Brooklyn CB Committees OK Un-protected 2-Way Bike Lane on Plaza Street

Image: NYC DOT (##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2012-04-19_plaza_street_cb6_8.pdf##PDF##)

NYC DOT presented plans last night for an un-protected two-way bike lane on Plaza Street, which would enhance a critical hub in the Brooklyn bike network by defining space for contraflow riding, but fall short of providing safe cycling infrastructure for all ages. The transportation committee of Community Board 6 voted in favor of the project as a first step toward implementing a fully protected bikeway, along the lines of what DOT first presented for Plaza Street in 2010. Update: The Community Board 8 transportation committee endorsed the plan unanimously, “requesting that DOT continue to look into further pedestrian safety and traffic calming measures,” said vice-chair Rob Witherwax.

The upgrade to the Plaza Street bike lane will help connect several important spokes in the Brooklyn bike network but won't provide physical protection.

Plaza Street currently has a one-way buffered lane; with other bike routes extending from Grand Army Plaza in every direction, the new contraflow lane will be a significant upgrade in terms of connecting gaps in the bike network.

Without physical protection, though, the project won’t pack the same punch as the nearby Prospect Park West bike lane, the gold standard for safe, all-ages cycling infrastructure in NYC. As more than one parent pointed out at the meeting, biking is an increasingly popular transportation option for kids and families getting to Prospect Park, and incursion by vehicle traffic and double parkers will limit the safety of the Plaza Street lane for young riders. The project, which doesn’t touch the number of parking spaces on Plaza Street, also won’t provide new walking connections to the Grand Army Plaza berms, which are currently sealed off to pedestrians by parked cars at several cross streets.

“I commend the Department of Transportation for putting forth this new design, which will greatly improve cycling connections around Grand Army Plaza, shaving several minutes off travel times by creating more direct access to adjacent bike lanes,” said Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors, who’s also a member of the CB 6 transportation committee. “Given the frequency with which impatient and, frankly, law-breaking drivers encroach on the existing Plaza Street bike lanes, however, I hope that DOT will continue to look at ways to better protect cyclists, including some sort of physical separation.”

The DOT presentation isn’t online as of this writing (update: now it’s online — check out the PDF), but here’s how the street would be laid out, starting from the berm-side:

  • The parking lane by the berms will stay where it is but will be a foot wider (nine feet), to provide more of a buffer from the bike lane.
  • The bi-directional bike lane will be eight feet wide, with the contraflow lane placed next to the parking lane.
  • The outside buffer will be three feet wide, with DOT looking to demarcate the buffer from the traffic lane with a yellow line. DOT’s Josh Benson said the agency would also look at using a double-yellow to add some extra sense of separation.
  • The traffic lane will be 11 feet wide.
  • The outer parking lane will be nine feet wide.

The project also includes new speed humps to calm traffic and discourage motorists from using Plaza Street as a cut-through route. The street already receives a relatively low traffic volume, though the blocks closest to Union Street do see queues form at certain times of day. The speed humps will go in between Lincoln Place and Berkeley Place and between Berkeley and Union.

Last night’s meeting was a standing-room only affair, with all points of view getting a thorough airing and then some. You can get blow-by-blow summaries of the Q&A session from @mikepstein and @BrooklynSpoke. I’m going to limit my recap to two moments.

  • Low point: A bike lane opponent heckled an 8-year-old girl who bikes to the park with her mom, after she got off to a slow start with her short speech. (The heckler was promptly tsked, at least.)
  • High point: A grey haired gentleman fluent in Brooklynese let loose with this excellent piece of rhetoric: “A century of attachment and domination by automobiles, and what has it done for us? We have an epidemic of obesity and asthma. The future of our city is that bike lane on Prospect Park West.” Unfortunately I had to leave the meeting early and wasn’t able to get his name. Update: The speaker in question was Matthew Weinstein.

We’ll share the full DOT presentation as soon as it’s available.

In related news, the CB 6 committee also approved the addition of on-street bike parking at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Park Place, by Gorilla Coffee. And the committee also voted in favor of bike lane additions on Third Street, connecting eastbound and westbound gaps between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope.

