Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Kate Hinds
The lawyer appealing a lawsuit to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane has held a fundraiser and donated the maximum allowable amount to Bill de Blasio's campaign for New York City mayor -- but a de Blasio campaign spokesman says the candidate for Mayor, if elected, won't remove the lane.
James Walden's name shows up on a list of fundraisers released by the de Blasio campaign "to demonstrate Bill de Blasio's personal commitment to transparency."
Brooklyn resident Jim Walden, the attorney for Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, held a January 10 fundraiser for de Blasio. New York City campaign finance rules state the limit for a contribution to a mayoral campaign is $4,950, and Jim Walden has given the maximum allowable contribution to Bill de Blasio's campaign.
Neither the de Blasio campaign nor Walden would comment on the reasons for his support, though Dan Levitan, a de Blasio spokesman, says "Walden has been a long time supporter of Bill's," dating back to de Blasio's days as a city council member. Levitan says the Public Advocate, if elected Mayor, won't remove that bike lane.
Walden has also given $1,000 to mayoral candidate William Thompson.
Former Giuliani Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro, Walden's law partner, has also given $2000 to De Blasio and $3000 to Thompson.
De Blasio spokesman Dan Levitan said the campaign doesn't comment on individual donors, and pointed out the candidate has already issued a statement expressing support for bike lanes.
"The need for safer streets for bikers, walkers, and drivers is one I feel in my core,” de Blasio said in his statement last month. “For that reason, I fully support bike lanes and I want to see them continue to expand around the city. They are clearly making many NYC streets safer. But I think we need to take an approach different from the Mayor’s. While more and more communities and riders want bike lanes, the City still hasn’t come around to proactively engaging those who are concerned by them.
But more to the point: Levitan said de Blasio "has no plans to revisit the Prospect Park west bike lane.”
So under a de Blasio mayoralty, a de Blasio-appointed DOT commissioner won't rethink, rework, re-pave the bike lane?
Jim Walden did not return several phone calls.
The lawsuit against the Prospect Park West bike lane -- dismissed by a Kings County Supreme Court Justice in August 2011 -- is currently under appeal.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
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.”
Neither Schumer’s office nor the mayor’s office would comment.
But the clash of two broadly powerful men is typical 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.
The city’s aggressive effort to install new bike lanes – some 260 miles of them have been added since 2006 -- has roiled many neighborhoods. But only one group – the one that included Weinshall -- sued to have a lane removed.
And now a fresh batch of emails unearthed by Streetsblog, a decidedly pro-bike-lane website, sheds 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.
“We should never say how we got Randy!” Weinshall implored, referring to a senior attorney at one of the city’s top law firms. Read on for more on what that all means. (Click here to hear Andrea Bernstein and Soterios Johnson discussing the story.)
Prospect Park West runs along the Olmstead-designed Prospect Park from Grand Army Plaza to Bartel Pritchard Square -- a distance of less than a mile. PPW is populated with elegantly detailed mansions and stately pre-war apartment buildings. The avenue itself is a wide, five-lane boulevard.
Before the bike lane was installed, PPW had two lanes of parking, with three lanes of traffic in the middle. Cars, the city DOT says, would routinely speed – about three quarters would go over the legal limit of 30 mph. So it wasn’t a tough sell to convince the local community board to install a two-way bike lane along the park side of the street, buffered from what would now be two lanes of car traffic by a lane of parked cars.
Proponents argued the lane would provide a safe place for cyclists to ride and slow down automobile traffic.
In June 2009, the bike lane got a green light from the local community board, the most-grass roots level of city decision making (and not the playground in which the truly powerful tend to play).
Following that vote, influential dissenters began to mobilize. In October, 2009, the Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, wrote a letter to transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Weinshall’s successor. “I reside directly across the streets on Prospect Park West,” Markowitz wrote. (Markowitz has since moved to Windsor Terrace, about a mile away.) “This proposal would definitely reduce the number of parking spaces, further exacerbating this already-intolerable situation.”
And, Markowitz noted, he was joined in his request for more extensive scrutiny “by former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, who absolutely agrees that the installation of a two-way, barricaded bike lane would cause incredible congestion.” Weinshall, as it happened, had launched the massive expansion of bike lanes while she was DOT commissioner, the one that was to add 200 miles of bike lanes by 2009 (There are now about 500 miles of bike lanes in New York City). “We’re committed to being the safest city for cycling,” Weinshall said in a 2006 press release announcing the initiative.
Even so, compared to her successor, Janette Sadik-Khan, Weinshall was a much more traditional DOT chief. Sadik-Khan has worked to radically reshape how people view streets: not just as pathways for cars, but as parks, cafes, playgrounds, walkways, plazas, and, yes bike-lanes.
Through the fall and spring of 2011, Markowitz pushed his case. In an April 2010 interview with WNYC he called Sadik-Khan a “zealot,” and no less boisterously made his case that the lane was ill-advised.
In June 2010, the city began installing the lane anyway. Sometime around that time, Weinshall contacted Randy Mastro, a lawyer for the well-connected law firm of Gibson, Dunn, Crutcher. Mastro had been a deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration, at the same time Weinshall had served as DOT commissioner (she stayed on for the first five years of Bloomberg’s tenure.)
