Gerson on Grand Street Safety: Never Mind the Facts

City Council member Alan Gerson didn’t have much new to say at his sidewalk protest of the Grand Street bike lane. But a handful of reporters and a few cyclists pressed him to defend the idea that projects designed to improve street safety should be subject to greater City Council review.

Gerson’s assertion of "dangerous conditions" on Grand Street basically amounted to this: The row of parked cars on the south side used to protect only pedestrians; now it protects pedestrians and cyclists, so there’s a perception among some of the older residents that they’re at greater risk because cyclists are riding next to the curb.

But do the data back up the perception? In a word, No. According to DOT’s study of Grand Street, injuries are down 28.8 percent since the protected lane was installed nine months ago. Which only makes sense, because the parking-protected bike path has narrowed the traffic lane, sending cues for drivers to slow down and making a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists.

Gerson was not swayed by statistical evidence. "Sometimes anecdotal testimony reflects the reality," he said. For bike lane opponents, however, reality intruded rather inconveniently this afternoon.

A couple of speakers employed the time-honored "no one uses the bike lane" argument. Since they were standing right next to the bike lane in question, it was plain to see the dozens of people riding by during the course of the event. (A DOT traffic count last month tallied 990 cyclists in one 12-hour span.) Other well-worn assertions — that the bike lane has hurt business and worsened congestion — were similarly offered without supporting facts.

All the while, Gerson attempted to portray himself as an advocate for street safety who just wants to get everyone on the same page, by taking into account such factors as "the needs of traffic flow." When a reporter suggested that this was a recipe for inaction, Gerson argued that it is ultimately futile "to pit local neighborhoods against cyclists."

Set aside, for the moment, that the Grand Street bike lane is probably quite well-used by neighborhood residents (Gerson’s district is nearly 80 percent car-free). Who’s doing the "pitting" here? Fewer people are getting hurt on Grand Street now than before the protected bike path was installed. Wouldn’t a public servant committed to safer streets try to preserve those gains? If there’s some tension between pedestrians and cyclists, Alan Gerson could use his "town halls" to get people talking about how they can get the most out of a much-needed safety enhancement. Instead, he’s simply escalating the conflict.

Video: Elizabeth Press

  • Car Free Nation

    The thing that bothers me most is that although I work in his district and use the bike lane in question every day (stopping to shop at local stores that I never used to shop at twice a week or so), I vote elsewhere and cannot vote him down.

    I hope the DOT has the authority and the guts to stand up to him. What a moron!

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Let’s also not forget in addition to those 990 cyclists in 12 hours, the lane is also mobbed by pedestrians quite frequently east of Mott Street. When I use it, there is never a time where i don’t see at least a half dozen in the lane.

    Yeah, I am pissed, but I just jingle my bell and don’t get too mad, after all they are overcrowded too.

  • Omri

    When I was in Amsterdam, I noticed that if a bike lane was buffered from cars, you had to ride slowly because of pedestrians and wheel chair users, while if it wasn’t, you could speed up a notch. Users of the Grand Street bike lane should accept it, though it will improve as people get used to it.

  • Paul

    This guy clearly doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. Cyclists: just keep using the lane, ding your bell respectfully if someone is blocking it and carry on.

  • MrManhattan

    “That may work in practice, but it will never work in theory!”

  • What a jerk. I avoid writing nastygrams to electeds outside my district, but if this guy were one of mine, I’d hand him his head on a platter.

  • If he’s so concerned with safety he should have a staff member stand on every corner for a few days and record all the bike/ped conflicts and accidents. If the bike lane is dangerous enough to be protested so vehemently, it’s dangerous enough to be carefully studied.

  • I happen to live on the other side of the street that borders his district’s with Chris Quinn’s. I so wish I could NOT vote for him.

  • Why doesn’t Gerson expend some political energy on those Streets and Avenues in his district that haven’t seen a proven 29% reduction in injuries?

  • Absolutely, Mike! Like, say, East Broadway?

  • Greg M

    If he’s so concerned with safety he should … loosen that collar and restore blood flow to his brain.

  • Frank

    Say what you will about Gerson, but he’s the only candidate that I’ve seen actually in the street talking to people about the issues. I’d rather have someone in office who’s going to do more than just comment on blogs.

  • Teenblogger

    Is this re-re-re-re-tard f-f-f-f-for r-r-r-real?

    Did people actually vote for this s-s-s-stuttering m-m-m-oron to actually represent them in the council?

    What he is saying makes no sense. Is he always like this or did the heat get to his b-b-b-brain?

  • I’d rather have someone in office who’s going to do more than just comment on blogs.

    I’d rather have someone who actually understands what they’re talking about rather than someone who stages “protests” to score cheap political points by attacking cyclists and pedestrians. But I’m just some guy commenting on a blog so I guess I better leave the serious work to people criticizing people who comment on blogs.

    It is because of Streetsblog and its lively commentary that I’ve become active in my community and aware of important livable streets issues. And it’s because of the information posted on this blog(and in the comments) that I can say without fear of contradiction that Alan Gerson doesn’t know a good bike lane from a hole in the ground.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Teenblogger…that’s not nice.

    Please don’t resort to cheap or personal attacks, the truth is the facts are so with us on this one, all you have to do is use them to make his arguments ineffectual.

  • Frank

    Dan, I think it’s fantastic that you’re getting into local politics. I’ve lived in the area my whole life, and it doesn’t matter how you get in. I will recommend though that you research past the blogs for information. Read up on all the candidates, I think you’ll find that Alan is the only one who seems active in the community at all. I would like to get Alan more focused on a clear bike lane objective as well, and I think Alan is the only one who would listen to me.

  • I’ve emailed my concerns about the candidates to a few people I know in the district (I don’t live there). They don’t understand why so many people have a stick up their butt about bike lanes. They seem them as the closest thing to a pure good and don’t understand how anyone could object. There’s clearly a generation gap on this issue.

    THE way to fight back is to:

    1. Call the campaigns and state your support for bike lanes and biking infrastructure and ask them their position.
    2. Show up at community board meetings and state your position on bike lanes
    3. Get to know the staff of the different candidates – usually they are sympathetic. Explain that the candidate is making a big mistake – say you would be willing to volunteer or give money, except for this one issue.
    4. Go out and vote for whoever gives you the best answers. But don’t skip the primary – it only makes candidates give in more to the older community boardosaurs

  • J

    I find it very two-faced of Mr. Gerson to stage a protest of a bike lane that clearly pits bikers against community citizens, and then claim tat he doesn’t want to pit bikers against the community.

    I also was annoyed that he completely ignored the role of the community board in this debate. I’ve said it before, the community board is often a very poor representative of the community, but at least it’s official. The people Mr. Gerson refers to seem to be randomly selected. Who’s in charge here? Who really represents the community? No one seems to really know. Is Mr. Gerson completely rejecting or overriding the concerns of the CB? That seems to be political suicide, if you ask me.

    Seems to me, Mr. Gerson is desperate for votes and is flailing about pandering to issues that he doesn’t understand, pissing everyone off in the process. Good luck in the elections, Mr. Gerson.

  • Nina Maxine

    I live in Gerson’s district and would love to vote him out after this. Unfortunately, I’ve heard the other candidates don’t support bike lanes either. We’re kind of trapped down here in District 1. I did call his office and ask him to pipe down though.

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