Ppw Bike Lane
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.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
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.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Justice Bert Bunyan of Brooklyn has dismissed a lawsuit against a Brooklyn bike lane that has become a flash point in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to re-organize street space to promote biking, walking and more sustainable modes of transportation. (Full ruling here.)
This is the first time a court has ruled on whether the city has legal authority to install bike lanes at a rapid clip.
The suit, which had prominent backers include former city transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall, and her husband, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who live along Prospect Park West, alleged the city manipulated data and hadn't properly consulted the community in building the lane.
The lawsuit, filed at the end of March after a particularly brutal and unhappy winter for New Yorkers -- including piles of snow, endless blizzards, and seemingly interminable transit delays -- seemed to crystallize emotions of some New Yorkers, that bike lanes were being imposed on communities.
Though bike lanes, including the Prospect Park West one, were built at the behest of the local community board, the rap on them -- , feeds into a vulnerability of the Mayor's -- that he does things by fiat.
His seemingly-unrelated and ultimately disastrous appointment of former Schools Chancellor Cathie Black in the fall poured gasoline on that perception, as did his initial dismissiveness about the impact of the blizzard of 2010, when he recommended stranded New Yorkers go see a Broadway show while they were waiting for their roads to be plowed.
All of this created a political atmosphere where going after Mayor Bloomberg on bike lanes seemed an easy target. When the lawsuit was filed, it was noticed.
But the snows of winter eventually did melt, and the bike lane has proven popular in the community, with polls showing around two thirds of Brooklynites wanting to keep it, or keep it with modifications.
In an emailed statement, the city transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, said she considered the matter settled.
"This decision results in a hands-down victory for communities across the city. The plaintiffs have been dead wrong in their unsupported claims about the bike path and DOT’s practices,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement emailed by the city.
But at the end of the day, the judge did not rule on the merits of the bike lane. Plaintiffs didn't get to make the argument that the lane had adverse affects. Instead, lawyers for the plaintiffs found themselves arguing mostly on a technical point --whether the bike lane was a "trial." The point was crucial, because plaintiffs would have to have filed their lawsuit much earlier if the bike was intended to be permanent.
At the end of the day, and the judge ruled resoundingly the project wasn't experimental. (Plaintiffs had gone so far as to make the abbreviation EBL -- "experimental bike lane" -- in legal filings.) The opponents “presented no evidence that D.O.T. viewed the bikeway as a pilot or temporary project," the Judge said in his ruling. That meant they'd missed their deadline.
The judge did say the city had failed to properly answer a freedom of information request filed by the lawsuit's opponents; it ordered the city to do so. He did not rule on whether the city manipulated data, because the complaint was dismissed on timeliness issues.
The attorney for the plaintiffs, Jim Walden said in a statement, "Although we respectfully disagree with the Court's determination on the statute of limitations, we will need time to review his comprehensive analysis before deciding on our options."
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Opponents had said the plan was temporary, and therefore, the statute of limitations had not expired. Bunyan ruled the project is permanent. Opponents say they are considering their options.
For our fuller article on this go here. You can catch yourself up on the arguments and the lengthy legal battle over the most contentious .9 miles of city pavement with our extensive previous coverage here. Or review the original court filings.
In the meantime, here's the judges ruling. The key part about the statute of limitations is on page 5 where he writes: “The threshold issue is whether petitioners’ bikeway claim is timely.”
TN MOVING STORIES: Making DC More Ped-Friendly, Roil in the Mass DOT, and Faster Airport Screenings?
Friday, July 15, 2011
By Kate Hinds
How to make the DC area more pedestrian-friendly: discuss. (Kojo Nnamdi Show/WAMU)
Another Massachusetts transportation secretary is quitting. "No other Cabinet position has had as much turnover," writes the Boston Globe.
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin wants an ADA-compliant Taxi of Tomorrow. (New York Daily News)
New York is adding surveillance cameras to 341 more buses. (NY1)
Streetsblog looks at emails about the Prospect Park West bike lane, says the only people referring to the lane as a "trial" were the lane's opponents, not the DOT or city officials.
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. "
Monday, April 04, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) In case you missed it over the weekend (what, on a beautiful Saturday you weren't plunked in front of a screen?), here's my analysis of the poll Jim Brennan released on Brooklyn's Prospect Park West bike lane. (Never has a mile of roadway been so parsed. But anyway.)
Essentially, its results are identical to the Brad Lander survey taken in December. That shows a remarkable steadiness in public opinion, despite heated coverage in almost every form of media, and noisy and vehement arguing on both sides.
The bike lane remains the choice of the plurality of respondants...and if you add in those who want to keep it with (unspecified) changes, that turns into a big majority.