At Gibson, Dunn, Crutcher, Mastro is the co-chair of the firm’s litigation practice group, and also co-chairs the firm’s crisis management unit, which makes him The Good Wife’s Will Gardner and Eli Gold rolled into one, but with a temperament most like Cary Agos.
According to the emails published by Streetsblog, on July 3, 2010, Weinshall emailed her daughter, Jessica, a recent Yale Law graduate who had volunteered to work against the bike lane. The email said: “spoke with Randy Mastro he said he would help you with the Article 78” (the legal proceeding).
Streetsblog obtained the emails through a freedom of information request to the City University of New York, where Weinshall works as vice chancellor.
Mastro confirmed in a telephone interview that his former colleague had approached him. He said she knew of his subsequent legal work, particularly his role in opposing a West Side stadium in Manhattan, when he worked for Cablevision, the owner of Madison Square Garden. That was one of Bloomberg’s most resounding defeats on a decision on how to organize public space.
“I agreed to take a matter pro bono on an issue that warranted litigation,” – the bike lane lawsuit -- Mastro told me. He’d taken on this kind of case pro-bono before – for example, on whether the Brooklyn House of Detention could expand without an environmental review.
That summer of 2010, he referred the bike lane matter to a colleague, Jim Walden.
Throughout that fall, the battle over the bike lane continued at fever pitch. The New York City Council held hearings, and both opponents and supporters of the lanes staged noisy demonstrations, opened Facebook pages, and took sometimes nasty potshots at each other through a number of media outlets and blogs.
In late December, Weinshall co-signed a letter to the New York Times about the bike lane. The signatories also included two of Weinshall’s neighbors: Normal Steisel, a deputy mayor under David Dinkins (and Ed Koch), and Louise Hainline, then a dean at Brooklyn College, disputing DOT data saying the lane had made streets safer. “The D.O.T. data produce more puzzlement than enlightenment,” the trio wrote.
“When new bike lanes force the same volume of cars and trucks into fewer and narrower traffic lanes, the potential for accidents between cars, trucks and pedestrians goes up rather than down. At Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, for instance, where a two-way bike lane was put in last summer, our eyewitness reports show collisions of one sort or another to be on pace to be triple the former annual rates.”
This was the first time Weinshall had come forward publicly as a bike lane opponent.
Weinshall and Steisel hewed to an argument common to transportation departments – that cutting lanes for automobiles would pour more cars into less space, slowing traffic, and, they argued, causing more collisions. But there’s a serious line of thinking among urban planners that reducing automobile lanes cuts traffic volumes, because drivers choose different routes, or forgo cars altogether.
About a week later, Walden, their pro-bono attorney, wrote a private letter to Commissioner Sadik-Khan demanding more data and a moratorium on any further decision-making on this bike lane. On letterhead noting his firm’s offices in locations including Dubai, Palo Alto, Century City, and Munich, Walden closed by saying “your written assurances on this point will obviate the need for us to pursue legal remedies at this time.”
When I obtained a copy of the letter, I reached out to Louise Hainline, who expressed deep frustration about the city’s reluctance to turn over data. One of the questions I asked: how was Randy Mastro involved in the case? Hainline didn’t give me an answer, but Jim Walden did, telling me Mastro had asked him to take on the lawsuit.
“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 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.”
On Sunday, February 6, the New York Post’s David Seifman ran a story that Senator Schumer had been quietly lobbying to have the lane removed. According to the report, “sources said Schumer -- who has yet to take a public position on the 19-block bike corridor -- shared his feelings privately with some members of the City Council. ‘He's asked legislators what they're going to do about [this and other] bike lanes," said one source.’
The morning the story appeared, Weinshall emailed Steisel and Hainline, urging them to “check out the post!”
Apparently unaware that I’d already confirmed (and publicly reported) Mastro’s role, Hainline wrote Weinshall back: “I think Randy Mastro is next. Andrea Bernstein of NPR was acting like a middle school newspaper reporter trying to get details about Mastro’s involvement with the effort the other day.”
Which provoked the response: “We should never say how we got Randy!”
In my phone call with Mastro after the emails were made public, he expressed bafflement at that email, emphasizing that he and Weinshall had been colleagues in the Giuliani administration and it didn’t surprise him at all that she would reach out to him. No evidence has emerged to suggest that Senator Schumer was in any way personally involved in the effort to recruit Mastro, other than by being married to Weinshall. Neither Senator Schumer’s office nor Iris Weinshall would comment for this story.
However, the fact remains that this particular group of city residents upset with a Bloomberg administration decision – and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of such groups all around the city at any one moment – was able to mobilize a high-powered law firm on its behalf.
The law firm aggressively pursued the suit, penning hundreds of pages of legal motions, arguments and briefs, appearing repeatedly in court, subpoenaing a boatload of officials and community leaders, and FOILing thousands of emails from project proponents.
