Politically Connected PPW Bike Lane Foes Are Fighting Their Own Neighbors

Weinshall, Schumer, Steisel
Former DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall, Senator Chuck Schumer, and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel are waging a campaign to overturn a street safety project initiated by their neighbors and supported by most of the local community.

If the goal of the Prospect Park West bike lane lawsuit is to smear the Department of Transportation and sow doubt about the city’s street safety initiatives, it’s already doing a bang-up job. The Post and the Daily News both ran pieces yesterday basically lifting arguments straight out of the plaintiffs’ complaint [PDF] without a shred of analysis. Both papers repeat the same basic distortion: Bike lane opponents are fighting DOT’s agenda. But that’s not really what’s going on here.

The plaintiffs — the group of politically-connected residents who go by “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” and have the backing of former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, who happens to be married to Senator Chuck Schumer — are mainly fighting their own neighbors. If the DOT’s efforts to make streets safer citywide become a casualty in this fight, that’s collateral damage.

Last October's rally for the PPW redesign: These are the people whom bike lane opponents are looking to circumvent via litigation.

Let’s be clear: Residents of Park Slope asked for the Prospect Park West project. The idea for a two-way, protected bike path did not debut with DOT’s April 2009 presentation, as the Daily News suggests. It was not imposed, in the words of the Post’s Rich Calder, “to push an anti-automobile agenda.” The initiative to slow down speeding traffic on Prospect Park West and give people safer space to walk and bike predates Janette Sadik-Khan’s tenure at DOT. It came from people who live in the neighborhood — people who organized and attended public meetings and put together ideas for how to improve local streets.

These are the people whom the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” and their corporate litigator-turned-pro bono counsel, Gibson Dunn’s Jim Walden, are fighting.

They are fighting the results of a community organizing effort that goes back to the days when Iris Weinshall was in charge of DOT. In 2006, well before Sadik-Khan became transportation commissioner, rampant speeding on Prospect Park West and Eighth Avenue emerged as a top concern at the Park Slope Civic Council’s annual traffic and transportation forum. Shortly thereafter, another neighborhood group, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, made it a core goal to create safe bike access to and through Grand Army Plaza.

A physically protected bikeway on Prospect Park West would address both those concerns, and in June 2007, Community Board 6 requested that DOT study a two-way separated bike lane on Prospect Park West [PDF] when it approved plans for a bike lane on Ninth Street (a project initiated on Iris Weinshall’s watch and completed under Sadik-Khan). Sadik-Khan’s DOT then received 1,300 signatures requesting the bike lane, gathered by the group Park Slope Neighbors, before coming back to CB 6 with a proposal, which was approved by the full board in June 2009.

A year later, the lane was installed. Radar surveys commissioned by DOT showed that the incidence of speeding dropped dramatically after implementation, and bike counts jumped substantially. The principal goals of the project, to reduce dangerous speeding, improve bike access, and get cyclists off the sidewalk, had been achieved. In a survey of 3,000 Brooklynites conducted by City Council members Brad Lander and Steve Levin and CB 6, more than 70 percent of Park Slope residents said they wanted the lane to stay.

But because the public process did not produce a result that pleased the plaintiffs, bike lane opponents have mounted a concerted campaign to embarrass and discredit the DOT and the neighborhood advocates most closely associated with the project (including my former editor at Streetsblog, Aaron Naparstek). The lawsuit is the inevitable culmination of that campaign. In the narrative laid out in the plaintiffs’ complaint, none of the public process before DOT’s 2009 proposal ever happened. There were no community workshops to identify problems with the existing streets. There was no public demand for safer biking and walking. There’s only the DOT and the “radical bike lobbyists.”

Whether the lawsuit has any legal validity is beside the point now. As a PR strategy, the plaintiffs’ complaint marginalizes broad public sentiment within their own community by naming DOT and Janette Sadik-Khan as defendants. DOT is getting tried in the press, while the wealthy insiders who are circumventing the public process with “pro bono” assistance from a top campaign contributor to Chuck Schumer are mostly getting a free pass.

As you can see in the Daily News, the Post, and Walden’s face-off with Lander on Inside City Hall last night, the opposition is relying heavily on the fact that traffic injuries on Prospect Park West increased from four during the second half of 2009, to five during the second half of 2010, after the street was redesigned.

The thing is, high-quality studies of traffic-calming projects rarely use year-over-year comparisons to evaluate effects on street safety. They use multi-year averages of injury data instead, especially to track events subject to bias from random variation. Statisticians know to look at numbers from several years to dampen the effect of outliers and statistical noise. In this federal study of traffic-calming projects, for instance [PDF], the “before” data uses multi-year averages covering time frames as long as 23 years. Not a single before-and-after case study cited in the report compares merely a single year’s data to the following year’s data. The methodology that Jim Walden and the PPW plaintiffs insist should have been applied to Prospect Park West is as simplistic and misleading as their insistence that the idea for the redesign was imposed from above.

