 21 2011 11:15 AM

"King" Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Schumer will be around and waving bye bye to "The Prisoner of City Hall" and once he is gone so goes the Bike Lane,

Before there was the "Oracle at Delphi" there was Count Vampire J. Machiavelli

VJ Machiavelli
Power to the People who "VOTE"

Oct. 21 2011 05:15 AM

What the heck is Chuck Schumer doing slumming it in a provincial NIMBY issue?  This is Senator Cyclist, who never misses an opportunity to show what a real New Yorker he is by biking around the city.

Yet when a bike lane shows up in his front yard, he wants to leap over years of hard community work and have Bloomberg ripped out?  It would be hilarious if the lawyer his wife hooked her neighbors up with hadn't subpoenaed and slimed so many honest community members who wanted to do something about the dangerous speeding on PPW.  If only we all could have private dinner parties with Mayor Bloomberg.

Oct. 20 2011 07:48 PM
Larry Littlefield

By the way, the fact that the real case against the bike lane was incoherently made is due to it not being a case that would attract much sympathy.  If there is, in reality, a tradeoff between aesthetic prestige and bicycle and pedestrian and saftety and traffic calming on PPW, the most people would choose the latter, and think of those choosing the former as snobs.

Many issues are just like this, with interests advancing false arguments because they do not want to reveal their real concerns. 

Oct. 20 2011 05:23 PM
Larry Littlefield

This is a rather strange group of NIMBYs.  Generally, the local interest is to restrict through traffic and its related noise, danger and exhaust, with those concerned with the citywide interest trying to find a place for traffic to go.

The only coherent (if incoherently made) argument I've heard against the bike lane is a matter of aesthetics and prestige.  In some cities such as Paris, it was traditionally the case that high social status people lived on the grand boulevards, with lower status people consigned to the narrow side streets.

Prospect Park West, in this view, was a grand boulevard for Brooklyn, like Eastern Parkway or Ocean Parkway.  Based on the way it looks now, the aesthetics of it, opponents seem to feel their address appears no more prestigious that 8th Avenue and 6th Avenue, each of which is only two lanes wide for motor vehicles.  And they feel their social status is thus diminished.

Of course this ignores the prestige associated with having a grand park across the street.

I feel this "aesthetic" issue is more important that the "who's the boss" aspect of it, or the Weinshall vs. JSK legacy issue.  Although I'm sure some folks on PPW felt their social status further diminished when phone calls to the right people from the right people were not enough to overturn a community driven process that had gone on for years and won the support of the elected Mayor and City Council member.

Oct. 20 2011 05:18 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


"The Capitol Pressroom" with Susan Arbetter at 11 am

For show archives, please visit The Capitol Bureau's website here.

About The Empire

Everything you need to know about New York politics and governance. We aim for a ground-up approach to politics, reverse engineered to make the effect just as important as the players and the game they play. From the Long Island to The Thousand Islands, New York City Hall to the Capitol Building, The Empire's got you covered.

Check out WNYC's 2013 Mayor Tracker--the one-stop shop for info about the candidates, issues and trends in the upcoming New York City mayoral election.


Our Reporters


Supported by