Ten Things NBBL Doesn’t Want You to Know

#3: Before NBBL was lobbying City Hall to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane, Marty Markowitz and Iris Weinshall were lobbying DOT to not even build the PPW bike lane (##http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/MarkowitzWeinshallLetter102009.pdf##PDF##). #4: NBBL has a U.S. Senator on their side.

If opponents of an effective street safety project repeat dishonest distortions about it often enough, does that make their position true? Apparently, the Daily News editorial board thinks so. An opinion piece they published over the weekend on the Prospect Park West bike lane might as well have come straight from the desk of Gibson Dunn lawyer Jim Walden, the corporate litigator, Chuck Schumer campaign donor, and rumored Brooklyn DA hopeful who’s now representing bike lane opponents “pro bono.”

A decade ago Daily News reporters were crusading for safety improvements on Queens Boulevard, leading to measures that prevented injuries and saved lives. Now, without any hint of skepticism, truthseeking, or other basic journalistic impulses, the Daily News editorial writers seem content to lift talking points straight from street safety opponents, aligning themselves with the goal of making New York more dangerous. They apparently believe the narrative spun by the anti-bike lane group known as “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” and their spin-off, “Seniors for Safety” — a story in which DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is the only person in New York who wants safer streets for biking and walking, and the local community could, at any moment, “erupt into open revolt.”

It can be time-consuming to visit the neighborhood you’re opining about, do nuts-and-bolts research, or fact-check the faulty assertions in a lawsuit before you reprint them for hundreds of thousands of readers, so Streetsblog has compiled this handy list for the future reference of the Daily News editorial staff, or anyone who’s actually curious about how this project came to be and what the opponents are really after (hint: it’s not safety or “better bike lanes”).

The NBBL narrative obscures the following:

  1. Community groups asked for the project

    One of NBBL’s basic tenets, unchallenged by the tabloid dailies, is that the city foisted the Prospect Park West redesign on the neighborhood. But the fact is that public pressure to tame traffic on Prospect Park West had been mounting since 2006, when the Park Slope Civic Council’s traffic and transportation forum highlighted rampant speeding on PPW as a major quality of life concern.

    Later that year, after holding a series of public workshops, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition produced a report including recommendations for better bike access to GAP, and in 2007, Brooklyn Community Board 6 asked the city to study the implementation of a two-way, protected bike lane on PPW. Park Slope Neighbors later gathered 1,300 signatures asking for a two-way bike lane and traffic calming measures on the street — all before DOT proposed the PPW redesign in 2009. No one had to convince people that their neighborhood streets could function a lot better.

  2. DOT’s safety data is rigorous and honest

    Data collected from the six-month study period after implementation of the re-design clearly shows that the incidence of speeding on PPW has gone down significantly, and the early results indicate that crash and injury rates have declined. You can’t be “for safety” and oppose a project that produces these benefits, so NBBL has attacked the data and cherrypicked numbers to undermine confidence in DOT’s methodology.

    To do this, NBBL claimed that DOT typically doesn’t use multi-year averages of crash data to ascertain the effect of street redesigns, when the truth is that this is exactly how DOT and other transportation agencies measure safety effects, because that’s the statistically rigorous way to do it. As Gary Toth, a 34-year veteran of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, told Streetsblog: “It is the opponents’ lawyers who are grasping at aberrations and doing the very thing they accuse the DOT of — selectively picking data to stack the deck in their favor.”

  3. Before NBBL was lobbying City Hall to remove the PPW bike lane, Iris Weinshall and Marty Markowitz were lobbying DOT to not even build the PPW bike lane

    From the beginning, the campaign against the bike lane has been spearheaded by opponents with political clout. In October 2009, after the PPW redesign had been approved by CB 6, Borough President Marty Markowitz wrote to Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, asking her not to install the redesign. “I am joined in this request by former DOT Commissioner, Iris Weinshall — who absolutely agrees that the installation of a two-way, barricaded bike lane would cause incredible congestion,” Markowitz wrote in a letter [PDF] obtained by Streetsblog through freedom of information requests. The attempt to perform an end-run around a multi-year community-led planning process had begun. Weinshall would later join Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel in penning a letter to the New York Times on behalf of NBBL, speciously claiming that the redesign increased danger on PPW.

