Fifth Ave BID, CB6 District Manager Take Aim at Park Slope Bike Lane

fifth_ave_delivery.jpgFifth Avenue in Park Slope on a weekday morning. What’s wrong with this picture? Photo: Ben Fried.

Just about every New York City neighborhood has to deal with the consequences of dirt cheap on-street parking. When you practically give away spaces at rock-bottom prices, it guarantees double parking and endless cruising for spots by bargain hunting drivers. Which is bad news for all the bus riders, cyclists, and delivery drivers who have to contend with the clogged curbs, extra traffic, and lane-blocking vehicles that result.

For the past month, Fifth Avenue in Park Slope has been
experimenting with DOT’s PARK Smart program, which adjusts the price of
metered spaces during peak hours and promises to eliminate some of the curbside dysfunction. A few Park Slope business owners also see their neighborhood’s PARK Smart pilot as a good opportunity to eliminate something else: the Fifth Avenue bike lane.

This January, at the same time that DOT and Brooklyn CB6 were discussing the launch of PARK Smart, the Fifth Avenue BID approached the community board about doing away with the Class 2 bike lane that runs from Carroll Street to 24th Street.

The contention from BID director Irene LoRe, proprietor of the restaurant Aunt Suzie’s, is that the bike lane interferes with deliveries and customer access. Even though parked cars, not two stripes of thermoplast, are what prevent delivery trucks from parking legally. And despite the fact that, according to several Fifth Avenue merchants who were unaware of the BID’s request, tickets for double parking were just as common before the bike lane arrived (about five years ago).

Nevertheless, CB6 District Manager Craig Hammerman told Streetsblog last month that he thinks the BID has a point. "Previously the trucks could double park; now that there’s a bike lane, you can’t load or unload," he said, agreeing with the notion that the lane is causing headaches for business owners and delivery drivers. "The idea is to share the roads. We’d love to see some sort of compromise."

What sort of compromise, exactly?

Hammerman provided us with a letter [PDF] he sent earlier this year to LoRe and Judi Pheiffer, another local business owner. In it, he proposes converting the existing bike lane to a Class 3 route. That means cyclists would get sharrows instead — road markings that don’t carry the same visual weight or staying power as dedicated lanes. "It would seem to me," Hammerman wrote, that converting the bike lane to sharrows "would eliminate the existing conflict between the bicycles and the merchant delivery trucks."

Or it would simply expose thousands of people to more danger and risk. The proposed scenario wouldn’t do anything to help delivery drivers find curbside spots, but it would force cyclists to kiss their dedicated space goodbye. In DOT’s latest survey of Fifth Avenue bike traffic, conducted on a weekday in October, 865 cyclists were counted between 8th Street and 9th Street in one twelve-hour period. There’s no indication that the agency will roll back this widely used safety measure, but it’s worth noting that bike infrastructure has come under fire in a seemingly unrelated discussion of meter pricing.

In a phone call with Streetsblog, BID director Irene LoRe laid out her belief that customers and suppliers are collecting more parking tickets because of the bike lane. "You can get a ticket for blocking the bike lane," she said, claiming that parking enforcement is increasing costs for retail merchants on Fifth. "Eventually a [supplier] is going to put it into their price." (Note, however, that parking in a bike lane — violation 48doesn’t even have a check-box on the New York City parking summons.)

LoRe expressed tentative support for PARK Smart but didn’t agree with the proposition that parking dysfunction should be cured with a combination of market-rate meter prices and coordinated delivery zones. "Believe me," she said, "if you start creating loading zones, you’re going to take
away all the parking spots you created with PARK Smart." While LoRe said she would welcome bike infrastructure on another street (she suggested a protected path on Fourth Avenue), it became clear during the course of our conversation that she does
not see bicyclists as potential customers, and that restaurants, in her words, "depend on customers coming by car."

We know from studies of Prince Street in Manhattan and Bloor Street in Toronto that businesses in many urban neighborhoods have more to gain from attracting pedestrians and cyclists than from providing cheap parking. Park Slope is not the same as SoHo, of course, but it is dense, walkable, easily accessible by transit, and full of people who ride bikes.

