What Happens When Senator Chuck Schumer Doesn’t Like the New Bike Lane?

United States Senator and Prospect Park West resident Chuck Schumer opposes the two-way, protected bike path in front of his home and has spoken privately with City Council members to discuss “what they’re going to do about [this and other] bike lanes,” the Post’s David Seifman reported this weekend.

U.S. Senator and Prospect Park West resident Chuck Schumer. Photo: Noah Kazis

The Seifman report is the first news account to provide details of the Senator’s involvement in efforts to eradicate the popular PPW redesign and have the street revert to its old form, with three traffic lanes, two parking lanes, zero bike lanes, and rampant speeding. Other members of Schumer’s family, including his wife Iris Weinshall, the former DOT commissioner, were already known to oppose the project.

The news about Schumer’s opposition came the same weekend that WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein reported that PPW opponents including Weinshall and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel have arranged for the white-shoe law firm Gibson Dunn to represent their interests. Randy Mastro, head of the firm’s litigation arm and a former deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, referred the anti-bike lane group to attorney Jim Walden, who took it as a pro bono case. (Walden made the maximum contribution to Schumer’s re-election campaign in 2010.) A lawsuit is expected as soon as this week.

So what happens when a traffic-calming street redesign, which originated from community-based planning workshops and enjoys broad public support, encounters opposition from the most powerful politician in the state? Here’s a timeline of the highlights.

2006

Community groups including the Park Slope Civic Council and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition convene a series of public workshops to discuss traffic, street safety, and public space issues in Grand Army Plaza and the vicinity. The need to redesign Prospect Park West to reduce speeding and improve the neighborhood’s bikeability emerges as a high priority.

2007

In June, as part of its resolution approving the 9th Street bike lane, Brooklyn Community Board 6 asks DOT to study the implementation of a two-way protected bike lane on Prospect Park West.

2009

Park Slope Neighbors collect 1,300 signatures requesting traffic calming and a two-way protected bike lane on Prospect Park West.

April: DOT presents the concept for a two-way protected bike lane on PPW to the transportation committee of CB6. The committee supports the concept in a unanimous vote.

May: The full community board votes in favor of the project, 18-9, then votes 16-14 to request that construction be delayed until September.

2010

April: With the PPW project not built yet, DOT holds an open house explaining the redesign and showing radar data that measured more than 70 percent of motorists speeding on the street, as a result of excess road capacity for traffic.

April: A segment on NY1 reports that anonymous flyers have been distributed on PPW, claiming that the project is proceeding without public notification.

June: The Prospect Park West bike lane is striped.

June: Opponents of the lane, including Chuck Schumer’s daughter Jessica, begin to organize. They form a Facebook group called “No Bike Lane on Prospect Park West Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.” Membership in the group is quickly eclipsed by membership in a pro-bike lane Facebook group.

July: The Daily News reports that Iris Weinshall is opposed to the bike lane.

Sometime after the lane has been installed, Senator Chuck Schumer speaks privately with City Council members to share his displeasure, asking what the legislators are “going to do about [this and other] bike lanes,” the Post reports.

October 21: Supporters of the redesign and opponents hold simultaneous rallies on PPW. Most estimates have the pro side at about 250 participants, and the antis at about 50.

October 22: DOT releases the first batch of preliminary data on the PPW redesign, showing that speeding has declined by a factor of five and that cycling has substantially increased.

December 7: Results from a survey conducted by City Council members Brad Lander and Steve Levin and CB6 show 78 percent of Brooklynites and more than 70 percent of Park Slope residents want to keep the bike lane.

The Times reports that Schumer’s wife Iris Weinshall and former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel met with Lander and Levin to lobby for the PPW redesign to be undone.

December 8: DOT releases a second batch of preliminary PPW data, showing that traffic travel time has not been discernibly affected by the redesign.

December 9: The City Council transportation committee holds a hearing on the city’s bike policy. Committee chair James Vacca devotes a disproportionate amount of attention to one bike lane – Prospect Park West – describing a personal visit to PPW and allowing project opponents Marty Markowitz and Norman Steisel to testify at length, before anyone else.

December 31: DOT’s six-month PPW study period ends.

2011

The year begins with a barrage of negative press and opinion pieces about NYC DOT’s bike program. A common claim is that the city is installing bike lanes without public input.

January 21: With the PPW study period over, DOT releases its final data on traffic, cycling, and crashes and injuries on the re-designed street. The injury rate is down significantly and no bike-ped injuries have been reported by NYPD. Bike lane opponents say they do not believe DOT’s data.

City Council Member James Oddo sends a letter to City Hall asking that all bike lanes be subject to environmental review. Experts on environmental review say the proposal holds no water.