  4. They have a U.S. Senator on their side

    NBBL leaders have taken to saying that only “a small number” of their members are politically connected. But it only takes one former deputy mayor to go over the heads of the local community board and get direct access to City Hall. It only takes one former transportation commissioner to lend an air of legitimacy to spurious claims about a traffic-calming project increasing risk. And if that former DOT chief is married to a U.S. Senator, that’s all you need to enlist City Council members to start agitating against the current DOT and its projects to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

  5. They have media access that would make Snooki jealous

    In the annals of NYC NIMBYism, NBBL may be the only neighborhood-level opposition group that has hired a PR firm to get its message out to the press. They’ve also received a helping hand from Marty Markowitz’s office, which offered to put members of NBBL in touch with CBS2 reporter Marcia Kramer last October, according to email correspondence obtained by Streetsblog. CBS2 aired a Kramer segment in February featuring Markowitz, NBBL member Steve Spirn, and video footage provided by NBBL. The coordination between all these parties is never revealed to the viewer, who sees a series of bike lane opponents that seem unrelated to each other. Kramer never mentioned NBBL herself during the segment; only after she kicked it back to the anchor did he say that a group called “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” planned on suing the city.

  6. Most people like the redesign

    A phone survey commissioned by Assembly member James Brennan found a 3-2 margin of support for keeping the bike lane — and that was using a sample skewed heavily toward car owners. A web survey put out by City Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin and Brooklyn CB 6 received 3,000 responses and found 70 percent support for keeping the redesign. And at the last CB 6 hearing that invited public testimony on the bike lane, about eight times as many people signed up to speak in favor of the redesign as signed up to speak against it. The only way to set off a community “revolt” related to the bike lane would be to remove it.

  7. NBBL is very upset about a single blog comment

    In the NBBL narrative, DOT conspired to, in the words of Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden, “enlist an individual (the ‘Blogger’) to wage a viral campaign against critics of the PPW configuration.” The “viral campaign” Walden refers to consists of a blog comment posted here on Streetsblog last April by Aaron “The Blogger” Naparstek (who had stepped down as  Streetsblog editor-in-chief about three months before posting the comment in question). The Blogger’s notorious comment was not, in fact, prompted by DOT overlords calling on him to attack opponents. It wasn’t even directed at specific individuals — all that was known at the time was that bike lane opponents had put up an anonymous flyer around Park Slope advertising an upcoming meeting. The comment was mostly a parody of that flyer. Yes, this is what all the fuss has been about.

  8. The defense of the Prospect Park West bike lane came from the bottom up

    Picture this scenario: You’re engaged in the goings on in your neighborhood and involved with a local civic group, and about five years ago you participate in public forums and workshops where people talk about what needs to change to make the neighborhood a better place to walk and bike. The ideas coalesce into a vision. It can be tough to get the city to take a community-generated plan and run with it, but after a lot more organizing and signature-gathering, the city draws up an official plan based on part of this vision. The community board approves the plan, and then the following year the city implements it.

    This is the point in the Prospect Park West story when NBBL appeared on the scene, sending letters to deputy mayors and then threatening to sue the city for installing the PPW redesign. All those engaged neighborhood residents who put in the hours to brainstorm how to fix their streets and gather signatures in support of their ideas didn’t need any prodding from the city to defend the new bike lane. There was no DOT-orchestrated campaign to “collude with bike lobbyists to mislead the public and attack opponents,” as the NBBL lawsuit alleges. The defense of the PPW bike lane is the work of many engaged residents who want to preserve a hard-won safety improvement for their neighborhood.

  9. The NBBL lawsuit is flimsy

    The NBBL complaint is “largely public relations, with no more law behind it than is minimally necessary to avoid sanctions for frivolity,” according to an NYU Law School professor who specializes in government law.

