Will NBBL Bury the Hatchet or Continue to Wage War on Safer Streets?

Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov, used with permission

The decision issued by Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Bert Bunyan Tuesday dismissing the Prospect Park West lawsuit should reverberate in a few ways. Among them: The storyline probably doesn’t have as much allure to the press as it used to. And without the PR value, the opponents’ legal challenges lose a lot of their fundamental purpose.

NBBL could appeal Bunyan’s ruling, but they would have to convince the appellate court to overturn a decision that hinged on a finding of fact, which, our sources in the legal profession tell us, would have even lower odds than the initial suit, in all its flimsiness. They could also file a new suit to stop adjustments to the lane that haven’t been built yet, like the addition of granite pedestrian refuges to PPW, but only after “exhausting administrative remedies” by appealing to DOT first. A separate suit could not undo the basic geometry of the bike lane, given Bunyan’s ruling.

So any future litigation from NBBL, it seems, would be an even more obvious exercise in scorched earth tactics. NBBL lawyer Jim Walden appeared to acknowledge as much when he told the Brooklyn Paper, “This is just the first battle in what is inevitably going to be a longer war.”

The quote drew this response from Bill Carey of Neighbors for Better Neighbors:

Our community is not a battlefield and the work of making our streets safer does not “inevitably” have to be a “war.” Mr. Walden’s clients can graciously accept Judge Bunyan’s decision and move on. We look at the bike path as a place to come together, not a line of division in this great neighborhood.

We encourage the plaintiffs to drop the martial language and the legal crusade, and join with their neighbors to continue the work of making our streets calmer and safer. There’s still much to be done, and we extend our hands to all those who want to take part in a positive and constructive effort.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There was no chance of them winning that lawsuit, and winning the lawsuit was never the goal.  The goal is to stretch things out until a spokesperson for the next Mayor could tell the following lie.
     
    “I am wholeheartedly in favor of the Prospect Park West bike lane, but it is the subject of active litigation with an uncertain outcome that could lead to the elimination of every bike lane in New York City.  Therefore, the city has reluctantly decided to settle the suit and remove the lane.”
     
    After having previously cut a political deal to do just that.
     
    “Bike lane proponents are encourage to start a full community review process, but because of fiscal constraints we will ask them to provide the $50 millon for the environmental impact statement if they decide to move forward.”
     
    And that is why I believe the judge didn’t slap this thing down nearly hard enough, on general principles apply to all street improvements like this one.

  • Anonymous

    There was that public meeting a while ago about the adjustments that turned into people just arguing over weather or not the redesign should exist.  One of the people from NBBL said that they were willing to fight longer and cyclists should just give up. m They want a long hard fight and they think it plays to their advantage.  Perhaps the PR win is letting them keep going and be cranky and old and in favor of unsafe streets.

  • DH4

    They lost in the courts and have no chance in prevailing in the courts. They never had any chance to prevail in the courts. It was always just public relations and political theater.

    The next “battle” in Norman, Louise, Iris, Lois and Jim Walden’s “war” will be won or lost with the next mayoral election.

    Imagine you are a Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City and Chuck Schumer, one of the most powerful Democrats in New York State comes to you and says: I will support your candidacy in the Democratic primary if you promise to get rid of the PPW bike lane once you are elected.

    This is it. That’s all they’ve got. But that’s something, ain’t it?

  • Anonymous

    Normal attorneys are realistic about their chance and try to talk their clients out of Pyrrhic battles, but Jim Waldon (I always make sure to use full names to help with these people’s SEO) is obviously motivated more by political fealty than the stated goal of the litigation.  At what point does he potentially squander whatever chances he has of being rewarded in some way by the Charles Schumer and Iris Weinshall because it starts to make everyone look too corrupt or incompetent?  He may have already crossed that line.

  • Anonymous

    Normal attorneys are realistic about their chance and try to talk their clients out of Pyrrhic battles, but Jim Waldon (I always make sure to use full names to help with these people’s SEO) is obviously motivated more by political fealty than the stated goal of the litigation.  At what point does he potentially squander whatever chances he has of being rewarded in some way by the Charles Schumer and Iris Weinshall because it starts to make everyone look too corrupt or incompetent?  He may have already crossed that line.

  • Anonymous

    @station44025:disqus 

    You misspelled Walden.  

    @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus 

    You keep mentioning your disappointment that the Judge didn’t rule on the merits. 

    I’m not a practicing litigator but my understanding is that, if they were to rule on the merits, that it’d be just dicta and not legally binding, since the SoL had expired.