With assistance from politically connected white-shoe law firm Gibson Dunn, bike lane opponents file a freedom of information request for DOT’s data on PPW. “Legal action” is expected soon, potentially using environment review law as the basis for suing the city.

  • Omri

    Is it too late to start helping potential primary challengers against Schumer?

  • Glenn

    Sen. Schumer (D – Wealthy NY) needs to hear from his constituents directly. Preferably in writing or by phone to his District Office (Not DC office)

    Senator Schumer
    757 Third Avenue
    Suite 17-02
    New York, New York 10017

    District Office Phone: 212-486-4430

  • Could it be that his wife Iris, the former DOT commissioner, isn’t enthusiastic about being outshone by the current DOT commissioner, a safe streets and pro-community leader who has a million things, including the PPW bike lanes, to show for her time in office? Just saying.

    http://www.theurbn.com/2010/09/bike-route-grows-brooklyn/

  • Ben, don’t forget to mention that Chuck Schumer LOVES biking in Brooklyn:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sen-charles-e-schumer/exploring-new-york-by-bik_b_218468.html

    “But this journey is not one that can be undertaken in a car – you’d miss the details, the human scale, and the pace of life as you fly by. Even walking won’t do – you won’t be able to cover nearly enough ground. To really get to know New York, you’ve got to ride a bicycle.”

    Unless you’re his wife, of course.

  • Nice work, Ben.

  • Agreed. This timeline should be presented at the opening of the next CB6 hearing.

  • JBK

    Hey hey, ho ho, Chucky Schumer’s got to go?

    Can the WFP mount a senatorial campaign?

  • fdr

    Schumer is not up for re-election until 2016 so you have plenty of time to organize a primary challenge. Make sure you raise many millions because he will have an enormous campaign war chest if he thinks he needs it.

  • As a Manhattan resident, I can’t do much about Markowitz but complain. Schumer, on the other hand, is subject to my whims in the voting booth. As of now I am looking for an alternative in the next Democratic primary. If any livable-streets challenger even comes close to gaining traction, I am also open to campaign contributions.

    Schumer has always given me a queasy stomach. Lest we forget, he was instrumental in the repeal of Glass Steagall, and therefore contributed directly to the current financial mess.

  • m to the i

    Talk about not being engaged in the public process. He was and is able to speak his mind at any community board hearing on the topic. But our representative has decided that it would be more effective to go behind the scenes and swing some favors from the City Council despite overwhelming public support for the project. Shady!

  • Anthony

    (The only place I don’t ride frequently is Staten Island, because the Verrazano Bridge still doesn’t have a bike path).

  • Glenn

    $100 to anyone who gets a photo of Sen. Schumer riding in the PPW bike lane. Seriously, I’ll pay for that out of my own pocket.

  • Marcia Kramer’s Eyebrow

    Nice to know that Chuck is so “green”. As this makes national news, it is sure to get enviro groups extremely mad at him.

  • Lois Carsbad

    Glenn, your $100 prize money is no match for the thousands and thousands Chuck is getting from Norm, Louise and the rest of NBBL.

    He’s the classic definition of a limousine liberal.

  • P-Dubs

    let’s not forget this NY Post blast from Chuck’s biking past (jan 10, 2005)

    “He sticks to bike paths when he can, noting the conflicts he’s had with wife Iris Weinshall, the city’s transportation boss, who does not place the same importance on creating these paths as he does: ‘The bike people drive her crazy, but they know they have an ally in me,’ Schumer says.”

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/spokes_man_chuck_sen_bikes_brooklyn_wQdvi3ursYnx98j7qqF3CP

    Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/item_wQdvi3ursYnx98j7qqF3CP#ixzz1DIAmyHdu

  • Marty Barfowitz

    To his credit, Chuck and his fellow U.S. Senators were always pretty comfortable riding on the street and sidewalk on PPW, at least for one or two blocks.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/04/30/eyes-on-the-street-tour-de-senator-schumer

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/04/30/eyes-on-the-street-critical-mass-of-us-senators/

  • Larry Littlefield

    This issue is going symbolic. The efforts and objections of those opposed simply do not make sense in any other context.

    I feel bad for the Senator, given family views, and don’t blame him too much. But this is a case where, symbolically, he can’t afford to win.

    Imagine if this issue were to become nationalized. It wouldn’t affect his continuance in office, but it would affect Democrats in general in their competition to appeal to younger generations, by seeming to screw them somewhat less. (What I say now is that no one under 55 should ever vote Republican at the national level based on generational equity; if they believe in small government they’ll just have to start some other political party).

    The bike lane stays, it doesn’t matter, because those in favor chill out. The bike lane goes, its loss becomes symbolic of the “real” Democrats for years.

