Dispute Over Kent Avenue Bike Lanes Keeps Rolling

The reinstalled detour sign on Kent Avenue. Photo via Gothamist.

The controversy over the new bike lanes on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg (which recently resulted in the ouster of livable streets activist Teresa Toro as chair of the CB1 transportation committee) was chronicled in the New York Times over the weekend:

New York City has created more than 100 miles of bicycle lanes in recent years to encourage and accommodate the number of people who, compelled by a desire to preserve the environment or preserve their bank accounts, have taken to getting around on two wheels.

But the effort to turn the city into a place that embraces bicyclists has clashed with a long-entrenched reality — New York is a crowded, congested urban landscape where every patch of asphalt is coveted.

Gothamist has been following one of the most surreal aspects of the Kent Avenue drama—the ups and downs of the very unofficial "detour" sign pictured above, part of the anti-bike-lane campaign. On private property, it advises drivers that school buses will block the street and the bike lane while picking up and dropping off children. As of Dec. 31st, it was back up. As Gothamist writes, "The big question now is whether the city cares enough to step in and take it down."

  • J. Mork

    IMNLO, this is clearly not an official sign. I think the first amendment trumps in this case.

  • Avi

    The better question is why there aren’t cops waiting to ticket the buses which have publicly announced they will violate traffic regulations and block traffic.

  • Rhywun

    What’s this really about? I don’t know that area; was there really parking on that street before? And if so, why did they remove it? The other bike lanes I’ve seen in the city did not replace parking.

    Besides, if they want parking, build their own damn lot. Nobody has a “right” to park on city streets, anywhere.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Kent Avenue is on the border of the southern section of the waterfront. You’d think the locals would want the bikes over there, rather than running down the center of their community, if bicycles are such a problem.

    How about this deal — if they can get funding for the two-way barrier separated Greenway, the city can make Lee Avenue a “no bicycles” street.

  • What a PR nightmare! I personally don’t think fighting the sign is a good idea. It just draws more attention to the people who want everyone to believe that bike lanes and safe streets and sidewalks and a less congested city are goals for elitists.

    It sounds like the DOT has put in a loading zone and they are even going to add some parking (never a fan of more parking, but the DOT can appear to be tine deaf) — so compromise is happening. That’s good.

    I think the next question is looking at why people still choose to drive in these areas– it must be easier and less expensive in some kind of way– what can be done to reach out to people so they have more alternatives and don’t feel boxed in to having to drive everywhere?

  • Shemp

    Plus it’s not noticeable or readable from the street.

  • I agree with Rhywun, the residents can build their own parking lot.

  • k.geis

    Ms Donovan-

    I believe the objection is to the removal of standing/loading zones nearby Hasidic schools, which are on Kent in the vicinity of S6th, if I recall correctly. (Over and above the scantily-clad-hipsters ‘problem’.)

    Frankly I think they’ve a valid objection.

    Their protest method, however, is not valid; like Avi said, they need to be ticketed. They could’ve made this case at any of the number of public airings and board meetings that preceded installation.

    The solution is a separated greenway… which is what’s planned, yeah?

    I bike use Kent regularly, and south of Grand, it’s just an awful place to ride, even with the bike lanes. It is the only place where I am legitimately afraid of being hit from behind by a speeding car.

  • Doug

    the number of people who, compelled by a desire to preserve the environment or preserve their bank accounts, have taken to getting around on two wheels.

    Are those the only two reasons why someone would bike around the city? This, to me, speaks to one of the reasons cyclists so often lose the PR battle and why a group can get away with posting a sign such as this. Cyclists are often seen as cash-poor eco-freaks who ride either because other means cost too much or because we’re making a political statement.

    I ride because it’s fun, fast, and easier than a lot of alternatives. I like being outside. I like the exercise. I like the fact that I am not beholden to a bus route or finding a parking spot if want to stop during my commute.

    I’m sure there are as many reasons for riding as there are riders. Until we’re seen as a broad constituency with a broad array of interests we’ll be relegated to being seen as less-than-deserving of city resources.

  • I think most reasonable people would acknowledge that curbside access for children disembarking from school buses (or some reasonable equivalent facility to keep small kids out of traffic) is just as important from a safety perspective as this curbside bike lane (I would distinguish parents dropping off their kids, they don’t require any special accomodations, this is not the suburbs).