  • Louise Lois Steisel

    The irony here is that they hate the design of the bike lane with its green paint and plastic poles, but may wind up suing to not have cement islands, planters, and other aesthetic improvement made.  It merely exposes their NIMBYism and cynicism. 

    They think they can just wait it out until the next mayor comes along?  Good luck.  Every day the PPW bike lane and others stay on the ground means another day that people are used to safe, civil cycling.  Every day it’s there is another day a kid can ride to the park by himself without his parents worrying if he’ll be hit by a car.   Support for the bike lane keeps growing and we’ll keep fighting people like Walden and Iris Weinshall.

    If Iris Weinshall wants to keep suing kids, seniors, and all those who benefit from this bike lane, good luck to her.

  • Anonymous

    @nattyb:disqus  Dammit!

    Big picture: For decades, I’ve been an avid city cyclist and privately wished for more bike lanes, but I pretty much minded my own business and didn’t really think too much about the bigger picture.  Since this whole PPW thing blew up,  I’ve become a TA member, connected with tons of other cyclists and cycling activists in NYC at various events and workshops, showed up with scores of others at community board meetings, and advocated for bike infrastructure to anyone who will listen to me.  I’ve realized that you can’t take progress for granted, but that activism can be effective.  I wonder how many others like me there are?  Perfect example of the unintended consequences, NBBL, keep it up–so far it has been a complete success (for the rest of us).

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I’m not a practicing litigator but my understanding is that, if they were to rule on the merits, that it’d be just dicta and not legally binding, since the SoL had expired.”

    But this was never about the law.  I’m assuming this is like many other suits I have seen.  The goal is not to win, but to either bleed your opponent financially through delays or stall until circumstances change in your favor.

    “Chuck Schumer, one of the most powerful Democrats in New York State comes to you and says: I will support your candidacy in the Democratic primary if you promise to get rid of the PPW bike lane once you are elected.”Now you can imagine how unpopular that would be.  No one is going to campaign on a platform of ripping out all bicycle infrastructure, even if the community board and the local councilmember are in favor.  If if a future Mayor were to take out this bike lane and say that is what they wanted, not what they were forced to do, instead of a few grandstanding councilmembers seeking to make a name for themselves at the Mayor’s expense by opposing bike lanes, you would have dozens doing so by being in favor.

    Hence stealth, deception, ulterior motives, and the abuse of the legal system.

    “You keep mentioning your disappointment that the Judge didn’t rule on the merits.”

    For me it isn’t just about this bike lane, or bike lanes in general.  It is about this kind of legal crap in general. 

    I’ve said that under socialism you get what you need, at least in theory, and under capitalism you get what you earn, at least in theory.  But the prevailing political philosophy of NY’s political class is feudalism — those with privileges get to keep them whether they need them or not, earned them or not.  For those with real needs, or merit, tough luck.

    Hence the tremendous procedural obstables to any change, no matter how beneficial to how many or how widely supported.  People who play by the rules and work though the system as they imagine it ought to be in a democracy are generally frustrated (I consider this bike lane a miracle).  While at the same time new unearned privileges continue to accumulate, little by little, in irrevocable back room deals that are not announced, discussed, or analyzed.  What NBBL accused DOT of doing has in fact been the modus operendi in this town, and these sorts of lawsuits are a part of it.  It’s one reason I left the public sector a decade ago.

  • “Imagine you are a Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City and Chuck Schumer, one of the most powerful Democrats in New York State comes to you and says: I will support your candidacy in the Democratic primary if you promise to get rid of the PPW bike lane once you are elected. ”

    A promise you can’t afford to admit you made, is a promise you need not keep.

  • J

    @station44025:disqus I tend to agree. In spite of the lawsuit, the rigged hearings at the city council, and the media stories spoon-fed to reporters by NBBL, bike lanes are more popular than ever. Biking is way up (in my view, up way more than 14%), and it appears to be catching on quickly among all kinds of groups, besides the hipster stereotype. People have eyes and are perceptive, and I think what they read in the tabloids doesn’t match with what they see on the street. As more people bike, more people know someone who bikes. The stereotypes fall away and opponents are left with nothing. It’s a story that has been told before, and it’s sad that anger and fear cause it to happen this way.It must be very disheartening to hate bike lanes so much, and put in so much hard work for such an unworthy and futile cause.

  • J

    @station44025:disqus I tend to agree. In spite of the lawsuit, the rigged hearings at the city council, and the media stories spoon-fed to reporters by NBBL, bike lanes are more popular than ever. Biking is way up (in my view, up way more than 14%), and it appears to be catching on quickly among all kinds of groups, besides the hipster stereotype. People have eyes and are perceptive, and I think what they read in the tabloids doesn’t match with what they see on the street. As more people bike, more people know someone who bikes. The stereotypes fall away and opponents are left with nothing. It’s a story that has been told before, and it’s sad that anger and fear cause it to happen this way.It must be very disheartening to hate bike lanes so much, and put in so much hard work for such an unworthy and futile cause.