In its injury and crash report on Prospect Park West, DOT used a three-year average for its “before” data, sampling only the last six months of each year to align with the six-month “after” study conducted during the second half of 2010. In his complaint, Jim Walden says that this method “deviated from DOT’s usual approach in reporting its crash statistics.” Walden conveniently ignores other DOT studies that employ multi-year data sets on traffic injuries, like this report on the recent Allen and Pike Street redesign [PDF], which also used multi-year averages to measure injury rates before the installation of a traffic-calming project.

DOT used a six-year average for “before” data on injuries in the Allen and Pike report. Why a three-year average for Prospect Park West? I can’t speak for DOT, but according to the plaintiffs’ own complaint, the city changed the signal progression on Prospect Park West in 2007. The period from 2007 to 2009 would thus be the longest possible time frame to collect injury data on Prospect Park West as it was engineered before the bike lane was installed.

There was no “shaky math.” Data was not “manipulated.” A group of powerful people just don’t agree with their neighbors, so they have decided to litigate.

  • Glenn

    Unfortunately this Park Slope un-Civil War has major implications for biking infrastructure across the city as the DOT responds to other community requests for safety improvements like on First and Second Avenue near the QBB ped/cyclist fatality hotspot where TA East Side Committee collected over 2,500 HAND WRITTEN letters to the Mayor asking to build out the full-length protected lanes.

    By litigating this, rather than accepting either the community majority’s opinion or the City’s basic responsibility make streets safe from deadly speeding motorists, the NBBL members have taken the extraordinary step from merely trying to make the street in front of their apartments less safe, to making the whole city less safe.

  • Shemp

    That’s right, and it’s why everyone who cares about this stuff needs to be at Community Board 6’s hearing tonight.

  • Jake

    Another unfortunate reminder that generally our politicians are the most selfish people who walk among us.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The people who went through a five year process, with petitions, public hearings, community boards, data collection, convincing the local City Council member, and eventually convincing DOT, must really believe in government…

    This whole thing is going to be an education.

  • Pete

    I’m not planning on speaking tonight – but I will be there. Is there any forum where I can submit written testimony to the board, the DOT, or anyone else? I feel like being silent (or semi-silent) in the room isn’t sufficient.

  • Pete, call Brooklyn CB6 and ask them about written testimony at the hearing.

  • I’m frustrated at the lack of deconstruction of the crash statistics. I realize Streetsblog needs to focus on the more important overall message, but what of the numbers?

    What percentage uptick of accidents is there? Is it a lot more fender benders, as drivers adjust to sane conditions? Did driver-pedestrian or driver-cyclist accidents increase or decrease?

    I really wish I had the time to do a thorough analysis of DOTs numbers, but I don’t and would still like to be able to smash NBBL’s argument.

  • Great picture of Iris!

  • Bill

    Pete/Ed, the Public Hearing Notice clearly indicates that written statements of unlimited length may be submitted (oral testimony is limited to 3 minutes). So anyone can and should bring a written statement, even if it is a one or two paragraph statement in support of the bike lane.

    See you there tonight

  • Bill

    Also, even if you are going to make an oral statement, it is a good idea to submit a written statement in conjunction with the oral testimony.

  • ?ar?chitect,

    If you look closely at the NBBL graphs, they’re arguing that the difference between four and five traffic injuries in the second half of 2010, versus the second half of 2009, if “proof” that the bike lane has made PPW more dangerous. This is too small a sample to base any meaningful conclusions on. It’s like saying that there is a higher risk of getting killed by a falling tree in Central park than by getting hit by a bike, because two people happened to get killed by falling trees in Central Park over the last two years, after decades where it did not happen.

    It is precisely because these are too few events from which to draw conclusions, that the DoT averaged the number of traffic injuries in the second half of 2007, 2008, and 2009, so that they would have a more reliable baseline for comparison. That is the most reliable possible method of interpreting these very scant data.

    Nut more importantly, and as Brad Lander explained on NY1 last night, the much more reliable statistic is that motor vehicles have been dramatically slowed. This is based on many, many observations, and is reliable. Slower traffic means safer crossing for pedestrians. At some point, Walden asked him, “so, you’d feel safer with lower speeds and more injuries? I’ll take fewer injuries.” That’s a red herring. Over time, a roadway with 75% of the motorists exceeding the speed limit is going to have more pedestrian injuries than the new PPW, where only ~20% are speeding. The “fact” that there was a supposed “25% increase” in traffic injuries after the lane was put in, because there were five instead of four injuries, is just manipulating numbers.