  10. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov, used with permission



Noah Kazis contributed reporting to this post.

  • Shemp

    I’ve heard that the whack-job who writes the News’ bike editorials lives in New Jersey.

  • Anonymous

    I worked at CBS2 a long time ago, so I’ve actually had a hand in making some of that sausage. Even as a lowly underling, I actually had to tell the News Director to his face that I refused to produce a piece because it was completely unethical. This isn’t news, but sensationalism, conflict and instantaneous ratings are what drive the local news business, not journalistic integrity or civic responsibility.

  • Mook

    I think they’re fighting a losing battle. I rode the lane with my wife and kids on Easter to visit my mother, who lives near it. It was packed with riders of all ages.

    A few weeks earlier I had asked my mother why her next door neighbor was organizing people against the lane. Her answer: “I think she’s just crotchety”.

  • wkgreen

    I agree, and I would bet that NBBL does too. But at this point, I think that they are poisoning the well of public opinion against bike lanes to such an extent that we may not see another Class I lane like it for a long long time, and cycling infrastructure improvements of any kind may be very hard to come by. With the Daily News now referring to PPW lane advocates as “zealots”, the rest of the city does not even know that the local neighborhood was on board with this a long time ago. I hope that I’m wrong.

  • krstrois

    That FOILed PDF is extraordinary. Exposure to its font alone caused me to age forty years and to put up two kittens-in-a basket posters.

  • Lois Carsbad

    11. NBBL members aren’t just politically connected, they’re rich.

    A group that is receiving pro bono representation and soliciting donations for miscellaneous expenses is headquartered in a building where apartments sell for over $3 million.

    http://www.brownstoner.com/brownstoner/archives/2007/05/in_contract_par.php

  • This is HUGE; thanks for all the work that went into it.

    Wow, the troglodyte comment sure struck a nerve. I guess we’ve learned that troglodytes don’t like to be called troglodytes.

    Oh, and I believe there’s a typo in the 2nd paragraph: “Neighbor for Better Bike Lanes”.

  • J G

    Given that it’s obvious that at least some FOIL documents have come in, can we see a document dump?

  • FC

    Handy diagram
    Weinshall > Schumer > Mort Zuckerman > Daily News editorial

  • CBS Marty Sandwich

    This is pretty incredible so Marty is basically telling the people of Park Slope that they can spend years organizing and working in their communities and then he tries to undo it all with a letter? It’s insane. CBS2 is now proven to not be trustworthy.

  • I rode it twice in the past two days (and actually drove it in my care a few times in the last week). Now that the weather is warmer there is DEFINITELY A PROBLEM with cars unloading and / parking in the crosswalks.

    Not Good.

  • SM

    Wait a minute… that 2009 letter isn’t signed… Nice Try Streetsblog! Anyone can draft up a letter and claim Marty Markowitz wrote it but unless there’s a signature accompanying it, how is it credible? I bet next you’ll pdf a letter from Chuck Schumer threatening to get Janette Sadik-Khan fired unless she removes the bike lane. Conveniently, that letter will also not be signed.

  • Count how many times Marty Markowitz uses words like traffic, congestion, and gridlock in the 2009 letter to Sadik-Khan. He even manages to fill one sentence with three references to parking. How many times does he mention safety? Not once.

    Even if he thought the bike lane would be responsible for a hundred pedestrian deaths, he makes no mention of it in this letter. Any concern that the bike lane would be lead to a higher number of car accidents is no where to be found. I wouldn’t have expected Marty to care that much about cyclists, but it’s interesting to note that a concern for the safety of drivers warrants not one single mention.

    He implicates Iris Weinshall’s lack of a concern for safety as well when he writes that she “absolutely agrees that the installation of a two-way, barricaded bike lane would cause incredible congestion.” Every argument NBBL has used against the bike lane since this letter was written is just cover for the selfish desire to keep driving the same as it always was.

