Who Supports the Prospect Park West Bike Lane?

Photo: Andrew Hinderaker, courtesy of Transportation Alternatives

As a referendum on the Prospect Park West redesign, last night’s Community Board 6 hearing was another clear signal that the two-way, protected bike path enjoys broad support within the community. On the community board’s sign-in sheet, 86 people put their names down to testify in favor of the project while 11 signed up to speak against it. Transportation Alternatives handed out stickers to 330 supporters before their supply ran out.

Like the last CB 6 meeting on the project, Council Member Brad Lander got one of the most enthusiastic receptions from the crowd. Lander’s mid-speech declaration — “I believe the Prospect Park West bike lane is working” — received a loud burst of applause. (For those wondering where Council Member Steve Levin was last night, all I can tell you is that he wasn’t at the hearing.)

While time ran out on the hearing before many people who wanted to speak in favor of the redesign got their turns at the mic, stories about the positive impact of the bike lane were not in short supply. Here are three highlights from more than two dozen spoken testimonials:

  • Elizabeth Elkind identified herself as a disabled pedestrian, a cyclist, and mother. An old injury makes it difficult and time-consuming for her to walk long distances, and the new bike lane lets her ride to Prospect Park and Celebrate Brooklyn without feeling like she’s risking her life.
  • “I like to pick up my kids from Hebrew school on my tandem,” said Prospect Park West resident Gary Eckstein. “Before it wasn’t safe, but now I can do it.”
  • Jesse Rosenfeld came out as “a registered Republican living in Park Slope” and a two-time George W. Bush voter. “Even I support the bike lane on Prospect Park West,” he said. “I want more bicyclists in NYC, because I am pro-health. I want more families riding bikes, because I am pro-family. I want more delivery cyclists, because I am pro-business.” He concluded with an exhortation to cyclists to “please police yourselves better.”

As a forum for gathering ideas about how to improve the current configuration, the hearing produced a fair amount of testimony that bolstered the DOT’s proposal to improve pedestrian crossings by turning the flush pedestrian areas between the traffic lanes and the bike lane into raised concrete pedestrian refuges, which would effectively prevent cars from parking in them and interfering with sightlines. Getting a clear view of bike traffic as you cross the street to reach the park was mentioned a few times as a concern. If the pedestrian areas remain clear of parked cars, this is not a problem:

The view of the bike path from the pedestrian area at First Street. When not parked in illegally, the area provides clear sightlines for pedestrians to see approaching cyclists. Photo: Eric McClure

Some especially trenchant observations came from Doreen Martinez, who didn’t sign up as a supporter or a detractor, but opted for the “other” category. She came without attachments, but she had opinions and analysis to spare.

Redesign opponents had been handing out flyers making the case for their lawsuit against the city. A core claim of theirs is that DOT shouldn’t have used multi-year averages to measure the rate of injuries on PPW before the redesign, even though that’s how the feds do it [PDF], that’s how DOT has done it for other projects [PDF], and that’s what good statistical methodology demands. After reviewing the handout, Martinez sliced through the opponents’ argument. “Frankly, that’s statistically insignificant,” she said, “but I do hear ‘danger.’ If danger is a concern, why not enforce crosswalks.”

Martinez compared the bike lane to a recent change at the bank where she works. Two years ago the bank installed turnstiles to better control who came in to the branch. People were up in arms because they weren’t used to the change and were spilling coffee on themselves. Then they got used to it. “Of course there’s going to be an adjustment period,” she said about the PPW redesign. “I say find better methods to improve what we’ve already got.”

The groups suing the city want to erase what we’ve already got, and replace the two-way protected lane with one-way, unprotected bike lanes on Eighth and PPW, adding a third traffic lane back to PPW as well. Louise Hainline, president of “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” branded this proposal a compromise, but it would negate the principal benefits that the protected bike lane has produced, inviting a return to rampant speeding on Prospect Park West. It would also signal the end of safe, all-ages cycling on PPW, forcing cyclists to ride next to fast-moving traffic and constantly swerve around double-parked cars.

Hainline offered this deal: Accede to NBBL’s demands, and they’ll withdraw the lawsuit. “This is going to get enormously tiring,” she said. “You’re going to get tired, we’re going to get tired.”

I’m not so sure. At the end of the evening, after hours spent in an overheated auditorium, hundreds of bike lane supporters filtered out of John Jay High School looking, to my eyes, rejuvenated.

