It was just about five years ago that attorneys with the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, working pro bono on behalf of some people with ties to Senator Chuck Schumer, filed suit against the city for installing the Prospect Park West bike lane. In August 2011, Kings County Supreme Court Judge Bert Bunyan dismissed the suit, but not before bike lane opponents battered DOT and its bike program in the press for several months through various surrogates.
Amazingly, the lawsuit shambles on to this day, as bike lane opponents Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel continue to press their appeal.
In 2012, an appeals court ruled that Bunyan had to hold another hearing to determine if the bike lane was a “pilot” or not. The lawsuit only has standing if the bike lane was a pilot, for arcane reasons explained here. The outcome basically hinges on whether former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz should be believed when he says former DOT chief Janette Sadik-Khan told him the project was a pilot — testimony that he submitted at the last possible moment.
Today, Sadik-Khan and former bike and pedestrian program director Josh Benson testified in Bunyan’s court room, revisiting events that happened nearly six years ago. Next month, Markowitz is scheduled to testify.
I caught a few minutes of the proceedings this morning and the scene was surreal.
Just about all the major players from 2011 have moved on. Markowitz is no longer borough president. Sadik-Khan is no longer at DOT. Benson recently took the top transportation job in Stamford, Connecticut. Schumer’s wife Iris Weinshall, the former DOT commissioner who helped land free services from Gibson Dunn, hasn’t been actively involved in years. One of the named parties suing the city, Lois Carswell, has died. The only people actively involved in relitigating the case, at least publicly, are Hainline and Steisel, but they were both no-shows.
Meanwhile, children who weren’t born when the lawsuit was filed are now old enough to bike on the PPW protected lane.
A few months after Bunyan’s 2011 ruling, Streetsblog got ahold of some communications between the bike lane opponents, and it exposed as cynical an enterprise as you would expect. The highlights are always good for a second look:
- Weinshall’s acquisition of Gibson Dunn’s pro bono services went through former Giuliani deputy mayor Randy Mastro, the firm’s chief of litigation. She later told Hainline, “We should never say how we got Randy!”
- The bike lane opponents admitted to themselves that they couldn’t find any evidence that DOT called the project a pilot.
- Remember Jim Walden? He made for some great blog posts.
In the unlikely event that Bunyan changes his mind and allows the suit to proceed, that only opens the door for a ruling on the actual merits of the case. Bike lane opponents would still have to prove that this project, which originated from community workshops nearly a decade ago and went through the usual community board review process, was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Can you imagine a sudden legal reversal that yanks this away?