Even so, that big law firm lost its case. On August 16, Justice Bert Bunyan ruled the lawyers had missed the statute of limitations by not filing within months of the installation of the bike lane in June 2010. He dismissed the plaintiffs arguments that the deadline for filing had been extended because the lane was “experimental,” saying the plaintiffs had been unable to furnish proof for that. He did agree that the city hadn't properly responded to the group's Freedom of Information request, and ordered it to do so.
The group is not giving up. On September 26, it filed a request with the court to appeal. Its resources continue, undiminished.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
By Kate Hinds
No rulings today in the Prospect Park West bike lane lawsuit, but there was one significant development: New York City said it would be willing to drop its statute of limitations defense if it will expedite proceedings.
The city also said that NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan had filed her own affidavit (pdf) -- and that it contradicts the one Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz submitted earlier this week. Markowitz said that the commissioner had told him the lane was a trial project -- a characterization Sadik-Khan has denied.
Opponents of the bike lane have been vociferously making the argument that the bike lane was a "trial project," which would mean there would be no statute of limitations on its lawsuit. To prove their point, plaintiffs subpoenaed city officials, including Sadik-Khan, and asked for reams of emails.
Speaking today after the court hearing at Kings County Supreme Court, city attorneys said that they'd drop the argument that the plaintiffs had missed the deadline to file to avoid jumping down that rabbit hole.
The city had been arguing that the group suing the city, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes/Seniors for Safety, had brought suit too late. (Typically, under Article 78 proceedings --the state law that deals with suing state and city government entities-- there's a four-month statute of limitations. The bike lane was installed in July of 2010, and NBBL filed suit eight months later.)
However, attorneys said this move was under consideration, not a done deal. Justice Bert Bunyan could theoretically rule at any time on the city's request to boot the suit because it wasn't filed within that 120-day window of opportunity.
Although the judge did hear from attorneys in the case this morning, (11 people total approached the bench as part of the lawsuit) none of the conversation in the courtroom was audible and nothing was on-mic.
Jim Walden, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, characterized today's proceedings as "important" and that the city offered to drop the statute of limitations defense because the judge might allow discovery. The city has said throughout that it was prepared to defend the lane based on the merits of the case -- that the DOT was within its purview to install the lane, which was requested by the community board and has had the desired "traffic calming" effect of reducing automobile speeding and crashes along Prospect Park West.
The next court date in the case is August 3rd, when the judge will hear arguments about NBBL's subpoenas. The city had asked the judge to quash the subpoenas -- a move that could become moot if the statute of limitations defense is taken off the table.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Opponents suing New York City over a bike lane on Brooklyn's Prospect Park West have made good on their threat to issue subpoenas, and they want a host of city officials - including New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Brooklyn City Council member Brad Lander -- to appear in court.
Jim Walden, the attorney representing Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes/Seniors for Safety, sent out an email on Monday that read: "The City is trying to avoid litigation on a technicality, which is based on a lie. After having told the public and various elected officials the bike lane was a trial project, the City now makes the incredible claim the lane was permanent all along, and that our suit was filed too late. The City is desperately trying to avoid litigating the merits of our suit because it cannot justify its misuse of data and failure to conduct a proper safety study."
The New York City Law Department confirmed the today that the DOT commissioner had been subpoenaed, along with four other people at the agency: Jon Orcutt, Christopher Hrones, Ryan Russo, and Josh Benson.
The city's attorney, Mark Muschenheim, said in a statement that "an evidentiary hearing is not warranted in this type of case. We will move to quash the subpoena, and are confident that our motion will be granted. Moreover, the documents filed with the court provide ample information for a decision to be made on the lawsuit's merits, and we believe that after a review of this record the court will support the City's actions."
The statement went on to say there's a chance the judge in the case, Justice Bert Bunyan, will forbid testimony.
Walden had previously sought a delay in court proceedings so he could receive and review documents from additional Freedom of Information Law requests. The justice in the case denied Walden's request. The next date in the court case is July 20.
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
By Kate Hinds
The bike lane on Brooklyn's Prospect Park West will be back in court this month -- not September.
According to a spokeswoman for the New York City Law Department, the judge hearing the case denied a request by Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes/Seniors for Safety to adjourn for another two months. NBBL's attorney, Jim Walden, had asked for more time to process additional Freedom of Information Law requests.
Walden had no comment on the judge's decision. The next court date in the case is July 20.
Friday, July 01, 2011
By Kate Hinds
New York City doesn't want a judge to grant a two-month adjournment to the group suing the city to remove a bike lane in Brooklyn.
As Streetsblog reported Thursday, Jim Walden -- the attorney representing Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes/Seniors for Safety -- wrote to Justice Bunyan earlier this week (a pdf of that letter can be found here) asking him to push back the next court date in the case until September.
Walden, who included a copy of a front-page New York Times article in his letter, told the judge that the Times story "highlights precisely the issue we raised at the hearing on June 22: namely, that the city presents new programs and initiatives as 'pilots' or 'trials' in order to avoid compliance with required legal processes and public reviews and to blunt criticism of the projects -- only to make the projects permanent without any further review."
Walden told the judge that he had submitted new Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the city's Department of Transportation, as well as Council Member Brad Lander, and that he needed time to receive and review these documents.
(You can read TN's coverage of Walden's previous FOIL request to Lander here.)