  • Suzanne

    Ok, this is me being petty but has anyone else noticed that all those opposed to the bike lane look like they ate about a hundred lemons? Each?? Either they’re pissed they’re lost in a sea of “bike nazis” or they’re just naturally a bunch of wet blankets (and therefore oppose anything as optimistic, useful and just plain fun as a bike lane.)

  • mark davis

    When life hands you lemons, sue the city to remove infrastructure.

  • “This is going to get enormously tiring. You’re going to get tired, we’re going to get tired.”

    Dream on, Hainline. We’ll be traveling these streets for the rest of our lives and the idea of them getting worse instead of better is a lot more “tiring” than engaging with our government and demanding what is fair and good.

  • da

    That one photograph completely demolishs the argument that it is difficult to see oncoming bikes. And the photographer has not even moved into the buffer yet.

  • Danny G

    Suzanne,

    I kind of liked that guy who talked about how he didn’t like how bicycling was like a religion of sorts for hardcore advocates. I can understand that sentiment.

    I feel the big transition that NYC is facing now is how to grow from a city in which biking on the street is something reserved for an avid 1%, to something so incredibly normal and not-even-newsworthy for a pretty nonchalant 99%. And I think Class I lanes will have something to do with that transition.

  • Danny G

    Hell, even a nonchalant 20-25% of the public would be a great end result. Gotta keep our subways, taxis, and dollar vans in business.

  • da

    They think we are zealots.

    I think they are idolaters.

  • Spartacus

    After Hainline’s threat about we, NYC government, local residents, and advocates, we’ll get tired before they get tired. I can only hope that the NY Bar Association takes a hard look at the firm that is representing them pro bono. If what they are doing is not pro bono, the second Hainline and the NBBL have to pay for an attorney they run out of money real fast

    Please tell me someone is working on this? Cut the head off of NBBL, the access to pro bono lawyer, and they won’t stand a chance.

  • I am “PRO” bike lane but I am not a biker. I am certainly not a member of the “Bike Lobby”

    Even thought I live on 8th Ave so I hope my opinions count as much as those who live on PPW.

    I represent 2 organizations.

    First I am a member of the Prospect Park Track club. As a pedestrian, the Class 1 bike lane makes it easier to cross the street. As one approaches the bike lane from either direction one can easily see if a bike is coming for blocks. The stripped zone between the parked cars and the bike lane give more than enough room to see past even the tallest SUV. This stripped zone also gives drivers room to get out of their car with out “dooring” a bike.

    I am also a member of the Automobile Association of America. As a driver I am glad to see the bikes off the road and onto their own protected bike lane. PPW is now one road were I don’t have to be worried about a bike swerving in front of my car because the rider is about to be doored or because a Fresh Direct truck is using the dangerous Class 1 bike lane to store their vehicular while unloading.

  • silverloon

    The most tragic thing about this suit is that it is supported by our own Chuck Schumer and his wife former DOT commissioner Iris Weinschall. . you may remember his campaign flyer a bunch of years ago . . . .He was the king of hearts in the famous bush deck of bad and dangerous actors.
    I am truly heart broken that our trusted neighbor, civil servant and senator has launched himself against such a beautiful transformational happening in our home. As the hearing was taking place a man lay dying in a hospital bed from injuries sustained while riding with his family in a class 1 bicycle lane.
    I can’t believe that the elites on PPW cannot see beyond their own narrow concerns to make our home a more activity friendly place for people of all ages.

  • BGray

    The “You’re going to get tired, we’re going to get tired.” argument was brought up twice while I was at the meeting. (I left around 8PM). I found it striking. NYC riders have been fighting to defend access to safer streets for decades. Do NBBL think that we have short attention spans? Most things work fighting for take time to see through to their conclusion. I took this being used as an argument by NBBL to be a sign that they are being worn down.

  • BGray, I believe it was a veiled threat. Essentially, “Just do what we want and this lawsuit will go away,” as opposed to “One of these days we’ll get so tired of suing you we’ll give up. They are going to sue and appeal as far as they can. They may drag this on for years.

  • mark davis

    She fundamentally doesn’t get that we got this by working hard on it for years. she also doesn’t get that bike ridership is going up at a rapid rate. If we can settle this with a waiting game we have the upper hand.

  • mike

    True, she doesn’t understand that many of us lived through and battled the DOTs of the Iris Weinshall and prior eras, and so are used to sticking it out for decades (and winning). Now, with our numbers exploding, we have the power to see this through for as long as we need to. Still, let’s hope they get the hint when they lose this first case.