  • Glenn

    Sorry I can’t come in person, but good idea on submitting written testimony.

    Here’s contact information for CB6 Brooklyn

    Craig R. Hammerman
    District Manager

    250 Baltic Street
    Brooklyn , New York 11201-6401
    T: (718) 643-3027
    F: (718) 624-8410
    E: Info@BrooklynCB6.org

  • Geck

    Clearly, the manipulation of data is by those that are trying to use an insufficient sample because they don’t like the results with a broader sample. But the fact that speeding is down is incontrovertible.

    And the idea for a two-way parking protected bike lane on PPW has been kicked around in the community for a very long time. I was digging through some old emails and found one from June 2006 that I sent to TA and that was ultimately forward to Matthew Roth and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition. I guess I underestimated the opposition:

    > Many thanks for all your work.
    > I have been thinking that in conjunction with the Grand Army Plaza
    > redesign project (or separately) some bike lane/connection issued
    > should
    > be raised around the Plaza and Prospect Park.
    >
    > I think that a two direction curb-side lane on the East side of
    > Prospect Park West makes a lot of sense. The park is obviously heavily
    > used by cyclist. It would be ideal to connect the Park to surrounding
    > areas while linking existing bike lanes and paths in the area (2nd/3rd
    > St, Plaza Street, the Park and Eastern Parkway path) while
    > permitting a
    > North bound option (contrary to the flow in the park itself).
    >
    > Parking could be preserved on the outside of the PPW bike lane with a
    > low divider. The almost uninterrupted length on the East side of PPW
    > seems uniquely suitable for such an approach. Parked cars would also
    > form a protective line for cyclists, while reducing PPW to two
    > lanes and
    > calming traffic. At three lanes, PPW has excess capacity and feels
    > wide
    > open, encouraging excess speed on a street with many pedestrians,
    > children and cyclists using the park or just passing through.
    >
    > Likewise, a link is needed to the East connecting Grand Army Plaza to
    > the Eastern Parkway Path and the Museum and Gardens. The Six Lane
    > portion of Eastern Parkway between Grand Army Plaza and Washington
    > Street (and the beginning of the Eastern Parkway Bike path) is highly
    > problematic for cyclists. There is no shoulder or service road on the
    > Eastbound lanes and the curve of the road makes cyclist riding in the
    > right lane less visible. That portion of Eastern Parkway could
    > easily be
    > reduced to the same five lanes (three outbound and two inbound) that
    > exist for most of its length, opening up space for either a protected
    > two way lane on the south side, or a two way bike path on the Island
    > between the Westbound lanes and the Westbound service road.
    >
    > Finally, some effort should be made to link the PPW/Plaza Street
    > lanes,
    > the Park Drive and the Eastern Parkway lane or path through the North
    > end of Grand Army Plaza.
    >
    > These suggestions seem simple and logical and not very costly and
    > should pose little opposition as they would not disruption existing
    > traffic and parking pattern.

  • Glenn

    The real difference that speed makes is not # of injuries, but severity of injuries & fatalities. Speed is less associated with frequency of ped injuries than severity/fatality of those that happen.

    You’re also changing the modal mix on the street. Less cars, more bikes and Peds. That also should reduce severity of injuries dramatically between street users.

    There’s also the induced demand that a street that feels safer will have over time. I avoid MANY streets in this city, for instance on/off ramps to FDR and West Side Highway or QBB. The reason is because they feel completely unsafe. Hence there’s ZERO chance that I will be a victim of a traffic accident on those streets and more chance that I might get hurt on a adjacent “safer” street. It’s also why you should include adjacent streets in the analysis, because it might show increasing preference for the street that has received the safety improvement.

    Combined, the severity & induced demand and modal shift makes me think you might even expect to see an uptick in injuries as the street becomes more popular, but the severity of those injuries will go way down. And the ratio of injuries to users might fall even as the overall number rises.

    Really, there’s a lot more data that would be helpful. NBBL ignores whatever data it feels like, while DOT seems to be trying to stay consistent with how it has conducted evaluations previously. NBBL’s cognitive dissonance is at it’s core an emotional response to information, not a rational analysis of risk.

    To answer Mr. Walden’s question, “so, you’d feel safer with lower speeds and more injuries?” I’d respond with “I’m more likely to actually use a street that feels safe because of the lower speeds since even if I get hit by a car, I probably won’t get killed.”