The City of New York Law Department attorney Mark Muschenheim responded with his own letter (pdf) to the judge, accusing Walden of making "an end run around the general discovery prohibition in summary proceedings." Muschenheim urged Justice Bunyan to reject the request and hold the next court hearing, as scheduled, on July 20.
According to the city's letter, Walden "mistakenly assert(s) that this article has some bearing on the statute of limitations issue in this proceeding. The article discusses generally the use of pilot projects by various City agencies. Significantly, the article makes no mention of the Prospect Park West Traffic Calming Project (“PPW Project”) that is the subject of the instant dispute." The letter goes on to reiterate the city's position that the PPW bike lane was never considered, or described, as a trial or pilot project -- and that FOIL requests are no basis to delay the next hearing.
No word on when -- or if -- the judge might issue a decision.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Wednesday was the first day of formal court hearings in Brooklyn's Prospect Park West bike lane case (see our coverage here for more information). And as we reported, the judge adjourned the case for a month to give the group suing the city time to review the documents from a Freedom of Information Law request it made.
We are also looking at those documents. Here's the background:
Soon after Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes/Seniors for Safety (NBBL) filed a lawsuit earlier this year seeking the removal of the Prospect Park West bike lane, the group's attorney, Jim Walden, submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking all records AND /emails between New York City Council member Brad Lander and/or his staff and a group of known bike-lane supporters.
In a statement today, Walden said: “We are pleased that Justice Bunyan has given us adequate time to review the FOIL documents - all 691 pages of them – that Councilmember Lander provided the night before today’s hearing. We are confident that we will find even more evidence that will help our case, given the close relationship between Councilmember Lander, DOT, and bike lane lobbyists."
Lander also provided Transportation Nation with copies of the emails.
It's no secret that the Brooklyn councilman is a longtime supporter of the PPW bike lane. He's filed an amicus brief in support of the New York City Department of Transportation (the agency being sued over the lane's installation), and he held a rally outside a Brooklyn courthouse Wednesday morning, just before the hearing. And an initial read of hundreds of pages of email correspondence between Lander and others, including members of Brooklyn's Community Board 6 and various bike advocates, provides a glimpse into Lander's strategy to advocate for the lane: facilitate public displays of support for the lane, make the case that Prospect Park West is now safer for everyone, and keep hammering home the message that both the data -- and the majority of Park Slope residents -- support the lane.
Below, some excerpts of the correspondence.
Following a New York Times profile of embattled city DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Lander moved to quickly mobilize support both at the grassroots level and in City Hall.
3/6/11 email from Brad Lander to Aaron Naparstek (founder of Streetsblog and bike lane advocate) and Paul Steely White (executive director of Transportation Alternatives, also a bike lane supporter):
"Yesterday’s article obviously makes it even more imperative that we (a) win the April CB6 vote on PPW by a large margin, and (b) get the pedestrian islands poured quickly. So we’re planning to treat the next 5 weeks like a mini-political campaign. Looking forward to working with you guys on this. I'm sharing this separately with a very small number of other mutual friends. Please keep it within this very tight circle, and be mindful of what it will look like in court. : - )"
3/7/11 email from Brad Lander to Howard Wolfson (NYC deputy mayor):
"There is very strong majority support for the PPW bike lane in Park Slope….We did an online survey (CM Levin*, CB6, and me), to which over 3,000 people responded. 70% of Park Slopers (including PPW residents, who were evenly split) favor keeping the lane. The calls, letters, emails, hearing & rally turnout, comments on the street, facebook pages, etc all run strongly (about 2 to 1) in favor of the lane. I know this may be different than in other neighborhoods around the city; but, well, it is Park Slope...Assuming that the Community Board votes in favor next month, I'm asking City Hall support DOT (and the community board, and the councilman, and majority sentiment in the neighborhood) on this one."
*NYC Council member Stephen Levin
When the bike lane isn’t plowed, no one is happy – not even bike lane opponents.
1/23/11 email from Aaron Naparstek to Brad Lander:
“I’ve been asking around trying to figure out who is responsible for the PPW bike lane not being plowed for the second time in the last few weeks. I assumed it was Steisel* talking to some old friends in Sanitation. Tupper** – very off the record – says Marty*** has insisted that the PPW bike lane be the last street in Brooklyn that gets plowed and, for some reason, Sanitation is complying. Apparently not even Norman is happy with this. Tupper first asked Steisel if the lack of plowing was his doing. He said that the lack of plowing has actually made it harder for him to access his car and he doesn’t like it either.”
*Norman Steisel, former Deputy Mayor, former Sanitation Commissioner and member of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes
** probably Tupper Thomas, the former head of the Prospect Park Alliance
*** Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President
Even if a few parking spaces are returned, the bike lane still probably won’t please the borough president:
2/7/11 email from Brad Lander to David Woloch (deputy commissioner of external affairs for the NYC Department of Transportation):
“I’m waiting for a response from Carlo* on whether Boro Hall will take part in my ‘let’s find a few parking space’ exercise. I was clear with him that the goal is to have it included in the CB6 resolution in favor of pouring concrete, but that Marty would of course be free to fulminate against the lanes until the end of time (or his term, whichever comes first).”