    Think of it. The Democratic political class over-rides the majority of the loyally, thoughlessly Democratic voting serfs in a true blue neighborhood, a grass roots neighborhood group, a four year process, the official advisory body for what its worth, and even the local City Council member, a Democrat himself.

    And the longer the bike lane stays, the worse it gets. I met a woman at church yesterday evening who I hadn’t met in a few years — we were in a babysitting swap club when our kids were young. We both rode our bikes there, and used the PPW bike lane. She has been commuting by bicycle for two years; I’ve been doing it for 3 1/2 years, neither of us thought to do it years ago. It’s going exponential.

  • eveostay

    P-Dubs. Oh well; some allies were made to be stomped on when the issue gets too personal, I guess.

  • Mitchell L

    Bicycling Senator Chuck Schumer is an utter hypocrite. DOT builds the best bike lane in the city on his street, and he hates it. Why? Because it doesn’t work or is dangerous? No. It’s clearly working. Chuck’s involvement has nothing to do with protecting the community from a bad design, and everything to do with the most truly petty personality politics. This entire affair reeks of entitlement, and Chuck seeking to placate his wife, Iris Weinshall’s petulance and immaturity. Streetsblog has diplomatically characterized the Post and Daily News editorials and columns as attacks on bike lanes and DOT. No. They have primarily been personal attacks on Janette Sadik-Khan. Her name has been raised repeatedly, including in headlines. What appears to be really going on here is that Sadik-Khan pissed off Weinshall, and Weinshall wants her powerful husband to achieve retribution. Whether Park Slope and Brooklyn support the bike lane, or whether that lane is making their neighborhood a better and safer place, well, they don’t care.

  • fdr

    I doubt if anyone on this blog is qualified to analyze the dynamics of the Schumer-Weinshall marriage.

  • rlb

    Is anything stirring the pot besides this one quote: “He’s asked legislators what they’re going to do about [this and other] bike lanes.” ?

    Because that could mean a lot of things.

  • Bolwerk

    As I’ve said all along: surprise, Dems are the conservatives!

  • JK

    Has Streetsblog asked Schumer’s office if the story in the Post is accurate, and, if so, why he opposes the Prospect Park West bike lane? Schumer should have a chance to set the record straight instead of being convicted in the court of public opinion based on a Post story. If he does oppose the lane, it would be good to hear it from him. If he supports the lane, he should say so. Either way, you have a major media outlet bringing him into the fray, and he should clarify what he’s about here.

  • Glenn

    Larry’s right. The symbolism of Schumer (or his wife) tearing out a bike lane near his home will hurt anything else he tries to do on sustainability issues moving forward.

    Much like the Kennedy family’s Cape Wind fiasco, this will only undermine his and his party’s credibility on environmental issues (as soon as FOX news gets a hold of it).

    In the 1980s, NIMBYs protested nuclear power plants. In the 2010s, NIMBYs protest bike lanes. Progress?

  • Larry Littlefield

    I wouldn’t say Schumer has any responsibility, as Senator, to take a position on the bike lane, just as I wouldn’t bother state legislators about it.

    But my comments about this becoming a potential symbolic issue for the city’s Democratic establishment — both in their own eyes and in the eyes of voters under age 55 — stands. It may not be Schumer’s responsibility, but as a very prominent national Democrat and party leader, it could become his problem if, and only if, the bike lane were removed.

  • J

    This is hugely symbolic, both from a sustainability perspective, and from a basic democratic process. This was done through a lot of work at the grass roots level. If Schumer succeeds in reversing that effort, he will gain a name as a man with no respect for the constituents he claims to represent.

    You can and should participate in the democratic process, just don’t do it near where the senator lives. Shameful.

  • Ignatz Mouse

    I don’t know whether I favor or oppose a bike lane, but Schumer using his Senatorial weight to fix something on his street that he personally doesn’t like is really, really reprehensible.

    Hey, Chucky, I don’t like the Stop sign on my corner. Too bad I’m not a Senator.

  • Bike lanes sounds like an issue for the Greens. The Ds being moribund.

  • J

    I a head Democrat is leading efforts to destroy community-backed bike lanes, what does that say about the state of the Democratic party? Kinda takes the wind out of the sustainability sails.

  • We have a message in with Schumer’s office asking for comment on the Post story and the PPW project.

  • JK

    Larry, you’re right that normally there’s no reason at all to ask a US Senator what their position on a bike lane is. After a major paper reports the senator is using their influence to oppose a lane, there’s every reason to ask about it, especially a senator who bikes a lot.

  • Westchesterite

    Just called Schumer’s office — thanks Glenn above for providing the number.

    I know people want to run someone against him, but he is one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington and he is solid on lots of other issues.

    Just can’t believe he is being so undemocratic about this issue.

  • Senator Schumer is very likely the only person in New York City who has “yet to take a public position” on the Prospect Park West bike path, if the Post’s David Seifman is correct. Care to enlighten your constituents, Senator?