  • PPW Fan

    What about the fact that the installation of the bike lane and traffic calming project did not “cause incredible congestion?” What do Marty and Iris have to say about that now?

  • Yeah, SM, can’t wait for Marty Markowitz to expose this patent fraud! Waiting…..waiting….waiting…

  • Albert

    Has Streetsblog submitted this article to the Daily News as an Op-Ed response?

  • krstrois

    It really is incredible that there is not even a cursory mention of safety.

    I think “congestion” is actually a code word for the emotional experience these people have when they are unable to double park in a bike lane.

  • moocow

    There is a huge oil spill on the 11th st apron where the Mr. Sortie truck sat this past weekend.
    The drop off problem will get worse as the locals don’t any to give up free on-street car storage.

  • moocow

    There is a huge oil spill on the 11th st apron where the Mr. Sortie truck sat this past weekend.
    The drop off problem will get worse as the locals don’t any to give up free on-street car storage.

  • AaronTrustfunderstek

    Am I the only one who is not impressed by this 2009 letter? It is by an elected official to an agency commissioner insisting that an agency project not be completed. Why are people acting like this is some sort of unearthed secret? Seems like elected officials send letters like this all the time. Oh and the shocker: Markowitz cares mostly about congestion and cars? WOW! That is crazy surprising. O.M.G.

  • dporpentine

    So you’re not surprised that one human being is indifferent to the safety of millions of other human beings?

    Lovely soul you got there.

  • Nice job of diverting attention from the fact that a former DOT commissioner and wife of a U.S. Senator was trying to kill a street safety project in her front yard after the Community Board approved it.

  • AaronTrustfunderskek

    Oh, my bad. A former car-centric DOT commissioner and a car-loving elected official both write in to a city agency demanding that a bike project they don’t personally like be killed! Wow! How did we all not see that coming!!! Thank god for our $ contributions to your FOIL efforts! You’ve uncovered something here! And wow, these 2 bureacrats care nothing for the completely advisory decisions of the local CB? Scandalous!

  • Letter Fan

    The Markowitz letter is impressive for a few reasons:

    It is remarkable to see evidence that the former DOT commissioner, wife of a U.S. Senator and $235,000/year public employee at CUNY is leading a campaign to discredit her successor and disable the city’s “Sustainable Streets” agenda over what is, essentially, a NIMBY issue — a new bike lane on the previous DOT commissioner’s street. Weinshall’s role in all of this is a big story and I look forward to seeing it receive more mainstream and national coverage as the NBBL law suit approaches and Streetsblog starts getting more of this kind of material out there. It is interesting to note that Weinshall’s name no longer appears on any of the NBBL public relations output.

    Likewise, it is impressive to see how Markowitz and Weinshall’s stated reasons for their opposition have changed over time. In this letter they insisted that the redesign of PPW would cause “incredible congestion.” Markowitz and Weinshall were wrong and the “incredible congestion” never materialized. Rather than acknowledge that the project is a success and heavily supported in the neighborhood — which it is — Weinshall’s attorney has come up with a variety of new reasons why the project is unacceptable.

    The Markowitz letter is impressive because it helps us to see how Weinshall and Friends’ political attack and public relations campaign has evolved over this last year. Now the PPW redesign project is bad because DOT fudged the data! Because it’s a “radical experimental bike lane!” Because there should have been an environmental review! Because DOT street safety improvements should be subject to historic preservation regulations! Because vicious “bike lobbyists” are waging personal attacks on the Internet!

    The letter reminds us that once the “incredible congestion” argument was proven to be bogus, Iris Weinshall and Friends no longer had a leg to stand on. All they can do now is focus on smearing and discrediting DOT data, Community Board process, their neighbors, bloggers and anyone else who supports the project and has worked to make it happen. They’ve come a long way since the writing of this letter. Thanks for publishing it.

  • Anonymous

    gggg

  • If NBBL leaders and US Senator are working in league then I guess it’ll take a lot of efforts to agitate against the current DOT.
    If there are only few people interested in politics chances are they are the most important ones in NBBL.

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