* probably Carlo Scissura, Marty Markowitz's chief of staff
About that survey: bike lane opponents were concerned about who would participate.
10/18/10 email from Lois Carswell (member of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes) to Craig Hammerman (district manager of Brooklyn's Community Board 6); cc: Brad Lander
“But the larger concern is that anyone, anywhere can participate and receive consideration. The bike lobby is extremely well financed and organized. At the push of a button they can elicit hundreds if not thousands of responses from people who have never – and will never – cross the Brooklyn Bridge. This is something that is basically impossible to check. It is one thing to say that park users who do not like in Park Slope deserve to be heard, but to allow well organized bikers from anywhere in the city who have no intention of ever casting their eyes on Prospect Park West to influence the survey’s outcome is just plain wrong. None of these people have to live with the dangerous, congested conditions and the defacement of a magnificent boulevard that installation of the bike lane has caused. Responses of Park Slope residents—especially those in the Prospect Park West corridor—should be heavily weighted. The others should be heavily discounted, even though they might support the overarching agenda of a bureaucracy which does not have to live with the consequences of its actions.”
Sometimes Lander wanted to keep the more vocal bike lane supporters out of the spotlight:
3/8/11 email from Brad Lander to Aaron Naparstek and Paul Steely White (leading up to a press conference on the steps of City Hall):
“Can I make a somewhat sensitive request: For today, I think, it would be better to minimize the ‘radical bike extremists’ part of this story…so while it would indeed be great to have a few people at the presser, I’d like to keep the speaking to Park Slope leaders who have not already been tagged in this light…and I also think it makes sense (though I recognize this will read like a megalomaniac politician) to try to have people who reach out to TA*, Aaron, Streetsblog instead talk to me, Michael Cairl**, etc. (Sorry! I hope you know this is for the cause.”)
* Transportation Alternatives
** Michael Cairl is the president of the Park Slope Civic Council
Lander felt that opponents weren't just reacting to the bike lanes.
12/12/10 email from Brad Lander to Aaron Naparstek:
“On the one hand, there is a strong outer borough populist strain, which is what I think is strongest in the opposition, and lumps bikes, Bloomberg, Park Slope/UWS*, congestion pricing all in one big lump. SO it doesn’t help us much with this crowd that there is support in Park Slope for PPW. (And this is why I think it is hard to make Marty feel any pain on this: for him, culturally, this is an extension of the Atlantic Yards debate.)”
* Upper West Side of Manhattan
1/22/11 email from Brad Lander to Aaron Naparstek:
“Backlash is definitely more organic than that. Jimmy Oddo & Eric Ulrich & Lew Fidler & Dov Hikind & Jimmy Vacca* are all acting on their own here, none influenced by PPW. I think CQ** is very unlikely to get involved. It’s not only the physical manifestation of Bloomberg (though it is very much that), but it also links the things they hate about Bloomberg with the things they hate about Park/Slope/Upper West Side/liberals.”
* all are members of the New York City Council
** Christine Quinn, the Council speaker
It's not easy being one of the only elected officials who vocally supports the bike lane.
Despite his position as a bike lane standard bearer, at one point Lander seemed to be a bit piqued when he felt Transportation Alternatives had misrepresented his position on the bike lane as being lukewarm -- as shown in this 7/15/10 email from Brad Lander to Paul Steely White:
"We're very glad to get the pro-bike calls on the bike lanes, so that we will be able to report accurately that the calls are running strongly in favor of the bike lanes. But I wouldn't mind also getting a bit of credit with the TA crowd for being the only elected official who's been willing to stand up in support of this. Yes, I've tried to cover my flank a bit by asking for the data from the study period, and have tried to engage the NIMFY's* in an open spirit...but in every communication I've been straightforward about my support...so I certainly have not been winning any love from them! And as the only elected official I know of who's been willing to clearly express support...I'm taking plenty of their fire."
* Not In My Front Yard
And remember: other eyes may be reading.
3/9/11 email from Brad Lander to Eric McClure (founder of Park Slope Neighbors and a bike lane supporter), Aaron Naparstek, Benjamin Fried (editor of Streetsblog), Paul Steely White, Michael Freedman-Schnapp and Rachel Goodman (latter two are staffers in Lander's office):
"One thing it made us fairly certain of: this email chain will be subpoenaed!"
3/11/11 email from Brad Lander to Paul Steely White:
"I'm optimistic, but not taking anything for granted. I've been talking with CB6 (and transportation committee members, and will keep doing so, over the next week until the committee vote, and over the next month until the CB6 vote...NBBL may, of course, also reach out to CB6 members, but I think all are very clear that the 'alternative' is no 'compromise' but in fact the elimination of the bike lane. We are working with CB6 on the 'find a few more parking spots' plan, which I think (rightly) has a much better chance of being seen as an appropriate additional modification to address some of the PPW resident concerns....
PS: Hello Jim Walden!”
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
By Kate Hinds
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. "
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
By Kate Hinds
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes/Seniors for Safety, a group that's brought suit against the city over Brooklyn's Prospect Park West bike lane, had their first appearance in court today. Among the plaintiffs who showed up for the largely procedural hearing were former Deputy Mayor (nder David Dinkins) Norman Steisel, who's now a private consultant living near the bike lane.