  • fdr

    Manipulation of data: a 75% increase in accidents from 4 to 5. That seems familiar. When Weinshall was at DOT and put the Thru Streets program in midtown, DOT issued a report saying vehicle speeds increased by 33% – from 4 mph to 5.3 mph. It’s still on the DOT web site. (And of course increasing speed was considered a good thing.)

  • kevd

    I think an increase from 4 to 5.3 IS a good thing.
    And increase from 30 to 40 would not be.

  • kevd

    and I think you mean “????chitect,” right?

    ? is a g.

  • kevd

    (never mind…. ?????)

  • Larry Littlefield

    The goal of the lawsuit is to eliminate bicycle infrastructure citywide, by imposing requirements not in place for changes to speed motor vehicles: MSNBC.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41996626/ns/local_news-new_york_ny

    “The group that hopes to get the bike lane stripped accuses the city’s transportation department of failing to properly analyze the appropriateness of the lane, refer the plan to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and submit the bike lane to environmental reviews.”

    “Robert Brill, an attorney who works on transportation law and land use cases, believes bike lane opponents could even bring a citywide lawsuit resulting in an injunction against bike lanes.”

    What is government? The rich and powerful cut 3 am deals. These become instantly vested, have enormous legal weight, and cannot be changed.

    Meanwhile, changes to benefit those who don’t matter require years of red tape, and can be overturned on any argument.

    You tell me if I’m wrong when this is over.

  • And four of the five people injured in the post-implementation period were occupants of the same vehicle. It’s a shame anyone was hurt, of course. The brief, of course, ignores the absence of any pedestrian injuries in the post-implementation period.

  • JamesR

    Notice something about those three pictures at the top? These are a couple of sixty year olds engaging in generational warfare against younger cohorts seeking an alternative to the motoring status quo that members of their generation have embraced all their lives, a status quo on which they maintain a death grip even while gas spikes upwards to $4.00/gallon and beyond. Disgraceful.

  • Bill

    @JamesR – as someone who is almost 60 and will be testifying tonight in favor of the PPW bike lane and who has written/edited testimony for others, I find your statement to be inane and not helpful in the least – potentially off-putting to many people who are supporters. Why on the day of the public meeting would you seek to alienate a whole swath of potential allies? Silly tactics.

  • Bill

    And now to what I came to actually write before I was distracted by JamesR. Chuck Schumer has become the most disappointing cyclist in a governmental position since Jeb Magruder.

  • Architect (& Bicycles Only) —

    This guy did a nice objective reconstruction of the data on the PPW bike lane:

    http://xoxosoma.com/ppw/

  • JamesR

    You may find it inane, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Are you going to sit there and deny that (in the case of Weinshall and Steisel, at least) this is a case of public officials past their prime desperately trying to cling to power and screw things over for the rest of us who are just looking for a way to get to work that doesn’t involve a fare hike every few months?

  • commenter #6

    You forgot to put Marty Markowitz up there. He may not be an NBBL “member” but believe me he can and is doing whatever he can to support their cause

  • car free nation

    I’m with Bill (and I’m a couple of decades younger). There are a lot of people from that generation who are on our side, and a lot of 20-something-SUV-driving scumbags who are not.

    The strange thing to me is that the liberal media (NYT, New Yorker) have all crossed to the dark side.

  • JamesR, the ages of Weinshall, Schumer, and the guy who is most famous for getting arrested for soliciting oral sex in the parking lot of a Dunkin’ Donuts does not constitute a conspiracy of old folks against the young ‘uns.

    People of all ages ride bikes: this isn’t “Talkin’ About My Generation” — people over 60 ride bikes too, some of them to work.

  • Joe R.

    If they want the bike lane gone then how about the following redesign:

    1) Three lanes of motor traffic as before.

    2) Traffic lights every block with one minute red cycles to allow the slowest walkers to cross.

    3) Make sure the aforementioned traffic lights are totally unsynchronized. As soon as one turns green, the light on the next block should go to yellow then red. By my math it should take in excess of 20 minutes to go the 19 blocks.

    When they complain about this redesign, tell them the changes were needed to calm traffic without having a bike lane. Since they got what they wanted (no bike lane, plus another traffic lane to double park) it’s too bad, but the changes are staying. End of story.

    On another note, this whole case sets a dangerous precedent. DOT has the overreaching authority it does precisely because a network of streets serve an overriding public purpose largely than the needs of any one neighborhood. As such, community boards or other organizations shouldn’t wield veto input on any changes. It might be a good idea to have meetings to see how to best fit in proposed changes, but if DOT deems a bike lane through an area necessary, then it get builts, period. How and where are the areas the community might have a little input into, but that’s all. If every NIMBY who didn’t want a road built had their way, we would still be using machetes to cut through the jungle.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “If they want the bike lane gone then how about the following redesign.”