  • William Reilly

    Lois-

    That threat was implicit in the “compromise” proffered by the lawyer who held himself out as a conciliator. After despairing that well-meaning neighbors had come to such loggerheads that one side had resorted to a lawsuit against the city, he proposed that the redesign should simply be scrapped — removed — and the whole process begin anew. You know, with community hearings and local input so the outcome would be fair. Had he been given more time, I’m positive he would have gotten around to explaining to us just how the process he outlined differed from what had already occurred. Almost positive.

    And I’m almost positive that, should a desperate looking man wearing a ski mask and brandishing a knife ever approach this lawyer on the street, he will simply turn over his wallet and jewelry. That way, no one gets mugged.

  • Station44025

    After attending the meeting, and reading up on the forces pushing for the so called “compromise” of removing the bike lane, I have become really disturbed that people with such wealth, power, and privilege would devote their time and resources to getting a third lane of speeding traffic and 6 more parking spaces, against the popular sentiment of the citizens. Will it be named the Mr.and Mrs. Charles Schumer memorial third lane of traffic? Will his nyt obituary describe his brave fight against a safe place for little kids to ride their bikes? Their repeated threat to never give up really calls for a response in the form of public shaming for wasting their influence on such a pointless battle when there are so many positive things they could be doing with their power. Disgusting.

    Clearly the real battle is not about the lane, but against bicycles in general. It’s worth noting that NBBL called for licensing of “life threatening” cyclists in her letter to the nyt editor last December. Beyond opposing bike infrastructure, they would really like to impose any barrier to biking they can. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/23/opinion/l23bike.html

  • @William

    Yeah, that lawyer was great. Couldn’t we all just be reasonable and return to the (pre) status quo.. which by some astounding coincidence, is exactly the way they want it.

    Then we can talk about it for 10 more years, and sue (again), when they don’t get their way.

    Mr. ‘Reasonable’ can go f*ck himself.

  • Daphna

    On January 20 and January 21, 2011 Streetsblog.org published two articles about enhancements to the Prospect Park West bike lane suggested by the DOT.

    From the 1/21/11 Streetsblog.org article on the subject:
    “The proposed modifications should make the new Prospect Park West even friendlier to pedestrians. At intersections, the tan paint marking the pedestrian zone of the median will be replaced with raised islands. That should keep parked cars from intruding on pedestrian space. Along the bike path, DOT wants to install “rumble strip” markings to alert riders that they’re approaching an intersection. DOT also suggests rearranging the loading zones at 9th Street and narrowing the bike lane buffer at the very northern end of Prospect Park West in order to better transition into Grand Army Plaza.”

    As Geck commented (under’s Today’s Headlines 3/11/11) the 3/10/11 hearing was ostensibly to discuss the proposed enhancements to the PPW bike lane to give CB6 a sense of the public’s opinion on those enhancements. Most of the testimony at the Brooklyn CB6 meeting on 3/10/11 did not involving giving input on the planned enhancements. Does anyone know if CB6 will vote in favor of these enhancements???

    My opinion on these enhancements is that I do not think rumble strips are necessary and will only detract from safety causing bicyclists to focus on the ground underneath them instead of what is in the lane in front of them. I also do not care for narrowing the buffer. But raised islands instead of tan paint are paramount and I hope CB6 votes for that next month!! And I hope DOT installs them in the Spring!! I hope this process moves forward despite a vocal minority against it and despite the lawsuit.

  • Geck

    Daphna
    Please email your views to CB6 districtmanager@BrooklynCB6.org . I don’t know when they will actually consider the proposed “enhancements” or how they are leaning, but they clearly want input.

    I am inclined to agree with you that the rubble strips are unnecessary — but it should be noted that they are raised stripes of paint across the path and not true rumble strips.

    As for the narrowing of the buffer near GAP-to me that it the compromise with NBBL that we should be talking about. I don’t think narrowing the buffer is warranted, but if it would satisfy the opposition, I could live with it.

  • car free nation

    What got me was all the talk from the cons about “civility.” “Tone down the rhetoric… stop being such zealots.” Well in my world, when neighbors disagree, they work it out amongst themselves. They don’t go to the courts.

    I cannot imagine a more uncivil act than suing because you are in the minority. I’m glad I’m a couple blocks away so I don’t have to see those cowards in person.

    One thing to watch out for is how to get on the community boards. I seem to remember that the borough president has a say in who is on the boards, so things are going to get worse before they get better.