But after huddling for a few minutes before the judge, the only resolution was that both sides are scheduled to meet again in court in a little over a month.
The parties spoke before the judge but out of earshot. Jim Walden, the attorney for the plaintiffs, explained outside the courtroom that he was asking for a ruling on a motion for expedited discovery -- he wants the city Department of Transportation to provide more information on the bike lane, including safety data and internal emails. The attorney for the city, Mark Muschenheim, responded "we've already provided much of what they wanted through FOIL."
When the case was called, both sides huddled before Justice Bert Bunyan, who questioned them for a few minutes -- and then adjourned the case until June 22.
The New York City Law Department released the following statement:
Thursday, April 14, 2011
This is now the third local community board vote supporting the bike lane. In New York, community boards are elected to advise the city, mostly on community planning issues. Though they have little direct authority, their decisions are meant to express community will to city government.
The board voted to support modifications to the lane recommended by the NYC DOT: including creating additional parking spaces, raised pedestrian islands, bike rumble strips and clearer signage.
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The lane has drawn opposition from some prominent local residents, including the former City Transportation Commissioner, Iris Weinshall, and her husband, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who live along Prospect Park West. A group formed to file a lawsuit to remove the lane, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, is charging the city manipulated safety data.
Jim Walden, the attorney for the plaintiffs, isn't backing down in his dismissal of the community boards recommendation.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
By Kate Hinds
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) At tonight's Community Board 6 meeting in Brooklyn, among the many items on the agenda is a vote on whether to support the New York City Department of Transportation's proposed revisions to the Prospect Park West bike lane. These include the installation of raised pedestrian median islands, the installation of rumble strips, and the configuration of the Ninth Street loading zone.
The community board will also be making some suggestions of its own, like asking the DOT to reconsider the signalization of the bike lane and adding louvers on the flashing yellow signals so only bicyclists, not motorists, would see them.
The board would also like the DOT to identify opportunities to restore some parking spaces. "I think parking was probably one of the biggest issues on our residents' minds," said Craig Hammerman, the district manager for Community Board 6, who said that the board would like to DOT to "consider changing the configuration of some of the traffic islands. Instead of being these 70 - to 80- foot-long safety zones, that they instead be potentially cut in half to allow for parking spaces in between."
You can read the resolution here.
Before the meeting even starts, Jim Walden, the attorney for the group suing to remove the bike line, is sending a letter to be read at tonight's meeting. Walden says he'd like the board to defer voting on the lane's reconfiguration until "after a full and meaningful discussion about alternative configurations, which will include more pointed questions for DOT about the various decisions it made to 'sell' a dangerous bike lane to your community."
Saturday, April 02, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) The most interesting thing about Assemblymember's Jim Brennan's scientific poll of people living in neighborhoods around Prospect Park is how remarkably consistent opinion is on the two-way, protected bike lane. It was installed last June, reducing automobile traffic from three lanes to two. But there has been noisy discussion around it -- and a lawsuit to remove it -- ever since.
When Councilmember Brad Lander did a 3000-person survey back in December, 49 percent of respondents said they wanted to keep the bike lane as is, 22 percent said they wanted to keep it with changes, and 29 percent said they wanted to remove it.
When Brennan hired a national polling firm to do a statistically significant survey of how some park-bordering communities felt, 44 percent of respondents said keep it as is, 25 percent said it should be altered in some way,and 28 percent wanted to remove it.
Thus, in December of 2010, 71 percent of those surveyed wanted the bike lane to remain, 30 percent did not. Today, 69 percent of respondents want the bike lane to remain (albeit some want changes) while 29 percent wanted it removed. That difference is minuscule, and certainly well with the margin of error on Brennan's poll, 4.5 percentage points.
Given all the press that the lawsuit against the bike lane has gotten -- and all the opportunities for both sides to make their arguments, the sentiment has been remarkably consistent. Nothing is moving these numbers.
"This is only the most recent proof that bike lanes and this particular bike lane are and is popular,” Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson told me in in a telephone interview. “Sixteen points is a pretty overwhelming margin. If you have a sixteen point electoral victory they call it a landslide.” (Wolfson, having been a top aide in Hillary Clinton's campaign for President, knows something about elections.)
But if this were an election campaign, it's almost impossible to think of numbers holding like this. Some public officials have been loudly and vocally berating bike lanes -- the lanes have literally become a punch line. The tabloids have run anti-NYC DOT headlines for days in a row. Even the NY Times and NY Magazine have raised the question of whether bike lanes can turn New Yorkers against Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Apparently not. The Lander survey -- not scientific, but sampling a broad range of opinions using an array of techniques, the Brennan poll, and a recent Quinnipiac poll showing overall, 54 percent of New Yorkers say bike lanes are "a good thing" vs. 38 percent who do not -- would seem to indicate that, actually, bike lanes are one of the more popular things Mayor Bloomberg has done. (His education numbers by contrast, show only about a third of New Yorkers approve what he's doing in the schools.)