    If they are unsuccessful the bike lane stays. If they are successful any street redesign will take ten years and require $50 million in administrative costs and consulting fees.

    Unless they speed up motor vehicles. In which case the review process used when Steisel and Weinshall were in office would apply.

  • Joe R.

    “If they are unsuccessful the bike lane stays. If they are successful any street redesign will take ten years and require $50 million in administrative costs and consulting fees.”

    You just had me thinking that maybe the REAL reason these people are so opposed to bike lanes is because it’s not another gravy train for them and all their friends in high places like many other public works projects. I can guarantee you if Schumer and Weinshall and Markowitz could make themselves millions off bike lanes they would be a bigger proponent of them than JSK. Maybe the old adage “just follow the money” rings true here?

  • NBBL’s case has nothing to do with facts, safety, or anything else. It’s about making enough noise so that Janette Sadik-Khan is forced to resign under a cloud of negative PR where every bike lane is “experimental” and that a few blog comments constitute a “radical bike lobby.” It’s about owning the future of transportation policy. Thankfully for Weinshall, Schumer, and Steisel there are enough NIMBYs who aren’t bold faced names who’ll swallow Walden’s story and carry the NBBL torch, appearing on camera or donating money to the millionaires at 9 PPW.

    Once JSK is gone, this elite class will stop what most people see as the inevitable march toward progress and return this city to the people who used to have the real power around here: placarded bureaucrats and rich drivers.

    There’s so much more going on here than one little ole bike lane.

  • Joe R.

    There’s no reason at all for JSK to resign. Bloomberg can’t run again, so he has nothing to lose by keeping her. Heck, if he’s considering a presidental run down the road, she might actually be an asset despite the controversy, especially if fuel prices continue their meteoric rise. What we’re seeing here is a microcosm of what’s happening nationally. People have long expressed a desire for alternatives to the car. Yet the powers-that-be won’t give any more than lip service to this because the vested status quo makes big money for a few important people. Problem is you can only ignore what the people want for so long. My guess is another round of high fuel prices gets any politicians not on board for transportation alternatives out the door.

    I’d love to see JSK as Transportation Secretary.

  • Streetsman

    I like your thinking Joe but I think where she stands out is in quickly implementing on the ground experimental stuff rather than, say, writing policy and directing funding. Personally I’d rather see her at the MTA or the Port Authority

  • strudel

    Can someone explain to me what all the anti-bike lane people dislike about bike lanes? I mean, what’s their rationale for opposing the lanes? I never really hear about that….

  • If the number of accidents increases but the total number of cyclists increases even more, then the street has been made safer, not more dangerous. If you don’t accept that, and think that counting absolute numbers means much, you might as well say that a freeway is safe for pedestrians because it has zero pedestrian crashes.

  • Joe R.

    “I like your thinking Joe but I think where she stands out is in quickly implementing on the ground experimental stuff rather than, say, writing policy and directing funding. Personally I’d rather see her at the MTA or the Port Authority.”

    I agree here Streetsman. JSK kind of reminds me of myself, except my field of expertise is electronics instead of transportation. I’d much rather do hands-on work than something like management. To her the streets are her lab, and I think that’s a good approach. Rather than dismissing something new because it hasn’t been tried, she’ll try it and see how it works, and tweak it as needed. This is exactly the type of enlightened approach needed at the Port Authority or especially the MTA. I see so many things the MTA does completely wrong just as an observer.

  • sss

    As an avid cyclist, car owner, and resident or Park Slope for 26 years, I am against the bike lane for the following reasons:

    • it is redundant with the adjacent lane in Prospect Park
    • it has increased traffic congestion in the area and has noticeably increased air/noise pollution
    • is dangerous to pedestrians crossing the street due two-way traffic on the bike lane
    • it is hazardous for dog walkers controlling dogs as they enter the lane
    • it is more dangerous to parallel park and exit a vehicle given insufficient shoulder width and increased traffic congestion
    • two lanes are insufficient on PPW given the volume of traffic. The lane cuts off optionality for drivers given temporary double parking needs on PPW (delivery trucks, school buses, snow plows, residents loading/unloading, emergency vehicles)
    • two lanes severely impairs emergency vehicle passage during stress periods
    • the reduced traffic flow and greater congestion during snow days makes it dangerous for people shoveling out their parked cars
    • the lane provides little relative benefit to any cyclist commuting in/through Park Slope due to the stranded nature of the lane relative to entry exit points and the parallel (and safer) lane already in Prospect Park
    • relative usage of the lane by cyclists is moderately low, particularly when compared to the number of cars that would use the lane instead
    • usage of the lane by cyclists is highly variable (more on a sunny day in the summer and less on rainy days, during the winter and during the evening) while car usage is fairly consistent
    • PPW has lost its aesthetic appeal and with congestion and parked cars it looks like a big parking lot
    • the conception, implementation and defense of the lane by advocates is flawed, inappropriately factored in objections by local residents, relied on unscientific supporting studies and was the result of a biased and corrupt process (see lawsuit)