  • JamesR

    I think the livable streets community can take all of this as a tough lesson in NYC power politics. No one gave a damn about obscure city transportation bureaucrats prior to this flap, and now, thanks to a few entitled, narcissistic blowhards, the initials JSK have become toxic.

    I’m 99.9% certain that if the equivalent of the Prospect Park West lane had been installed in, say, Washington Heights or Fordham and given the appropriate due process in public outreach that DOT always utilizes, you’d never hear a peep about it again, and if there was discontent with the lane, it would receive a tiny fraction of the media attention. I’m saddened by what this reveals about how things really work here – I thought we were different than, say, SF and their injunctions on bike infrastructure – but reality has borne out something else. Coupled with the ticketing blitz, a lot of my enthusiasm for cycling as well as posting on here has been sucked out.

    Chuck Schumer is a heavy hitter to say the least. Bloomberg is down for the count, post-Snowmageddon. Does anyone else on the political scene here have the balls to cross Schumer on this issue? Paging Scott Stringer? What I want to know is this: just how big of a constituency do we make up, anyway, and is it worth any political actor’s while to take up our cause?

  • ddartley

    In the Post story today, Weinshall is quoted, ”
    “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,”

    Okay, is that really what’s generally accepted in engineering these days? Sounds either outdated, or if not, faulty because it assumes that speeds don’t go down in smaller spaces, which assumption I believe is wrong. Anyone?

  • Andrew

    ddartley:

    Speeds do go down in smaller spaces. It’s a matter of environmental psychology. If road lanes are narrower, then drivers feel less safe traveling at higher speeds, and adjust their behavior accordingly. It doesn’t mean that streets with narrower lanes are less safe; it just means that drivers are exercising more caution, which is a good thing, especially when the potential for conflict/accidents is high. Reducing lane width is a textbook example of how to make streets safer.

    In the specific case of PPW, the road was three lanes wide, but only carried enough traffic to warrant having two lanes (traffic lanes carry a maximum of 500-700 vehicles per hour, and PPW carried about 1,000 vehicles during rush hour). The road was downsized to reflect the reality of the needs of the neighborhood.

    Weinshall is off her rocker.

  • jk

    Weinshall’s opinion is contradicted by the fact that since the bike lane was installed there have been fewer crashes on PPW. She needs a new theory.

  • ddartley

    Thanks, Andrew, exactly as I thought.

    Worse than being “off her rocker,” I would say that she was outright deliberately dishonest. Pretty shameful for a former DOT Commissioner trading on her old title.

  • tom

    Imagine that: a former DOT Commissioner who oversaw the reduction of traffic fatalities greater than her successor and installed miles and miles of bike lanes being pilloried here by a few entitled narcissistic blowhards.
    You people have no manners.

  • At least no one is taking this personally.

  • Joe R.

    Give this time. In a few years, as gas prices rise, and the subway reverts back to the way it was in the 1970s, there will be such heavy demand for bike infrastructure that it will become the “third rail of politics” ( i.e. touch it and you die ) in big cities. As things stand, despite the press being given to Markowitz ( and now Schumer ) on this issue, when the facts boil to the surface they will come out looking like regressive a-holes. The whole world is finally waking up to the fact that private cars are at best a convenience in dense urban environments. By no means should transportation policy revolve around moving as much car traffic as rapidly as possible in a big city. NYC already has rapid transit. Sure, it needs funding. It also needs to be greatly expanded. Cycling can sure as a great adjunct to this mass transit, serving areas which the subways don’t cover.

    Hint to DOT regarding traffic calming-start taking out as many traffic lights as it safely can. Basically only leave them in place where major arterials intersect each other. Why? No single one thing allows motorists to feel safe driving at high speeds than a wave of greens. If not for that, few motorists would dare go over even 30 mph for fear of having a collision at every uncontrolled intersection. Try it. It works well. It’s less contentious than calming traffic by installing bike lanes. As a plus, removing most traffic lights suddenly makes it possible to get decent trip times by bike without flouting the law at nearly every intersection. It also removes one weapon from the anticycling brigade-namely that bikes never stop at lights. My guess is if red lights were a relative rarity on an average cycling trip, rather than a once in every three blocks occurrence, the majority of cylists would obey them. Come to think of it, overuse of ANY traffic control device generally results in its being casually treated by all users. That’s why motorists in NYC “gun it” on yellow to make the light. When you constantly hit lights, this behavoir is no surprise. So in addition to facilitating speeding, excess use of traffic lights also seems to encourage dangerous behavoir on the part of motorists. And replace stop signs with yields in most cases. Stop signs are yet another overused device in NYC.

  • It may be quite possible that transportation is even more corrupt than the financial industry.

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