Now, this doesn't mean there isn't dissent. The Brennan poll probed depths of feeling, and found that both sides felt strongly about their positions, but more of those who are opposed felt strongly in their position. That's exactly the kind of feeling that gives rise to angry testimony at the city council, lobbying of elected representatives, and, even lawsuits.
But apparently, these strongly held beliefs are not persuading people on the other side.
Now, there were some interesting secondary questions in the poll. More people than not said the bike lane made traffic, presumably automobile traffic, worse. But that's what the members of Community Board were aiming for -- cars were speeding, they wanted them to slow down, they thought trimming Prospect Park West to two automobile lanes from three would have that effect. In general, slower speeds are experienced as more traffic-- whether you like to drive,walk, or bike.
What would be really interesting to know, and traffic engineers have studied this in elsewhere ,is whether making Prospect Park West a less auto-friendly street has affected the overall volume of automobile traffic in Park Slope.
Gridlock Sam one related to me a tale of how, when the West Side Highway fell down, he and the other engineers at City DOT were convinced that surrounding streets would be inundated with traffic -- and they were, for a while. But as they studied the traffic patterns over time what they found was that traffic was dispersing through the grid, and that a full 1/3 of it simply disappeared altogether as people switched to other modes.
A highway, former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist once argued to me, draws traffic.In fact, because drivers will go out of their way to take a route they see as faster. But if you remove a highway (as he did) it doesn't mean 40,000 cars traveling on the highway will suddenly be plunked down into the surrounding streets. Ultimately, what happened in Milwaukee is that traffic volume dropped as cars dispersed around the street grid.
Was Prospect Park West functioning in the same way, pre-bike lane,when it was faster to drive on? Were drivers going out of their way to take PPW versus, say, Seventh Avenue, two blocks over, a notoriously slow commercial street? (PPW is mostly residential.)
But back to the poll. Jim Walden, the attorney for the group suing to remove the bike lane, was clear in his dismissal of this poll: "Safety is not a popularity contest," he said.
But he couldn't resist parsing the numbers, anyway.
"Pedestrians feel less safe crossing Prospect Park West, as this poll decisively shows. But DOT's own data tell the same story, and the numbers don't lie: people feel less safe because they are less safe. In the end, safety is not a popularity contest.”
The poll does not decisively show pedestrians feel less safe: It shows most of the respondents -- a plurality -- feel neither safer nor less safe. In fact , 44 percent either feel no impact (38 percent) , or aren't sure (6 percent). Thirty three percent feel less safe, and 22 percent feel safer.
The lawsuit argues that the DOT manipulated safety data to make it look as if the bike lane were making the street safer.
Some other interesting numbers -- two thirds of respondents said they owned a car that they used regularly, while only a third said they biked regularly. Which means that drivers are for the bike lane in pretty big numbers.
Unfortunately, the poll didn't ask a follow up question to the 25 percent who said they were "in favor of altering the bike lane and traffic pattern to address driver and pedestrian concerns," so its impossible to know what those people meant -- putting in pedestrian signals, islands, and adding parking spaces, as Councilman Lander has advocated? Make the bike lane one-way, instead of two way, as some bike lane opponents have articulated?
The battle now really does move to the courts, as the court of public opinion seems to have weighed in. The first hearing is scheduled for May 18.
Except, somehow, I'm guessing we haven't heard the last word. From anyone.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Speaking on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show today, deputy mayor Howard Wolfson gave New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration's most full-throated endorsement in recent months of the city's policy of expanding bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.
"The Mayor is foursquare behind the commissioner," Wolfson said. "He believes this is the right thing. At the end of the day, when you take away all the overwrought rhetoric, it's about providing choices to New Yorkers."
Wolfson was also asked to respond to anti-Prospect Park West bike lane attorney Jim Walden's charge, made yesterday on the Brian Lehrer Show, that the Quinnipiac poll showing 54 percent of New Yorkers think bike lanes are "a good thing" means "a very, very significant minority do not, and you can feel the pulse around the city and people are largely extraordinarily upset that the administration has been so fast and loose with the data, promised a robust study, and failed to deliver."
Wolfson said: (about a minute in) "If you had a political candidate who won by fifteen points in an election, you'd call it a landslide. And so fifteen points is a significant margin, especially considering some of the adverse press that bike lanes have gotten. And you do have a minority of people who don't like bike lanes -- and they're certainly entitled to that. In this instance they've hired an outstanding attorney with a very, very prestigious law firm to engage in legal process and that's fine too, people are entitled to do that.
"We have thousands of lawsuits filed against the city every year. If we let lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits deter us from heeding the will of the people, the vast majority of the people, in making positive change, we'd never get anything done in the city...In this instance the DOT did nothing wrong and I am quite confident of the outcome of the legal process that the minority of people opposed to this bike lane have chosen to engage in."
(Note: Walden and his firm, Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, are working pro bono.)
Brian also Wolfson whether it's "a coordinated strategy from city hall to have the NYPD enforce" traffic laws for cyclists in Central Park and elsewhere.
Wolfson: (about 9 minutes in) "We have a strategy of providing greater transportation choices for New Yorkers, that certainly includes bike lanes, and we have a strategy of insuring our laws are obeyed on the roads."