  • J

    @Daphna,
    I think you raise an excellent point about the safety improvement that were supposed to be discussed, i.e. an actual proposal for a better bike lane. Raised pedestrian islands would ensure pedestrians a safe place to wait and cross the street and would give them and bikes better visibility of each other. These are an absolute must. As for rumble strips, they have them all up and down the West Side Greenway, south of 59th Street, at pedestrians crossings. They work fine, although in my biking experience you see them way more than you feel them. As both a cyclist and a pedestrian on that route, I don’t really have strong feelings about them one way or the other.

  • J

    @CarFreeNation,

    I would be careful about the rhetoric you are using. Lawsuits are not inherently uncivil. They are very useful tools where democratic means have failed, especially for protecting the rights of minorities and the powerless. In this case, however, the only ‘rights’ that have been breached are the right to double park, the right to speed, and the right to cross the street while only looking in one direction. NBBL as a group, while in a minority, is far from powerless or disenfranchised, and the democratic process (apart from the lawsuit) is working fairly well, if not always in the most civil manner. I would just caution against arguing that any minority group that sues is somehow being uncivil.

  • station44025

    I really think that there are personal politics driving the NBBL clique as much as anything. I think Weinshall probably sees planting a bike lane on “her” street as a direct F.U. from the Sadik Khan, and the wealthy and connected can’t stand being asked to yield to a democratic process. As for their bizarro anti-capitol-“D”-Democratic values, there are probably larger political stakes in creating a failure for the Bloomberg administration as he potentially moves into national politics, probably as a Republican. I haven’t been cynical enough about this all along.

    They consider themselves members of a higher caste that shouldn’t be subjected to the childish demands of a bunch of dirty hippies and immigrants on toy bikes. So what if a few of us get run over? We, their subjects, can’t understand the bigger picture anyway.

  • Shemp

    I also think Marty probably told these people at some point that he would get this stopped. When he failed, he looked bad and we have seen the consequences.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Here is a lesson in civility. Twice now, older pedestrians have waited and waited a pedestrian crossing until I rode up, and then yelled at me for not stopping at the light.

    The first time, they started yelling before I got there, and so I stopped.

    Now they are more experienced. They waited until I was passed.

  • Suzanne

    “They consider themselves members of a higher caste that shouldn’t be subjected to the childish demands of a bunch of dirty hippies and immigrants on toy bikes. So what if a few of us get run over?”

    I think this really encapsulates their worldview. Not of the basic masses (of mostly geriatric) supporters but those at the top with the wealth and political connections to be able to actually threaten to overturn a broadly supported peice of infrastructure. In fact, this whole incident is a microcosm of how politics works – the wealthy at the top with the support of a hoodwinked minority, blown completely out of proportion by a complaisant media.

    Thanks Chuck for this lesson in democracy!

  • Joe R.

    “Here is a lesson in civility. Twice now, older pedestrians have waited and waited a pedestrian crossing until I rode up, and then yelled at me for not stopping at the light.”

    This is telling me it’s just a control thing-they want to see you stop, whether there’s any need for you to do so or not. I’ll bet they had plenty of time to be safely across the street long before you even got to the crosswalk. But no, they’re not happy if BOTH they and anyone on a bike can proceed without stopping. With these people, bikes MUST stop for every pebble. Just being in motion seems to annoy them. No way to win with morons like that.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

JSK Counters Markowitz Affidavit; No Decision on PPW Bike Lane Case Today

|
Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has submitted an affidavit countering Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s assertion that the Prospect Park West bike lane was installed as a trial. The rest of the news coming from today’s hearing in Brooklyn Supreme Court once again centers on procedural maneuvering. There was no decision on the Prospect Park West […]

For Nearly Two Years, Ex-NYC DOT Chief Has Undercut the Signature Street Safety and Sustainable Transportation Agenda of Her Successor

|
Tomorrow, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Bert Bunyan is expected to weigh in for the first time on the core arguments brought by opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign against the City of New York. Ostensibly, the dispute is between the anti-bike lane groups known as “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” (NBBL) and “Seniors for […]

Thursday, March 10 Is CB6’s Prospect Park West Bike Lane Finale

|
I make no guarantees about the ultimate accuracy of this headline, but you’ve got to admit that next week’s Brooklyn Community Board 6 forum on the Prospect Park West redesign is shaping up to be a showstopper [PDF]. After all the rallies, surveys, Marcia Kramer segments, senatorial intrigue, threats of lawsuits, and mountains of data […]