Can You Believe a Few People Are Still Suing to Rip Out This Bike Lane?

Photo: Doug Gordon

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:

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?

Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov
  • Clarence
  • PPW rules!

    At this point, the only feeling one can have for Louise Hainline and Norm Steisel is pathos.

  • BBnet3000

    We can only guess how many miles of protected bike lane the money spent on this suit could have bought. Meanwhile, nearly all of Iris’ embarrassing and dangerous 3-4 foot wide door zone bike lanes have been removed in the past few years.

  • walknseason

    The answer is yes, I can imagine. This city is filled with vile, greey rich people and the police that enforce their whims, and they very much can make anything like this go away easily.

  • Jules1

    The positive thing here is that the bike lane has existed for years no without a single instance of the predicted bike-lane apocalypse. Every day that the bike lane peacefully exists makes it harder for it’s opponents to argue in favor of removing it.

  • Emmily_Litella

    Its about power at this point. The imagined power of a clique of discredited has-beens with a recreational bike riding Democratic US senator at the center of it. Or is continuing this expensive-to-taxpayers charade just Iris’s way of asserting to the world that she’s her own woman? And what did Jabba The Hut do for safe streets when he presided in City Hall as Deputy Mayor for Operations in the early 1990s?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Can you imagine a sudden legal reversal that yanks this away?”

    No, I can imagine a settlement with Mayor DeBlasio or his successor, as part of a political deal, with a court settlement (behind sealed files) providing political cover for the Mayor.

    Can they get away with it? Can they get away with not funding the MTA Capital plan? They can get away with anything.

    They just want to keep the thing going until the deal is done. That’s what this is about. If any lawyers out there want to read how cynical I am about the legal system, with a reference to this case, it is here.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/our-efficiently-inefficient-system-of-injustice/

  • Larry Littlefield

    And I’m in now mood to give the opponents and media shills credit for being mistaken. Same with all the predicted death and dismemberment due to Citibike.

  • Jonathan R

    That’s what’s so ingenious about this particular legal challenge: the fact that the bike lane is an actual amenity to thousands of people has no bearing on the ruling.

  • AlexWithAK

    I see what you’re saying and share a lot of cynisim, but the city actually declined to file a motion to dismiss years ago in favor of proceeding with the case on its merits given how weak those merits are. Why wouldn’t they have just settled then?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Because Bloomberg was in favor of the bike lane. And DeBlasio promised not to rip it out.

    It is the opponents who want to keep the case going until they have a politico ready to do a deal. As long as they have no deal to settle, they can’t let the case go to trial and end.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    at $200k per mile at least 10 miles. that 100 blocks of Fifth AND Sixth avenues each

  • I don’t think that’s their strategy. The longer the bike lane is in the ground, the more support there is for it. No mayor, present or future, will rip it out as a result of some deal and risk hundreds of New Yorkers demonstrating on PPW. How many people do you think NBBL could muster for a counter-protest at that point? Five?

    The only reason to spend an ungodly amount of money or pro bono resources on this legal battle is precisely because they know there’s no political support for their position. They don’t even talk to the press or show up to the hearings anymore. Doing an end run around the public and hoping to win on some minor legal technicality is their only hope.

    And don’t forget: even if they win this appeal, that only means the case goes forward on the merits. It would be very hard for NBBL to claim that the DOT process was arbitrary and capricious.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Right, they have no case on the merits.

    “No mayor, present or future, will rip it out as a result of some deal and risk hundreds of New Yorkers demonstrating on PPW.”

    Not after a public debate. That would be more of mess than the horse and buggy thing.

    But suddenly have it disappear in the middle of the night because the judge made me do it, and I promise to start on that EIS as soon as possible to start a seven year process to put it back? That they might try. It’s their only hope.

    They could also cut a deal with the Mayor to throw the case by mounting a bad defense. But not this Mayor in this term. So they stall. And someone is allowing them to.

  • Joe R.

    And with any luck the plaintiffs will all be dead before someone they can make a deal with comes along.

  • Larry Littlefield

    People in that generation don’t think they are going to die. They are howling against the coming night.

    If you look at the younger people, however, you realize that those in a minority of that generation are going to win in the end. But the majority are going to keep howling!

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