Victory for Safe Streets: Judge Rejects Prospect Park West Bike Lane Lawsuit

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Bert Bunyan dismissed the lawsuit seeking to reverse the redesign of Prospect Park West yesterday, putting an end to a protracted, ugly chapter in the annals of NYC street safety improvements. The lawsuit, brought this March by a group of politically-connected opponents who failed to participate in the years of public process that preceded the redesign, had no standing because it was filed after the statute of limitations expired, Bunyan ruled.

No lawsuit will take away this bike lane. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov

Official word of the decision came down last night and set off a round of jubilant tweeting from project supporters, celebrating what should be the last gasp of an extended PR attack that opponents waged against the PPW bike lane, NYC DOT, and street safety advocates. With the apparent end of the legal threat to the redesign, Brooklynites can rest a little easier knowing that the improved conditions for pedestrians and cyclists on PPW are here to stay. There will be no return to the old three-lane speedway configuration.

Bunyan’s ruling [PDF] is a major vindication for Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and NYC DOT’s bike and pedestrian program. “This decision results in a hands-down victory for communities across the city. The plaintiffs have been dead wrong in their unsupported claims about the bike path and DOT’s practices,” Sadik-Khan said in a statement. “This project was requested by the community, they voted repeatedly to support it, and their support has registered in several opinion polls. Merely not liking a change is no basis for a frivolous lawsuit to reverse it.”

The legal issues in the case hinged on two main questions: 1) whether the city, in responding to community requests for traffic calming and better bike connections on PPW, had acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner by installing the bike lane, and 2) whether the plaintiffs filed suit before the four-month statute of limitations had expired. Judge Bunyan’s decision rests squarely on his answer to the second question.

The city implemented the redesign in June and July of 2010. The plaintiffs and their attorney, Jim Walden, claimed this installation was a “trial” that did not become permanent until DOT presented data from a six-month evaluation period at a Community Board 6 hearing this January, about two months before they filed suit the first week of March.

But Bunyan rejected this argument, concluding that Walden and the bike lane opponents “presented no evidence that DOT viewed the bikeway as a pilot or temporary project.” He determined that the city committed to a permanent installation of the redesign as soon as the bike lane was built last summer, so the four-month window for opponents to file suit expired in November.

Because Bunyan dismissed the suit on statute of limitations grounds, he had no need to weigh in on the “arbitrary and capricious” question, and his decision does not address that aspect of the suit. From the outset, however, opponents had made the “trial” or “pilot project” issue a pillar of their argument, and Bunyan demolished it. He reserved his harshest rebuke for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who filed an affidavit at the eleventh hour alleging that DOT told him the redesign would be a trial in March 2010:

[T]he Borough President’s conclusory affidavit is devoid of detail and fails to raise a genuine issue of material fact. Moreover, the Borough President never mentioned in his December 9, 2010 testimony before the City Council’s Committee on Transportation that DOT had characterized the bike lane as temporary.

Walden issued a statement yesterday implying that the opponents are still considering an appeal, but it’s not clear they have any further legal path to eradicate the bike lane, now that their initial suit was deemed too late.

For months, the success of the PPW bike lane was overshadowed by the relentless campaign waged by politically-connected insiders against NYC DOT.

The legal victory for the redesign comes long after broad support for it had coalesced at the community level. In the latest community board vote on the PPW project, Brooklyn CB 6 voted unanimously to support several DOT-proposed modifications to the lane. The board first endorsed the design of the bike lane in May 2009, following a written request that DOT study the installation of a two-way separated bike lane in June 2007.

“I am proud of the community-driven process, through which neighborhood residents requested the bike path, suggested modifications, and approved the modified design this spring,” said City Council Member Brad Lander in a statement. “Ever since the bike path was first proposed four years ago by Park Slope’s representatives on Community Board 6, this has been an inclusive, transparent, and community-driven process.  While I respect those who do not like the bike lane, this is the way our government is supposed to work.”

The results of the redesign speak for themselves: The bike lane reduced injurious traffic crashes, speeding, and sidewalk riding, and led to big increases in cycling.

