Anonymous Bike Lane Opponent Scores Media Coup on NY1

ppw_alarmism.jpgWill we ever see the headline "Bike Lane Opponent Resorts to Misinformation and Lies"? Image: NY1

This report on the proposed Prospect Park West bike lane from NY1’s Jeanine Ramirez doesn’t quite stoop to Marcia Kramer levels of fabrication, but that might make it even more insidious. Slap together a few shots of ill-informed people on the street, add an anonymous flyer, and you’ve got a story headlined "Park Slope Residents Oppose Addition Of Bike Lane."

The central claim that the story rests on — the reason it’s "news" — concerns the "growing opposition" to the PPW bike lane. The same bike lane that DOT designed at the request of neighborhood residents. "Those who oppose the bike lane have started a campaign to try to stop it," Ramirez tells us.

So, who’s organizing against the bike lane? Well, it’s impossible to say, because the "campaign" seems to consist mainly of anonymous flyers that someone slipped under the front doors of Prospect Park West this weekend. These pieces of anti-bike lane propaganda get a brief turn on camera in Ramirez’s report. Here are a few examples of the misinformation and fear that the unnamed opponent is peddling:

  • The bike lane will eliminate the B69 bus route. Clever, because it’s true that the B69 is being re-routed. But that has nothing to do with the bike lane and everything to do with the recalcitrance of our representatives in the state legislature to fund transit through bridge tolls or congestion pricing.
  • Traffic will be hazardous to pedestrians and pets. I wonder how many people fall for this sort of scare tactic. Even if you’re not aware that the type of design proposed for PPW has made other streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, it just makes no intuitive sense that narrowing traffic lanes creates hazards.
  • Police and emergency services will be impeded. Officers from the 78th precinct were on hand at last week’s open house about the project. While they wouldn’t say a word to reporters, they were quite jovial and didn’t seem put off by the prospect of a traffic-calmed PPW. Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors tells us that "neither the FDNY nor NYPD nor any ambulance service nor any other city agency has voiced any opposition to the plan whatsoever."
  • Park Slope residents were never notified. I’m sure that of the 65,000 people who live in Park Slope, quite a few don’t know this is happening. But not because no one tried to tell them. While Ramirez does mention that Community Board 6 has held hearings on the project and asked the DOT to implement it, she doesn’t mention all the grassroots organizing that led up to that CB request.

More than 1,300 people, including several dozen PPW residents, have signed on to the Park Slope Neighbors petition asking for a traffic-calmed PPW with a two-way bike path. They put their names behind the request for a much-needed safety improvement, and the organizers backed up their proposal by documenting the rampant speeding next to Prospect Park. But apparently, all it takes is one anonymous act of inaccurate scare-mongering to create a semblance of "growing opposition" that the media will buy.

  • i know we all love seeing anchor pat kiernan read the papers, but otherwise… NY1 you’ve failed me. there has been SO much community support for this project, it’s appalling that you’re shedding light on such an inaccurate list of bullet points.

  • J

    I just saw the full report online, and I must say they tried to do a pretty balanced job, especially refuting the “lack of community notification”. I do find the headline misleading, though. I also find it a bit ironic that the main argument against the project is that it will make it harder for pedestrians to cross the street.

    The flier, however, is bogus. Without a name that could be held accountable for it, the writer clearly felt at liberty to spout all kinds of lies and misinformation.

  • Moser

    Nice deconstruction of this ridiculousness.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You have to understand what these kind of people are like.

    When Richard Lipsky was hired by existing businesses to help keep new supermarkets out of poor neighborhoods, he went to minority neighborhoods and told residents the propopsal was a White plot to destroy Black and Latino entreprenuers.

    He went to White neighborhoods and said that new supermarkets would flood their neighborhoods, attracting “strangers” and “crime.”

    These sorts of folks buzz around the political world like flies around, well you know. And we’ve had a government that for 30 years has been doing deals with unannounced deals with interest groups to sell out the future, and has backed off on any positive initiative anytime anyone has said “boo.”