The analysis is here.
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Monday, February 07, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Since we posted our article on Friday about an expected lawsuit over the bike lane on Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, I've gotten a lot of questions about WHY some residents of Prospect Park West are opposed to the bike lane.
Their argument: it causes automobile congestion, it changes the historic character of the boulevard, and it's confusing to pedestrians. It's a version of a sentiment that we've heard from opponents of bike lanes around the city -- in fact around the nation.
There's also the issue of the pace of change -- some 300 miles of bike lanes have been installed since 2007. There are few cities that have so rapidly redrawn their landscapes as New York City has.
But I also wonder if there isn't an element of the following: it can be disorienting to have our immediate physical environment disrupted. In the post-9/11 fog of the fall of 2001, this article from the New York Times made a lasting impression. Since our hunter-gather days, it suggested:
"Thinking about paths and landscapes was shifted mostly into the subconscious, leaving the rest of the brain free for the hard work of earning a living.
"People still think that way, according to psychologists. Each person makes his or her own little map of the world, with some places colored red for danger or excitement, others warmly tinted with hues of home and safety. That knowledge is then filed away in the back-office of the mind and off we go, commuting to our jobs, and doing lots of other familiar tasks as well, pretty much on autopilot."
Could the same phenomenon be at work with bike lane construction?
By the way, here's a somewhat easier to read version (than the version we posted over the weekend) of the legal letter sent to the city Department of Transportation by bike lane opponents sent in late December.
And, in case you missed it, the New York Post reported over the weekend that Senator Charles Schumer has been personally lobbying city council members on this.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) In Brooklyn, New York one bike lane in particular is serving as a flash point for debate between motorists and cyclists over how to use the streets. The attention, and conflict, has also increased incentive to quantify and measure the impact of the Prospect Park West bike lane—that's good for any of us craving data on transportation policies.
So, the New York City Department of Transportation has just issued informative findings from their research on the PPW bike lane. Not surprisingly, it supports the DOT's decision to build the lane. “The traffic volume, travel speed and bike lane usage data support this traffic calming project, and it’s clear that the public supports it too. We look forward to working with residents and local officials to make it even better,” says DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in an emailed statement.
The NYC DOT finds that weekday cycling has just about tripled and the number of people riding on the sidewalk, a hazard to pedestrians, has fallen dramatically from 46 percent to just 3 percent of cyclists. Additionally, the total number of weekday cyclists has almost tripled along the PPW route. Weekend bike ridership also more than doubled.
The addition of the bike lane included a new traffic pattern, designed in part to reduce car speeds by cutting the number of lanes from three to two along this edge of Brooklyn's iconic Prospect Park. The slowing effect seems to have worked according to DOT statistics. Before the bike lane, three out of four cars broke the speed limit. Now, the DOT reports, just one sixth of cars top 30 m.p.h.
What's especially interesting—and a little unexpected—is the impact on total usage. Commuter volume on the street has increased in both morning and afternoon rush hours. In the morning, there are both more cyclist commuters and more car commuters, though in the afternoon car commuting has dropped while bike commuting has spiked enough to compensate on the one way boulevard. Travel times along the route and nearby avenues are mixed; some nearby streets are now faster than before and some slower depending on time of day. Overall though, the DOT data show motor vehicle traffic has not been negatively affected while biking has increased dramatically.
See a power point slideshow of the full findings here.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Read the full survey here.
The two-way protected bike lane along Brooklyn's Prospect Park West has drawn controversy since before it was built. The lane was heavily favored by the local community board, which asked the NYC DOT to come up with a plan to slow traffic along the historic Olmstead-designed park, where more than half of all drivers routinely broke the speed limit.
Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Borough President, wrote letters, led protests, and otherwise, vocally objected to the bike lane. The lane, it was believed, would inevitably cause congestion, would change the historic nature of the boulevard -- and cyclists could be perfectly well served by the a ride through the park (though only in one direction).
But the DOT installed the lane anyway, and this fall announced its results: speeding had been reduced dramatically, and bike riding on the sidewalk -- something once done by nearly half of all cyclists -- had dwindled to almost nothing.
But unlike in other street-use battles, which tend to die down over time, after users get used to the new street design, the normally voluble Markowitz has remained voluble, if anything stepping up his criticism. And some residents of Prospect Park West, which borders the park have continued their loud protest.
Meantime cyclists have been equally fierce in defending the lane, extolling the safe new path to get to work or around Park Slope.
Into this roil comes City Councilmember Brad Lander, who surveyed three thousand Brooklyn residents, and found that along Prospect Park West, residents are evenly split about the lane. But go a block away, and continue on, and there's overwhelming support: By a margin of three to one, Park Slope residents believe in keeping the lane.