But the benefits have been overshadowed for months by the misinformation campaign waged by well-connected bike lane opponents, including former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, who is married to Senator Chuck Schumer. It was an anti-bike NIMBY effort on a scale that New York is unlikely to ever see again, unless Kirsten Gillibrand moves to the city and watches in horror as DOT stripes a bike lane in front of her house. To recap:

Though unsuccessful in court, the bike lane opponents have inflicted damage that can’t be undone overnight. Even in the extremely unlikely event that papers like the Daily News and the Post decide to run full-blown mea culpas about their willingness to reprint falsehoods about DOT’s use of data, it will take time for the agency to recuperate from the opponents’ relentless media attacks. Since the PPW opponents launched their campaign, the expansion of the bike network has slowed and previously-approved projects have been scaled back. Perhaps with the shadow of this lawsuit no longer hanging over the department, the city’s street safety efforts can now continue with renewed vigor.

  • Anonymous

    Woot. I hope that jubilant tweeting will turn into jubilant walking and cycling along PPW. It’s a beautiful day today.

  • Anonymous

    Woot. I hope that jubilant tweeting will turn into jubilant walking and cycling along PPW. It’s a beautiful day today.

  • Anonymous

    Woot. I hope that jubilant tweeting will turn into jubilant walking and cycling along PPW. It’s a beautiful day today.

  • Anonymous

    Woot. I hope that jubilant tweeting will turn into jubilant walking and cycling along PPW. It’s a beautiful day today.

  • As an avid biker AND driver who frequently uses PPW for both purposes, I couldn’t be happier with the design exactly as is. I’m glad it’s here to stay.

  • krstrois

    Incredible news — thank you to Streetsblog and all the advocates for your part in preventing this democratic process from getting steamrolled by these politically connected opponents. 

  • Anonymous

    Finally. Part of me wishes he had been able to rule on the merits of the case, but I am incredibly relieved to have this over with.  I plan to do many, many celebratory laps up and down the lane over the next few days.

    Somebody please find something constructive for those NBBL people to work on, stat.  Idle hands, as they say.  Appoint them to some important sounding positions where they can’t do too much damage or something.

  • Marina

    Ben, great article, as usual! Thank you for all your great reporting on this issue.

    Can’t wait to ride the lane in celebration!

  • Anonymous

    Yes. Thanks for the excellent reporting on this over these many month. More protected lanes please!

    NY1’s take on it:
    http://brooklyn.ny1.com/content/top_stories/145199/judge-rules-prospect-park-bike-lane-can-stay?ap=1&MP4

    I am one of the bicyclists passing by on my way to work this morning in the beginning of the clip – one of the many nobodies on it.

  • Rabbi

    If you were following the weather yesterday, you may have noticed that the clouds disappeared just as this news started to leak out.  Plus, it’s a beautiful day today. Clearly, God loves the Prospect Park West Bike lane.

  • Andy

    Was there ever a real opposition? I’ve only really been following on SB, but it sounded like 5 grumpy people tried to make it seem like there was actually an opposition when most people understood that it was just hype – and the polls always showed very strong support for bike lanes, even if the papers only write articles against it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Finally. Part of me wishes he had been able to rule on the merits of the case, but I am incredibly relieved to have this over with.”

    I still smell a political rat.  By not ruling on the merits of the case, and specificially not addressing the level of procedural obstacle for bike lanes relative to other improvements such as the new ramp from the Major Deegan, the judge handed the opponents a license to stall — without an obviously hypocritical ruling that would be reversed on appeal.

    The goal was never to win the case.  Does anyone believe the NYS Court of Appeals would rule the level of public participation and consideration was inadequate?  The opponents cannot afford a decision on a principal that applies equally to all when their entire thrust is that some matter more than others.  Their goal is to stall and get a back room deal for removal from the next Mayor, in the form of a settlement so the Mayor could lie “the courts made me do it.”  This decision does nothing to make that lie less tenable.

  • evan

    Time to plan a victory ride.