    There is the potential for accidents between pedestrians/pets and cyclists riding at high speed for exercise around the park. That is an issue that responsible cyclists handle by riding early on the weekends with guards. There is no threat from people commuting by bike at 12 mph.

  • Larry Littlefield

    By the way, no one ever rehashes these kind of statements after the fact, even if they are not made anonymously, to determine who does and does not have any credibility going forward. That’s part of the problem.

    Hey NY1, do a little work. Come back in September, 2011 (not 2010) and ask random people on the street, and those taking their dogs off leash from 8-9 am Saturday morning, how their lives were destroyed by the bike lane. If they are now afraid to cross the street, etc.

  • I really do not understand what is at stake for those who vehemently oppose the bike lane. It seems like the largest impact upon automobile drivers will be to force them to slow down a little bit on PPW. What’s the big deal?

    I think that the reason that such a non-story (an anonymous flyer distributor making specious claims about traffic flow) gets any traction is because it’s really about the “culture war”: hippy progressives versus hard-boiled Americans. People who cling to their cars (and guns and religion) versus whole-grain-muffin-eating flakes who like to ride around on bikes. Not that any of this is really substantive, but you get the idea. The culture war itself is such a ridiculous, tiresome narrative — but it’s very useful, as it allows people to argue around the facts. And it makes good television.

  • Larry, I can save NY1 the trouble.

    Three years ago, a small but vocal group of opponents did their damnedest to stop the implementation of the 9th Street bike lane, with all kinds of predictions of the coming traffic-calming apocalypse.

    None of which, of course, came true. But I’ll bet those same opponents would today swear up and down that things have turned out just the way they predicted they would.

  • Another example of the horrors of traffic calming.

    [Shudder.]

  • Email addresses at NY1 seem to follow the first.last@ny1news.com format. I think I might drop Ms. Ramirez an email.

  • Boris

    Why can’t we buy out the Richard Lipskys of the world and have them do *our* bidding? No one ever got hysterical in support of congestion pricing or bike lanes. We may not be the “elites” some claim us to be, but many of us do have good jobs and some free cash.

  • Are you sure it’s serious? When someone says, “Traffic will be hazardous to pedestrians and pets,” it invokes so many stereotypes of the upper class that they might as well warn that traffic calming would make it harder to drive to their summer houses in the Hamptons.

    re: buying out the Lipskys: the problem is that power brokers deal with very large amounts of money, and also with power. Random citizens don’t have this power – who’s to say they won’t blow the whistle on the operation?

  • eLK

    I can smell the dog breath.

  • @Alon,

    Oh, it’s serious alright. Several likely suspects turned up at last week’s DOT open house on the Prospect Park West traffic-calming plan. They spent all their time berating the DOT folks for dropping this on the neighborhood without any warning (give or take a year) and complaining about the grave dangers posed by cyclists. To a person, they were all weirdly, deeply angry. I had to bite my tongue to keep from suggesting that they had stumbled upon a traffic-calming presentation, and that perhaps the Tea Party meeting for which they were looking might be next door (apologies to any Tea Party acolytes).

  • Larry Littlefield

    Read this article to see that nothing is new.

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9E07EFDD1E3DE433A2575AC0A9649D94649ED7CF

    It is a New York Times crusade against the replacement of horsecars with electric trolleys in the 1890s. The headline is:

    “MANY STREETS IN DANGER; Brooklyn Trolley Companies Now Trying to Get 260 Miles. SCHEME OF THE MONSTER GRIDIRON City of Churches Will Become City of Trolleys if Petitions Are Granted — A Map of Electric Streets.”

    “There was a great outpouring of the people of Brooklyn Friday night at the City Hall to protest before the Railroad Committee of the Common Council against the wholesale seizure of the streets for trolley roads. But, notwithstanding this large gathering, it is probable that very few citizens across the East River fully realize the significance of the recent applications by the Brooklyn Heights and Nassau Electric Companies for extensions of their systems.”

    The Times later went on and on about the “deadly” electric means of propulsion. Someone needs to hold the Times accountable for its coverage of that issue!

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