    In my opinion, modifications to the lane will not resolve these issues and that the lane should be removed. I believe all issues are resolved by moving the lanes into Prospect Park West and returning PPW to its prior form. Regarding traffic calming, the purported basis for the lane, this can be resolved by traffic light sequencing and greater police/radar presence on PPW.

    While I’m an advocate of a greener NYC and greater bike lane availability, the PPW bike lane was ill conceived. As a cyclist in Park Slope for the past 26 years, I’ve never had a problem riding my bike anywhere in the neighborhood or around Brooklyn generally. I like bike lanes. I like the one on/in/along 3rd St, 2nd St, Boerum Place, Prospect Park, the Belt Parkway, Brooklyn Bridge and the West Side Highway. The lane on PPW is a poor location for the reasons described above. I’ve been riding my bike up and down the former PPW for years without a problem. It was wide, with a wide shoulder and rarely had traffic in all three. I don’t find occasional use of the wide sidewalk along PPW by cyclists as troublesome. There is plenty of precedence for shared pathways that work well (i.e., Henry Hudson Parkway). Ultimately co-existence comes down to caution and respect, the breakdown of which can as easily happen on a bike lane as it can on a sidewalk.

  • Joe R.

    @sss,

    Sorry but you can’t and shouldn’t calm traffic by “traffic light sequencing”. Traffic lights exist for one purpose only-namely to keep cars from colliding with each other at intersections. Even here, if cars could be reliably slowed to less than 20 mph, traffic lights wouldn’t be needed even at intersections. Traffic lights on many roads in NYC are already sequenced for 30 mph or less, and yet motorists on these roads regularly drive at 40, 50, even 60 mph. In short traffic light sequencing doesn’t work, with one exception (which I’ll describe later). The only way to reliably slow traffic is to make the road narrower so drivers don’t feel comfortable driving at higher speeds. This is what the redesign accomplished. The leftover space happened to be used for a bike lane, but it could just as easily have been planted with trees. Either way, the effect would be the same.

    Now the one way you can slow traffic by resequencing lights is to have the light on the next block go yellow then red as soon as the one on the previous block changes to green. Do you really think this is a good idea on PPW? Figure with a red cycle of ~40 seconds, plus driving time between blocks, it’ll take upwards of 15 minutes to go those 19 blocks instead of the current 3 minutes. This is the only way of resequencing lights which will reliably slow traffic.

    Some of your other arguments are contradictory and/or nonsensical. If the bike lane isn’t heavily used like you claim, then how can it dangerous to dog walkers or crossing pedestrians? Empty pavement generally doesn’t cause injuries, except when people trip on it.

    And your arguments about double-parking are specious. Double parking is illegal, period. If delivery trucks, school buses, snow plows, residents loading/unloading, emergency vehicles all must double park on PPW to go about their business, then this is telling me that the parking on one side (presumably the side opposite the park) should be eliminated, and instead turned into a loading zone for these vehicles. That will allow two lanes of traffic to flow while still accomodating the needs of the residents. Sure, some free on-street parking will be lost, but that’s not a right of any resident in the city. Indeed, it could be argued that parking on expensive real estate is a good for which the city should charge market rate equivalent to whatever a renter would pay for the same square footage. In any case, any arguments based on parking are non-sequitor. The parking/double-parking needs of residents don’t trump the safety of those who use that throughfare.

    You astutely observed the “stranded nature” of the bike lane. This is exactly why DOT should have overriding power to build pedestrian and bicycle facilities where needed in order to make a complete, connected, citiwide network. If every neighborhood who opposed a bike lane or pedestrian path had their way, all you would have is a bunch of relatively useless, stranded bike lanes/sidewalks. The lane at PPW is part of a larger network which has yet to be built. If it’s eliminated, the connecting bike paths will be “stranded”.

    I won’t even touch your argument on aesthetics except to say, yes, parked cars in the street are ugly, whether it’s a floating parking or on the curbside. If I had my way, curbside parking would be eliminated citiwide both for aesthetic and safety reasons (cars parking/unparking are the cause of many collisions). There is already precedent to this. Some cities like Tokyo require you to have an off-street parking spot before you’re even allowed to own a car. NYC would do well to do likewise.