Plenty of merchants along Fifth Avenue don’t share LoRe’s take on the situation. Mike Naber, who’s run Bonnie’s Grill for 10 years, said his delivery guys do get about six tickets per week, but that the enforcement has little to do with the lane striping. "It was like that before the bike lane," he said. (We’ll have more from other Fifth Avenue merchants in a future post.)

Better curbside management holds the promise of vastly improved streets
— pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders stand to benefit enormously from properly priced parking and coordinated deliveries. So do many businesses, but myths and misconceptions still abound.

  • Derek

    For all you who say you will never eat at Aunt Suzie’s again because the owner “does not see bicyclists as potential customers”, you are only proving her right. Is that what you really want?

    For all you who say you need a bike lane instead of sharrows, have you forgotten that “bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles”?

    Honestly!

  • Derek,

    In this case unless she doesn’t reverse her rhetoric, I’d say yes. My few trips per year over there to eat are in jeopardy. There are plenty of other businesses that could use my $$$.

  • Tony V

    Perhaps a compromise could be to permit trucks to park in front of hydrants to unload during business hours. Truck drivers have incentive to unload efficiently to keep to their schedule of deliveries and do not abandon their trucks like the UPS and USPS drivers do (e.g., to enter residences and apartment buildings).

    Give delivery trucks priority to use that space and that gets some trucks off the street.

    Of course, large trailers like the ones that stop in front of supermarkets won’t fit but many arrive during the street cleaning period in the early mornings to unload.

    There is no perfect solution. The avenues were not planned to account for bicycle traffic. They are too narrow, or in the case of 4th Avenue, too highly trafficked. But I think bicycle riding should not be discouraged.

  • Derek,

    I don’t think they care if Aunt Suzie is proven right in that aspect, I think it’s more important to them that they don’t support someone who is acting like a tool and not realizing that there are plenty of cyclists who need a safe passage through and into a commercial area.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Bill from Brooklyn,

    I re-read all of the comments. I find the tone of this discussion to be pretty rational and respectful overall. I do not see any example of “moral superiority” in the comments of those who advocate safe bike transportation on 5th Avenue. Perhaps you could point to a specific example. In general, I am skeptical of the cyclist-as-elitist critique. Many of the people I see on bikes, particularly in well-heeled Park Slope, are young renters in their 20’s and immigrant delivery guys. These people are by no means an “elite” when it comes to personal wealth or local politics.

    My wife and I had a fancy dinner at Applewood the other night up on 11th Street. One of the things we like about the restaurant is their support for local farmers, sustainable agriculture an5 the neighborhood as a whole. We mainly went ther because the food is great. But these “political” factors also played some role in our choice to bike over and spend (too much!) money there. So, I think it is entirely reasonable for consumers to boycott Aunt Suzie’s if they feel that the work Irene is doing in the community is harmful to their interests or the community as a whole.

    I also agree with Erin that the 5th ave BID needs to put forward a more rational argument about their problem. And they need to come to thw table with more open-mindedness about potential solutions. It is not at all clear how these two stripes of Thermoplastic bike lane are harming local businesses. However, if there’s a delivery truck problem, let’s talk about that and solve it. Let’s not scapegoat cyclists.

  • Boris

    “The avenues were not planned to account for bicycle traffic.”

    They weren’t planned to account for automobile traffic, either, when they were built. Yet somehow now most of the space on them is dedicated to automobiles.

    The “perfect solution” was mentioned early in the thread- truck loading zones. Add intelligent scheduling- let’s say, 6 am-10 am- to avoid conflicts with shoppers and give trucks an incentive to get to their destinations before rush hour.

  • @Mike,

    Actually, I believe I’m on the mark, because making Sixth Avenue one-way, even a narrow one-way with bike lanes, would still increase the amount of driving in the neighborhood, since drivers, in many instances, would have to cover more ground to get to their destinations. One-way networks also increase turning movements, leading to more vehicle-pedestrian conflicts. Making Sixth Avenue one-way would also shunt more vehicles on to Fifth and Seventh Avenues, thus exacerbating the double-parking problems.