  • Anonymous

    Not perfect, but better than what is there now.  I wasn’t able to attend, but I thank everyone who showed up and spoke up in favor of increased biker safety.

  • Eric McClure

    That eloquent speaker was Matthew Weinstein, who’s got a great track record of neighborhood activism.

  • J

    I must say that this represents a step backwards. First,
    this sets a precedent that this type of design works well, which I
    believe it will not. I say this because the existing condition does not
    work well (rampant double parking & driving in the bike lane) and
    the proposed changes do almost nothing to address these problems. More contraflow biking will actually add additional conflicts to the situation. The slideshow shown by DOT completely ignores double-parking, even though one of the major reasons for changing the proposal in the first place was to accommodate double parking. By catering design to double parking, instead of actually dealing with
    curb usage issues, DOT practically codifies double parking
    in the bike lane as acceptable behavior. In response, I have modified the DOT presentation to show how the street ACTUALLY functions.

    Yes, contraflow riding will now be legal, but before lots of
    people simply did it anyway, so I see that improvement as pretty minimal
    for cyclists. Also, this project shows a DOT that is absolutely terrified of
    removing any parking in the wealthiest parts of Park Slope. Finally, it
    shows that if you have a political connections and money, you can get
    your way.

    I’m sure there are bigger issues at play here for DOT, such as
    wanting to get bikeshare up and running, prioritizing protected lanes in
    more critical areas such as Manhattan avenues, and a desire to avoid
    the conflict and expense of lawsuits. I understand these things, but I
    am still quite disappointed. I guess we’ll just have to wait a good bit
    longer for a network of truly useful bike lanes in Brooklyn.

  • Marina

    I agree wholeheartedly with J’s comments. I was at the meeting and would like to add that not only am I disappointed with DOT, who seems to have caved to pressure from the outspoken minority, but I’m also disappointed in many of my fellow cyclists at the meeting who either were very mild in their expressions of displeasure with the new plan or even accepting of this dangerous plan as “a step in the right direction.” I see DOT’s backpedaling on their 2010 plan as a reaction to PPW bike path media and court circus. I can even understand the CBs approval of this so-called “improvement” as an interim measure. But I think as cyclists who deserve to not be injured or killed just for riding our bikes, we need to send a STRONG message that unsafe bicycle lanes ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE to us. That’s what I would have said if I was called on to speak.

    As a frequent user of existing Plaza St. bike lane, I find it dangerous even in its present state as a one-way unprotected lane, because cars often use it for driving or parking in. I feel particularly endangered when I encounter frequent salmon, which will now be counterflow cyclists. The reason for that is that the curving of Plaza Street really limits one’s site lines. Adding a couple of feet of space and green paint will not stop double-parkers or car drivers in a hurry who want to use the bike lane as another car lane. Then what are the two cyclists going to do going in two opposite directions? I only hope that it doesn’t take a cyclist’s death before we get a SAFE bike lane.

    I’ve seen Matthew Weinstein at PPW-related hearings and agree that he is great! Another quick point: it seemed that DOT presenter himself (I think his name is Josh) was embarrassed about the new plan.

  • Hilda

    I was requested to let you know that the girl that made the comments is actually 10 years old in less than a month. But she is very please with what she was able to say, as is her mom…

  • Steve F

    Two Way – Unprotected Lane – On A Curve?
    Not Impressed.

    Fifth Avenue Parking and Closing Third Street Lane Gap?
    Good.

  • Yeah I’m a little leery of this idea.  I know the circle is relatively quite but I’ve got concerns of parking cars moving into the bidirectional bike lane to parallel park.  Interesting how the little checklist on page 18 of the presentation doesn’t actually talk about safety but of a “sense of protection.” 

    If I remember correctly there is a bit of a hill in the circle so it seems rather likely that some cyclists could be going pretty quickly as the ride directly toward motor vehicle traffic.  I think the idea of a protected bike lane would have been the much better option for bicyclist safety.  

  • Ben Kintisch

    Sometimes you don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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