    Finally, I want you to know I have no self-interest in this game since I don’t live in PPW, will never need or use the bike lane there. I’m defending it on principle. If it’s removed, then this sets a bad precendent which will prevent the city from building a useful citiwide bicycling network by allowing any and every group to fight new bike facilities. If we had this attitude with roads or subways, then both would still be useless as a means of getting around. A system only works when all parts can be built. That’s really what’s at stake here.

  • sss

    Unlike some other lane advocates, your reply is reasoned and doesn’t resort to personal attacks. Much appreciated from my standpoint, I do, however, have a different view.
    – While I’ve heard your argument about light sequencing in the past, I’ve never seen the data to back it up. We know the DOT has failed to employ a scientific approach to its data gathering and analysis. I suspect the same would be true on data they provide on traffic sequencing. The trust factor notwithstanding, I believe other/better traffic calming methods could have been more fully explored.
    – I don’t see a contradiction in my statement. They’re dangerous when bike traffic exists and not dangerous when traffic doesn’t exist. How is that either contradictory or nonsensical?
    – Double parking is illegal for situations not involving loading and loading. i.e., When’s the last time you saw a cab driver ticketed for dropping a passenger off? Temporary double parking is a fact of life in the city. It will continue to happen regardless of its legality because it is necessary to anyone driving and delivering. Eliminating street parking is possible, but seems extreme given the relative benefit of the lane vs. the relative detriment to those relying on parking. While I park in a garage and not on the street, my personal preference is to keep street parking as is. Your argument of increased safety vs. double parking is specious as well. I don’t believe the bike lane is safer. I believe it is more dangerous (see last post).
    – An integrated city-wide bike network is an admirable goal, Negotiating/compromising with local residents/taxpayers/voters comes along with it. As a voter and taxpayer, I expect a better job from city planners than what was done on PPW. The way I see it, a lane already exists along the park to accommodate cyclists. It just happens to be in the park. It’s a better, safer place for the lane and would have been viewed much more favorably by local residents against the PPW lane.
    – As a cyclist, the old configuration worked just fine for me. True, parked cars are ugly, but so is the bike lane. The parked cars were less ugly before the lane because PPW was wider and sight lines to the park were much better. In any event, this is a matter of taste.
    – You claim to not have self-interest, but then admit you do. That’s part of the problem in this debate. Cycling advocates with a broader political view have no problem steamrolling the rational complaints by local residents because they are standing on principle and not facts

  • Joe R.

    “An integrated city-wide bike network is an admirable goal, Negotiating/compromising with local residents/taxpayers/voters comes along with it.”

    Yes, negotiations are fine here up to a point. The idea is if DOT determines that a bike lane must run through a particular area as part of a larger citiwide network, then maybe a neighborhood could have some input on which street it runs on, if there is more than one possible route. Here the location of the lane was ideal. It is right next to a park, with no intersections. In theory, if no pedestrians are crossing, a cyclist can go nearly a full mile without slowing or stopping. This is exactly the kind of infrastructure we need. Whether something similar could have been done in inside the park I just don’t know. I don’t live there, don’t visit there. All I can say is the alternative plans to put a one-way unprotected bike lane on PPW ( and a lane the other way on another avenue ) were far inferior to the present solution from both a usability and safety standpoint.

    “I don’t see a contradiction in my statement. They’re dangerous when bike traffic exists and not dangerous when traffic doesn’t exist. How is that either contradictory or nonsensical?”

    It’s contradictory in that you state that the lane isn’t heavily used, meaning that most of the time traffic doesn’t exist, and hence it isn’t dangerous. Generally, the criterium for removing something in the interests of public safety would be if it’s dangerous much or all of the time, not once in a while. And note here that I’m granting your point that the lane is in fact dangerous when used by cyclists, even though I’m not seeing any evidence supporting that, such as a rise in the number of pedestrians killed or injured by cyclists on PPW now versus before the lane was installed. Also, some pictures I’ve seen show a clear line of sight from the pedestrian crosswalks of the bike lane. Even if that isn’t the case, it could be remedied by removing the parking spots nearest the crosswalk.

    As for loading zones, to me they make a lot of sense even if the bike lane didn’t exist. Taxis or school buses stopping dead in a traffic lane to drop off passengers is dangerous, plain and simple. City buses for example only stop at designated bus stops, so here we already have the concept of a loading zone in practice. All you really need is to put the equivalent of a bus stop on any blocks which don’t already have one. Even the space reserved for a fire hydrant might do if extended another 20 feet in each direction. The point is no vehicle should be stopping except curbside to discharge or pick up passengers/cargo. If it’s a fact of life here, it’s because the city made a flawed decision that curbside parking should take precendent over traffic safety. I’d like to see that decision reversed. I’m not against cars in the city. I recognize parts of the outer boroughs aren’t well served by public transit, and not everyone can physically bike. That’s fine, but roads should be designed with all users in mind. If motorists don’t want to give up traffic lanes for other users, then we need to take parking spots. That seems fair. No inherent reason a parking spot has to be on the street anyhow.