    The city can deal with this by designating a schoolbus drop off area in front of or adjacent to the school, and routing the on-street painted bike lane around it. Take the space needed to do this from either or both of (a) the traffic lane or (b) the sidewalk. Put in speed humps, signage, a 15 MPH limit and other controls so that motor vehicles passing the resulting pinch point are slowed to a crawl. Viola, everyone’s safer.

  • Lee

    It is interesting that the parents dropping kids off at school are the force resisting bike infrastructure where it impedes car parking. There is a lesson here. In Japan it is illegal to drop your kids off at daycare or school in a car, thus the cycling mothers become a powerful political force which promotes better / safer / more convenient bicycle infrastructure, especially near schools.

    If we want to be serious about promoting bicycle infrastructure, we need to be serious about not just promoting, but in some cases even requiring it’s use it’s use for daily activities such as dropping one’s kids off at school. This is necessary not only for practical reasons but political reasons as well.

    There is a psychological trick here as well. When we are forced to only one option which is permanent (to bike kids to school) we will enjoy and support it far more than if we had to make a reversable decision between 2 or more options. Choice induces doubt, which results in both options being viewed less favorably.

  • Streetsman

    Maybe they could make Kent Avenue one-way with parking on both sides, and protected bike lanes (Grand Street style) on both sides. Or a two-way cycle track on one side. There are going to have to be trade-offs: automobile users could get parking back, but only if the street is reduced to one moving lane.

  • clashed with a long-entrenched reality — New York is a crowded, congested urban landscape where every patch of asphalt is coveted

    It hasn’t clashed with that reality, it’s part of it. Some people (not all of them cyclists) are sick of drivers coveting the vast majority of asphalt (including many sidewalks) and are now getting enough power to covet their own. The drivers are losing power, and striking out in rage. Colin Moynihan totally missed that angle to the story.

    I think the next question is looking at why people still choose to drive in these areas– it must be easier and less expensive in some kind of way–

    It’s true that Kent Avenue is pretty far from any subway stations, and thus inconvenient to get around unless you have a car or a bike. That’s why Schaefer Landing was such a bad idea. They promised a water taxi, but that didn’t take residents anywhere in the neighborhood, and it’s gone now anyway.

    The impression I have is that that’s not why the Hasids drive, though. I think it’s simply that cars are a strong status symbol in that community. Also, a lot of value is placed on having a big family, so the bigger the car you drive, the bigger your family must be.

  • Capn’Transit,

    You’ve always got some great comments and a wealth of transportation knowledge but i have to disagree here. Yes, a big family is important to the Orthodox community, but i don’t think the minivans are status symbols at all. and if they were, it’d be casting deity like importance on vehicles… pretty ironic considering the whole ‘thou shalt have no there g-d before me.’

    I don’t think its a status symbol, but rather a close knit community that’s conservative not just in faith, but in notions of livable streets. And that’s a problem that’s realistically still apparent in many neighborhoods where people haven’t had strong bus, train, or bike options for a while.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The impression I have is that that’s not why the Hasids drive, though. I think it’s simply that cars are a strong status symbol in that community.”

    It would not surprise me if auto ownership, and use of the auto to travel to work, is very low in Hasidic communities relative to others.

    Remember the major factor that drives where the orthodox choose to live — the fact that they do not drive on Saturday. That induces them to cluster in pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods.

    I’d bet auto ownership is higher in Northside.

  • Shemp

    Whatever the cause and the ownership share, the cars are way bigger on the South Side.

  • Steven O’Neill

    I tried out two different census tracts (2000 census) that seemed like they would be good to compare, thought I have quite possibly chosen poorly.

    The results are, by household:
    tract 547, South side: 84.4% car free.
    tract 553, North side: 81.1% car free.

    (547 is south of the Williamsburg bridge, closest to the river; 553 is my approximation of the tract that includes the Bedford Ave. Subway stop.)