  • krstrois

    Station44025, same thing happened to me. For years I rode around NYC without any kind of “cyclist” identity. I knew people who rode bikes around but not anyone in any cycling community really. Their attempt to roll back something so basic and simple just really pushed me over the edge. The politics of it were transparently abhorrent. Their unwillingness to acknowledge that a two lane road is safer and slower than a three lane road seemed crazy and was clearly self-serving. The tabloid climate that supports/supported NBBL and their ilk has also completely transformed my attitude toward giving $$ to livable streets causes and I’ve re-allocated funds accordingly.It’s clearly urgent that people who can give do so — frankly didn’t know how urgent this was before the lawsuit and I’m very glad to have this information now. 

  • Joe R.

    station44025 and krstrois, I’ve had a similar thing happen to me as well.  I’ve been riding since 1978, but never really had any kind of “cyclist” identity.  For me it was just a way to exercise, and very occasionally run errands.  I also briefly bike commuted to work in 1987-88.  When all the bike hate started appearing, I turned into an avid “keyboard activist”.  I take pride in going to the NYT, NYDN, and NYP to dispel the myths the bike haters seek to perpetuate.  I figure if I don’t do something, one day my right to ride in the street will disappear.  I’ve yet to join any official cycling advocacy groups, and probably won’t because my time only permits keyboard activism.  Nevertheless, it’s important for all of us to stay unified, keep looking at the bigger picture, and do whatever we can to support safer streets.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Same here as well.  I had never attended any kind of public meeting on a bicycle subject until there was a push to take out the bike lane that I was using.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Same here as well.  I had never attended any kind of public meeting on a bicycle subject until there was a push to take out the bike lane that I was using.

  • Mike

    NBBL is now “demanding” that DOT remove the bike path.
    http://www.observer.com/2011/08/dear-dot-tear-out-this-bike-lane-now/

    Does a group of private citizens have any actual standing to make such a demand?  If so, could safety supporters make formal demands of DOT to *install* bike lanes on various streets (say, Delancey), and then Article 78 DOT if it declined to do so?

  • Judge Bunyan

    Observer is saying that the letter was mailed to the media before DOT, so there you go.  These people just want to play politics until 2013 and hope that their status as THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE EVER gets them a meeting with the new mayor so they can rip out the bike lane.

    The good news is that if they do, we’ll have four months to file an Article 78 to have it put back in.  We won’t make the same mistake Jim Walden did when he dropped the ball on that one!

  • Anonymous

    Best defense is a good offense. As@Mike suggests, it’s time to form a ccounter organization and send the DOT demand letters for protected bikeways covering the approaches on both sides to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, especcially the streets where accidents keep occuring. 

  • Larry Littlefield

    That is the equivalent of me demanding that DOT prevent drivers from Park Slope from traveling through my neighborhood, Windsor Terrace, on the way to the 10th & 11th Avenue entrance to the Prospect Expressway.  And is typical of the attitude.

    I was thinking about the difference between Texas and New York, with Rick Perry entering into the Presidential race.  With regard space in Texas, there is very little that is “ours.”  Everything is “mine or theirs.”  There aren’t many public places.

    But is NY really any different?  Some people believe they own the public space.  It’s their world, and we’re just living in it, even if you pay for part of it.  They don’t need to share it, or take the needs and preferences of the other 70 percent into account.

  • Marie-Claude Valiant

    4:30-5 pm Saturday, Sands St to Bowery… 

    TWENTY-SIX cyclists– 16 from Manhattan, 10 from BK, including Cat 6 fixed geat jerkoff  trying to “sprint” around slower cyclists ahead just as he sees pedestrian is coming from Manhattan.

    Care you explain that? Maybe those cute little ‘bike volunteers’ need to start a weekend shift? Maybe Aaron Naparstek needs to start propagandizing (lying) a little louder?

    Credit where it’s due: a woman fitness cyclist (triathlete?) on Manhattan side started to go up saw Barriers #1 and then #2 and realized, hey!! There must be some reason not to ride up there.

    Were it not for tourist couple with stroller I (also a cyclist but now walking) would happily have pulled some of the orange barrels mid-bridge on to the path.

    What’s it take, TEN SECONDS tops for cyclists to switcheroo?

  • The Internetz

    Um, wrong thread, crazy person.

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