    As for the light sequencing, there is citiwide data on the speeds motorists traffic at which shows if a road is wide enough, the speed limit is generally exceeded, often by a huge margin. I can back this up anecdotally in that there were times I exceeded 30 mph downhills while cycling, yet still had cars passing me going at least 10 mph faster. Even the rare times I broke 50 mph downhills, I was usually just keeping up with traffic. Sure, there are other ways to slow traffic without narrowing roads, but all have greater drawbacks. Speed bumps can damage vehicle suspensions if the driver doesn’t notice them. In my opinion they shouldn’t be used outside of parking lots. Rumble strips are sometimes effective ( and sometimes not ). Same with stop signs on every corner ( except drivers often still speed between intersections to make up for the time they lost stopping ). In the end narrowing roads seems to work best. Whether or not traffic should be calmed, and where, is the only question. I’m not as in favor of universal traffic calming as many on this site. On quiet residential streets it makes sense, but we still need to have some fast arterials, perhaps even with 40-45 mph speed limits, both to shunt traffic off other streets, and to allow the city to function. In this case I think through traffic had alternate routes, plus PPW borders a park (hence the expectation of much pedestrian traffic) so traffic calming likely made sense. Perhaps to compensate the adjoining avenues should have had their speed limits raised or light timing increased. Bottom line, this is a complex business. This is why the DOT should have most of the say even if neighborhoods get some input on tweaking the grand scheme. Community boards simply aren’t composed of transportation experts. While well-meaning, they often offer solutions which are unfeasible, or just don’t make sense.

    Finally, there is lots of room for compromise. I think the city is going about things wrong regarding cycling infrastructure. I think a system of grade-separated lanes, either above or below street level, would make more sense than carving spaces willy nilly from existing streets. The beauty of grade separation is you take less street space ( basically only a little for ramps every few blocks ), and cyclists don’t need to worry at all about cars, traffic lights, stop signs, or pedestrians. The downside is cost, but I wonder if motorists would object to that knowing they can have their cake and eat it too, so to speak.

  • Great post Ben

    As someone who spend 34 years as an engineer at the New Jersey Department of Transportation conducting analyses and setting the scope for public investments, I can affirm that you are right on Ben when you conclude that the NYCDOT approach to this project was totally consistent with industry practice. Whether or not one would agree with the PPW street conversion, most practicing engineers would tell you that there is no merit whatsover to the lawsuits allegations.

    It is clear that you are right when you say, that this is a well orchestrated smear campaign by the anti project opponents. By inserting false conclusions about professional transportation practice into a lawsuit, they create the illusion of professional validity, and set up the tabloids to post the conclusions as fact. Since from my early read of the legal filing, it appears to me that the plantiffs have no chance of getting anyone to agree that they are right about the NYCDOT process, I can only conclude that you are right Ben when you say that the real intent of this suit was to set up a trial via the press.

    Equally unfortunately, has been the attempt to turn this into a bicycle versus car argument. The current NYCDOT is about improving the quality of life for the people of NYC, not anti car or anti bike. It is unfortunate that the tabloids want to lower this discussion to acrimony and pit folks against each other, but of course this is not surprising… sensationalism, creating the illusion of controversy and pitting everyday citizens against each other is how they sell newspapers.

    The US Congress has already informed the Transportation profession that it has lost touch with the American people. Congress created the National Revenue Study Commission to work with the USDOT and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to set the transportation program back on track, which resulted in a report to Study Commission in 2007. It concluded, amongst other things, that to recapture the imagination of the American people and therefore support for funding our needed infrastructure, that 21st transportation has to be about people and communities, not cars and bridges and yes, even bikes.

    Whether you like the PPW project or not, all who follow this need to be concerned about the attempt of the plantiffs and the tabloids to distract the everyday people who can’t afford to be chauffeured around the city in a car at public expense, into a cars versus bikes issue. We need to remain focussed on the idea that 21st Century public investment needs to be about us, the people. It needs to improve our lives and projects like PPW need to be evaluated on that basis, not whether they move cars or bikes faster or slower.

    Please avoid falling into the trap that the project opponents have set — it is classic divide and conquer.

  • Suzanne

    “21st transportation has to be about people and communities, not cars and bridges and yes, even bikes.”

    Amen to that.

    … Although bikes are generally much better for people and communities than cars 🙂

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