    These data are from http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DTTable?_bm=y&-context=dt&-reg=&-ds_name=DEC_2000_SF3_U&-gc_url=&-mt_name=DEC_2000_SF3_U_H044&-tree_id=403&-redoLog=true&-all_geo_types=N&-_caller=geoselect&-geo_id=14000US36047054700&-geo_id=14000US36047055300&-search_results=14000US36047055300&-format=&-_lang=en

    You can add another parameter to the end of the above URL (such as “&-geo_id=14000US36047055400” would be tract 554) if you are inclined to improve upon my “study”.

    The census tract map I used is here:
    http://www.unhp.org/pdf/maps/tract_bk.pdf

  • J

    Steven, if your numbers are correct, then this is another example of a small minority of residents kicking and screaming as their driving privileges are slowly eroded. Unfortunately, the drivers are often able to yell so loudly that elected officials believe that they represent the majority, even when drivers only represent about 15% of households.

    Send this info to Yassky, Reyna, and Markowitz so they can know whose voices they represent. Will they really choose an angry 15% with a poster over a 39-2 community board vote?

  • Agreed that the passage about “reality” is unfortunate, especially since that word has become shorthand of the livable streets backlash. But that was the only sentence in the article that I found misrepresentative. Given NYT’s usual standard of he parked, she parked in surface transportation reporting, I was thrilled to read it.

    As for reality, it is just a plaything of time. The new bicycle lanes don’t clash with reality: they are reality. The car parking that was in them—that is history. And most New Yorkers, accustomed to scurrying out of paved-over public spaces that a motorized class forcefully occupies, have only just begun to “covet” their street space. I’m heartened that the paper may cover this progress more thoughtfully in 2009.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Whatever the cause and the ownership share, the cars are way bigger on the South Side.

    Big families and carpooling. You never see just one Hasid in a car. The Orthodox even have their own bus system running from Williamsburg to more affluent Boro Park, where there are more jobs. (The buses seem a little weak on the air pollution rules, though).

    The issue here may not be who gets to drive around by themselves in a car everywhere. It may be who is in charge, who gets the parking and loading that are needed, whose dress code is followed, etc. My guess is there is a lot more common ground between the average bike commuter and the average Orthdox than bike commuter and the average state legislator.

    Like I said in response to the assertion that the city zoning “requires” as opposed to “permits” accessory parking, just look at the new Hasidic developments moving south down Bedford/Nostrand/Franklin to see how much parking you find. Not so much. But those cars owned by 20% move lots of folks around.

  • Paco, Larry and Steven are right; I shouldn’t have made generalizations about the Hasids. Their private buses are pretty impressive. Sounds like it’s more a problem with this Abraham guy and other members of the elite, as Larry suggests.

  • I can’t read that ad/sign, but I was under the impression that school buses do pick-ups and drop-offs in Williamsburg always in this way. It is totally illegal, but it is the only way they feel safe without having their kids run over by vehicles who also never obey the law. Nobody should pass a school bus when they’re making a stop for picking up and dropping off.

    But I am confused, is this off topic? I don’t see what any of this has to do with a bike lane.

  • jackr

    love this comment in the nytimes article:

    Leo Moskowitz, who lives in Schaefer Landing, said he has young children whom he frequently ferries around town by car. “Before, there were 100 parking spaces…and now there are none,” he said. “I drop my children off three blocks away if I’m lucky enough to find a space.”

  • Moshe Aron Kestenbaum

    Did I mention that I hate truckers? Cuz i really do, Seriously. … Y’all are so damn stupid. A truck almost ran overmy ass on Wythe Ave today . And we will get even more truckers on Wythe Ave? Me and my Dam ass is gonna fight back this mayhem

  • Moshe Aron Kestenbaum

    Lets join together at a Prospect Park vigil to Light A Candle, for the tragic Death of 3000 geese that were killed in propect park .

    MY eulogy for the geese.

    The lake was thawing, the early spring sun reflected its glare,
    the lovely geese just landed, one plummeting through the air. As they execute their dances and drills
    over flat land and rolling hills.
    The livegeese nestled beside her lifeless mate, silent in the reeds, his still form was no longer receptive to his mate’s nurturing needs. She rested beside him, nudging softly, waiting for the same,
    eyes blinking, not comprehending, waiting, but nothing came.

    If I could put together a quorum ( a minyan ) to assemble in the park for the geeese that were killed I will say a Kadish

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