PPW Bike Lane Case: First Day Of Court Hearings

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Kings County Supreme Court, where the Prospect Park West bike lane case is being heard (photo by Kate Hinds)

Today was the first day of formal court proceedings in the lawsuit seeking to remove Brooklyn's contentious Prospect Park West bike lane -- and it will be the last for a month.

The courtroom, on the fourth floor of the Kings County Supreme Court in downtown Brooklyn, was standing room only. After the case was called, half a dozen attorneys approached the bar -- two for the plaintiff, two for City Council Member Brad Lander, who filed an amicus brief in support of the bike lane, and two on behalf of New York City. They all spoke quietly to Justice Bert Bunyan, who interjected questions from time to time.

Most of the conversation was inaudible -- and after about ten minutes, it was over when the judge adjourned the case. The next court date in the case is July 20th.

Jim Walden, the attorney suing the city on behalf of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes/Seniors for Safety, had asked for additional time to review documents given to him that morning by City Council member Brad Lander. Walden requested Lander's emails with the city DOT and bike lane advocates under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) , and he said this morning he had been given 671 documents.

Lander, a longtime bike lane supporter, held a pro-bike lane rally on the steps of the courthouse before today's proceedings. He was not in the courtroom.

Afterward, in a courthouse hallway, Walden said: "the city is hiding something and they do not want us to find it. And we're not going to give up until we do."

Walden contends the city is withholding all the documents related to a study on the safety of the lane. The city, as well as Council Member Brad Lander, maintains that the bike lane was requested through Park Slope's community board, that the process of considering and installing it was transparent, that the lane has made the street safer for everyone, and that city's Department of Transportation had a "rational basis" for installing the bike lane and that the agency always said the lane was permanent and never considered a trial. But all of that is beside the point, the city says, because the lawsuit was filed too late.

This case was filed under Article 78 proceedings, which has a four-month statute of limitations. The bike lane was installed in June 2010; the lawsuit seeking the lane's removal was filed eight months later.

Walden isn't convinced.

"Somebody had the bright idea to say crashes went down 16 percent when they really went up," he said. " Someone had the bright idea to say injuries went down 21 percent when they really went up. ... someone made that decision, and they're holding back the documents and keeping them secret. That is fundamentally inconsistent with the city's obligations."

Last month, city attorney Mark Muschenheim told Transportation Nation "we've already provided much of what they wanted through FOIL." A spokesman for the city DOT also said today that they've already produced "thousands" of documents.

When asked why he had FOILed Lander's emails, Walden said:  "We believe clearly, given his own public statements, that the DOT told him in no uncertain terms it was a trial program, it was a trial bike lane. The city is now claiming that it was never a trial. It's the great bait-and-switch from the City of New York. They called it a trial so people wouldn't sue right away, they said they were going to conduct a study. Now in their papers they say the study never mattered. No matter what the study said, we were going to have a final decision to have the bike lane. So a thousand people could die, apparently, (and) according to the city's paper, that wouldn't matter. So we certainly hope the documents -- I can't say they'll put the lie to the city's position, because it's already clear that it's based on lies, but it will further buttress the notion that the city's playing games in the litigation."

Mark Muschenheim, the attorney who is arguing the case on behalf of the city, said in an emailed statement:  "The petitioners have been unable to refute the key legal issues in the case. Their lawsuit was brought after the statute of limitations had expired. Even if it weren’t filed too late, the bike path was clearly a reasonable and rational response by the city to community concerns, the sole legal standard for this case. In addition to enhancing Brooklyn's bike lane network, the installation of the bike path successfully addressed excessive speeding on Prospect Park West, as well as the high numbers of cyclists riding on the Prospect Park West sidewalks. The plan was revised several times with the input of the local community -- and it was, from the beginning, a permanent project to address these concerns."

The city also included in its email an affidavit from Joshua Benson, the director of the NYC DOT's bicycle and pedestrian programs. In it Benson said he attended an April 2010 Community Board 6 meeting and that "I distinctly recall one of the representatives stating that the PPW Project would be a trial project, and I immediately corrected this publicly by stating that the PPW Project was not a trial project, but that after its installation it would be monitored with adjustments made as deemed appropriate. In fact, I do not recall anyone at DOT stating that the PPW Project was a trial or pilot project, unlike other DOT projects that are so identified."

On his way to the elevator, Walden asked a city attorney if Lander was going to be in court on July 20th -- "because if he's not, I want to know because we're going to subpoena him. "