  • anon

    I think it’s really weird that Brooklyn Bill is citing the Fulton Street Mall, which is a PEDESTRIAN-ONLY mall to make his point that cars are really necessary for Brooklyn businesses to succeed.

    Also, if the problem is that trucks can’t unload, why not eliminate 2-3 parking spaces per block on a commercial strip and make them standing-only loading & unloading zones? I’d support that whether there’s a bike lane on the street or not!

    “Perhaps a compromise could be to permit trucks to park in front of hydrants to unload during business hours.” See, that’s another good idea, too! Just make the law that the driver has to be there the whole time.

    The problem here is double parking. I don’t understand how lowering fines for double-parking will eliminate the _problem_ of double-parking. You need to create dedicated spaces for delivery guys to load and unload their trucks. That’s got ZERO to do with cyclists and everything to do with the cars parked at the curb.

  • al oof

    yeah, bill in brooklyn, the real problem is the parked cars. without them, trucks can pull right up to the curb, and not be in the bike lane. but you don’t see this woman complaining about the parking. even though people parking in front of her store could only be about 5 groups of customers at a time. meanwhile, the bike lane brings bike riders face to face with her establishment every time they pass. someone’s point that they wouldn’t stop if they were in a car is right on. as someone who is sometimes in a car and usually on a bike, for sure i am more likely to make a random stop somewhere on a bike. and i’m certainly more likely to notice what businesses are on a street.

    it just doesn’t make sense. and you and the woman who owns that restaurant are going to have to face, at some point, that bike lanes aren’t the problem, car parking -is-.

  • More evidence that auto subsidies and restrictions on public transit (fares) are an anti-business restraint-of-trade policy that hurts all business in favor of a few businesses. Conservatives and libertarians should be marching in the streets against such picking of winners. We should remove the fares from our public investment in public transit and stop blocking business with unnecessary traffic/parking congestion.

  • Chris

    Why not swap the parking lane with the bike lane? That way, the bike lane is protected and double parkers aren’t blocking a bike lane? Of course, they will still be double parking and they will probably still get ticketed, but that’s how it was before the bike lane was put in anyway.

  • Erin

    In response to Derek, who wrote:
    “For all you who say you need a bike lane instead of sharrows, have you forgotten that “bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles”?”

    That’s true, in some metropolitan areas. This practice doesn’t work when applied to all cities or locations, however. Driving attitudes are different in City A as opposed to in City B. Street geometries are different too.

    Sharrows work really well in Portland (Oregon), for example, because they’re often used in conjunction with some other type of traffic calming and/or “road diet”. The signal timing on downtown Portland streets also allows drivers to make all the green lights if they progress at a steady 13.5 mph (plus or minus 1mph; I don’t remember the exact number right now). Once drivers know the trick, they’re no longer so impatient to be behind a cyclist. Honking there is really rare compared to honking in Brooklyn and the other boroughs, and that makes being outdoors and in vehicles (cars or otherwise) less stressful for everyone.

    There are a lot of wide-roads in suburban areas where cars drive quite fast and cyclists are (rightfully) afraid to ride. These are other areas where cyclists shouldn’t be expected to participate in traffic as the cars do. It’s dangerous and frightening.

  • PSlopeBiker

    I park my bike near Aunt Suzie’s frequently and I see their customers do often park cars right out front. Their customer base seems to be older, more car oriented and suburban. All the other restaurants and bars nearby have more walking and biking customers. There is no need for private car parking on 5th ave make the whole thing a loading zone. Maybe Aunt Suzie’s could offer their customer discounts at nearby parking garages instead of removing bike lanes.

  • KRQ

    I used to own a bar on 5th avenue and the notion that the bike lane is the problem with deliveries and ticketing is retarded. What needs to happen is a tax break for businesses that send and accept deliveries during non-peak hours- say, 4- 6 am. That would fix congestion, allow bikers to be safe, and SAVE the merchants money. The city is going to ticket regardless, ever watched the news???

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