You can listen to the interview below.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
By Kate Hinds
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Yesterday, it was attorney Jim Walden's turn; today, it's Howard Wolfson's. The New York City deputy mayor will be on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show this morning at (about) 10:25am to talk about the city's bike lane program. In the New York area, you can find the program on AM820 and FM 93.9; it also streams live on wnyc.org.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Jim Walden, the lawyer representing groups who are suing New York City to remove a two-way bike lane that runs along Brooklyn's Prospect Park West, was on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show today (listen here or below) to discuss the lawsuit. Much of what he said dedicated readers of this blog have heard before, but here are a few interesting parts.
About 15 minutes in, Brian asked Walden about the survey conducted by Brad Lander showing some three-quarters of residents surveyed support the bike lanes as is:
Walden: (About 14:50 in) "As I've said to Brad directly, I'm concerned about the position he's taking. They keep trumpeting this study, as if safety was a popularity contest. What they don't talk about, and it mystifies me how they would do this - there are significant number of people who responded who said they felt less safe. Now clearly the majority of the people felt more safe but it was more than 30 percent.
"I wonder if he conducted the survey again, and if he conducted the survey in person, and not over the internet so people could pad the numbers, and if he conducted it with senior citizens who access the park and disabled people who access the park what those numbers would say. "
(Michael Freedman-Schnapp, Lander's policy director, had called into the program, and he responded that some of the surveys had been conducted in person, and that all told eight percent of all residents living between Prospect Park West and Eighth Avenue -- a block away -- had responded to the survey. )
Brian Lehrer: (about 17:40 in) " Why are you doing this pro-bono? Isn't that usually reserved for indigent clients, not politically connected neighborhood groups?"
Walden: "No, but I'm glad you asked me that question. It's clearly been a source of great interest."
BL: "Right, I mean people say you're trying to suck up to Senator Schumer and get a job from him, because his wife is part of this group."
Walden: "She's not part of the group. He turned me down for the only job I ever applied so I promise you its not for any of those reasons. My pro bono work largely falls into two categories, part of it is a lot of work for indigent people and a lot of it is good government litigation. I was part of the term limits team, attacking the mayor's decision to sidestep term limits, property tax rebates -- when they tried to double the expansion of a prison in a residential area. These good government suits largely have big groups of the community, some of them rich, some of them middle class, some of them poor. None of them should have to pay to get their government to work."
[Just to clarify the above, when we'd initially reported on this, Walden told us he'd been introduced to the plaintiffs by Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani. Mastro has working closely with both Senator Schumer and his wife, the city's former transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall. While it's accurate to say that neither Senator Schumer nor his wife are plaintiffs, both have made their anti-Prospect Park West bike lane position clear, in a wide array of forums. Both joined a Facebook group in favor of removing the bike lane, and Weinshall co-signed a letter to the New York Times. ]
Brian then asked about last week's Quinnipiac poll, showing that New Yorkers think bike lanes are "a good thing" by a 54 to 39 percent margin.
Walden: "If 54 percent support, that means a very, very significant minority do not, and you can feel the pulse around the city and people are largely extraordinarily upset that the administration has been so fast and loose with the data, promised a robust study, and failed to deliver."
Note: New York City deputy mayor, Howard Wolfson, will be on the Brian Lehrer Show on Thursday morning (at about 10:25am) to talk about bike lanes from the city's point of view.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
By Kate Hinds
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) If you follow two-wheeled news (and even if you don't), you probably know about the lawsuit to remove the bike lane along Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
On this morning's Brian Lehrer Show (WNYC), Jim Walden (the attorney representing the group suing the city) will be talking about why he thinks the lane should be removed. Tune in this morning around 11:30am --in NY, that's AM820, FM 93.9 -- or listen live on the internet at wnyc.org.
On tomorrow's Brian Lehrer Show, the city will air its point of view when New York City Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson (who recently wrote a memo defending the bike lanes), comes on the show.
Read more about the lawsuit here.
Saturday, February 05, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) From the New York City DOT's perspective, the Prospect Park West bike lane was a case study in success -- it was requested and approved by the local community board both to provide a safe passageway for cyclists and prevent speeding. Once installed, the DOT says, it accomplished its goals, moving vast numbers of cyclists from the sidewalks to the bike lane and dramatically slowing dangerous speeding. The DOT says all its data is public, on its website.
And a survey by Councilmember Brad Lander says three quarters of Brooklyn residents support the bike lane.
But for opponents, according to a letter written to Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan by the group's lawyer, Jim Walden, of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the process has been less than transparent. "PPW residents are imperiled by reckless cyclists with dangerous frequency." That letter did not provide further data, but said without a promise from the DOT to "refrain from making a final determination," on the bike lane "legal remedies" would be pursued.
In testimony before the City Council late last year, Commissioner Sadik-Khan said the lane was permanent, and not an experiment.
Here's the full letter to the Commissioner from Neighbors for a Better Bike Lane.
Walden would not comment on any potential legal action, and the city DOT would not confirm the existence of the letter.
Click the image for a larger version (which you should be able to zoom in on for easy reading convenience).