  • Brooklynite

    I would welcome an appeal from Jim Walden and his clients. Their case is complete garbage and has no chance of winning either on technicalities or merits. The PR value is now gone. A continuation of their legal case would be a bad story for them, if it’s a story at all.

    A more definitive loss in court would only make it more likely that the redesign of PPW would stay through the next mayoral administration and would be good for legal challenges against bike infrastructure in general.

    Increasingly, I’ve come around to the idea that Jim Walden is the best thing that’s ever happened to the livable streets movement. By the end of this case, the press corps that covered the case most closely stopped taking Walden seriously. They saw that he lacked credibility and often appeared to be unhinged in his statements. By the final court hearing, folks sitting close the bench could hear Walden telling the judge, “I’ll apologize for those things, but I won’t apologize for…” Walden’s mindlessly aggressive tactics blew whatever slim chance this case ever had of getting past the starting line and antagonized people who very well would have been his allies, particularly in the Community Board realm.

  • Station44025

    Oh, and if you see a guy doing the church-lady-dance in front of 9 PPW, that’s me.

  • Anonymous

    @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus – I kind of agree with you. While any win is a good win, and any attorney is happy to have one.. by not getting to the  ‘rational basis’ test, it leaves ambiguity, which opponents will be sure to exploit.

  • Joe R.

    Even though I have no personal stake in this since I’ve never even seen the PPW lane, much less had reason to use it, I’m thrilled at this decision because it reinforces the idea that human-powered transportation is viable, and as such merits its own infrastructure.  Hopefully as the hype dies down, we’ll finally see some semblance of a reasonable citiwide network built out, one which serves more than mostly Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn.  I think the support is there, even in the far flung parts of the outer boroughs.

  • The FACT is that PPW is safer if walkers, bikers AND people in cars. 
    The problems has been that NBBL has been spreading misinformation to the contrary.

  • Dave Sedgwick

    Whoop!  Suck it!  Now, give us our protected 1st and 2nd Ave lanes all the way up to 125!  

  • Tuf Pak

    Thank god this was the result.  Walking the street last weekend made me realize that this is a positive for all users, and I can only imagine what petty self-interests drove the lawsuit (and anger against the lane in general).

    Personally, I’ve tried finding “Seniors For Safety” on-line to read their position, but the only references are on pro-bike transit blogs or in specific and direct references to this case.  Can anybody direct us to either of the two opposition groups platforms?  I’m still curious what they have to say.

  • Tuf Pak

    Thank god this was the result.  Walking the street last weekend made me realize that this is a positive for all users, and I can only imagine what petty self-interests drove the lawsuit (and anger against the lane in general).

    Personally, I’ve tried finding “Seniors For Safety” on-line to read their position, but the only references are on pro-bike transit blogs or in specific and direct references to this case.  Can anybody direct us to either of the two opposition groups platforms?  I’m still curious what they have to say.

  • I was actually allowed to join the “NBBL” FB page.  They are not an organized opposition, just a hate group.  

    It their world it is ok to hate “hipsters” (whatever that is) or anyone who is not a real Brooklynite.  They banned me because they did not like my attitude.

  • Mike

    Tuf, these groups don’t actually exist except as plaintiffs in this case.

  • Justice

    The NBBL Facebook page is at http://www.facebook.com/groups/133693466650297/.  Seniors for Safety has no internet presence.

  • dporpentine

    I’ll give Louise Hainline, Norman Steisel, and the other anti-traffic calming folks this tiny bit of credit: at least they knew the services of Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden were worthless.

    Jim Walden: a high-profile failure. Think about it, future clients.

  • Anonymous

    I was in Queens criminal court recently for a park related summons (disobeying a sign) and noticed that 50% of the other people there were in there for SIDEWALK BIKE RIDING  tickets.  The adjudicator was dismissing ALL of them as legally indefensible.  The other folks like me that wanted to plead guilty to whatever minor infraction were being charged $20 if paying same day.  Thought you would all like to know that and I didn’t know where else to post it.

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