Carlos Menchaca Wants to Make Fourth Avenue Protected Bike Lane a Reality

With DOT preparing a major capital project for Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue next year, it’s now or never for a protected bike lane on this important route linking Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, and Downtown Brooklyn. Fortunately, local Council Member Carlos Menchaca has been on the case for months, talking with local residents, community groups, and DOT about how the Fourth Avenue project can make the street safe for biking.

Carlos Menchaca
Council Member Carlos Menchaca.

I spoke to Menchaca today about this effort. He said that DOT has been cool to the idea but hasn’t closed the door on a Fourth Avenue protected lane, which he said is “the next natural step” for safety along the corridor. Here’s our interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about the efforts to put a protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue.

This community has been thinking about Fourth Avenue and the enhancements for such a long time now. Community Board 7 came out in favor of the enhancements that you see now, on the Fourth Avenue corridor from Atlantic over to Bay Ridge.

March 30 marked, for me, the moment where we really got together. Both [my] staff and some community members had been talking about it. We sat down and said, “What do we want to see here?” We had been briefed by DOT in the last year, 2014 and 2015, and there was some clarity that the enhancements that are there are working. But at the end of March, we said we really wanted to push the bike lane forward. We met with Keith Bray and the DOT staff in early April, and there were some initial positive responses to the concept. Then, in June, we got a cold response, and so where we are right now is [trying] to better understand [DOT’s] analysis, and compare it to a lot of the community’s analysis.

Why is Fourth Avenue, as opposed to Fifth Avenue or any other north-south running arterials in the neighborhood, the preferred location for a protected lane in the neighborhood?

You know, I myself use Fourth Avenue to get from one point of the district to another, from Red Hook to Bensonhurst, that’s what I use. I don’t own a car, [my bike] is my usual transportation for myself, [and] I take Fourth Avenue. At the moment, it’s one of the safer routes to cross through the neighborhood. Fifth Avenue is just too congested, with the bus route and deliveries for the commercial stores. And Third Avenue, well, Third Avenue is Third Avenue. You have some high speed corridors there with a lot of trucks, and anything beyond Third Avenue to the water just doesn’t make sense for, you know, a kind of cut-through street. Sixth and Seventh Avenue don’t actually go across through Greenwood Cemetery, so Fourth Avenue become the obvious place for discussion and pushing the issue around the [protected] bike lane.

DOT is set to cast Fourth Avenue pedestrian safety improvements in concrete, which may preclude the possibility of future protected lanes on the corridor. Image: DOT
DOT is set to cast wider medians on Fourth Avenue in concrete (shown as painted buffers in this diagram of an earlier project), which will make it harder to add a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

Why has DOT been resistant to the idea?

I don’t know exactly what their hesitation is, but they’re pointing to design, and so what we need to do as soon as we get back into fall, into September, is really have community discussions with the community board about what those concerns are. So I’ve asked DOT to have the conversation with us in the community about what those concerns are exactly.

And it could be a range of things. It could be real commitment to the current capital design that they’ve already placed and put in motion, so maybe this is an inertia issue. Maybe they’re moving forward and that’s [just] how agencies work. Or maybe there’s some real design issues to actually place a bike lane that’s protected on this route. Whatever it is, we want to know, and then we can take appropriate steps afterward with community and city agency and really build a thoughtful space to move this question forward.

You should contact [DOT] for a comment, but I don’t want to close the door on [a protected lane] at all. The most recent response [to our request for a bike lane] has been a cold one, but there’s nothing stopping us from generating support and some thoughtful consideration for something that I think could be a good thing for the community.

Are you concerned that the upcoming capital projects that will cast the 2012 and 2013 pedestrian safety fixes in concrete will prevent the future installation of a protected bike lane?

One hundred percent. Once they lay that concrete, if nothing happens, if momentum proves to be the strongest thing here, then we will never see a bike lane on Fourth Avenue. Now is the time.

I think that whatever happens on Fourth Avenue, we are already moving in the right direction. The enhancements that we see today have proven to make Fourth Avenue safer and have slowed down traffic. So questions around larger pedestrian walkways, the bulb-outs, the protected bike lane — these are all things that can further enhance Fourth Avenue, and that is what we want to see. And we have some smart people in our community that are invited to the table with DOT to help get us to that final resolution.

There are a lot of folks talking about and thinking about this right now, really as a result of a collective understanding that we need to make Fourth Avenue safer. This is not about the bike lane, this is about enhancing Fourth Avenue to its best possible design. That’s what we’re talking about here, and that has included a lot of organizations and the community board and just local residents who are passionate about this.

  • J

    Yes! It would be pretty easy, but DOT has no gumption to actually do it, and I bet they’ve already made a ton of progress on the mediocre plan, and so now they don’t want to change it, as that would cost money.

    The flip side, is that building a crappy design into concrete just pushes the timeline and cost of building an actual well-designed street even higher. Not good planning on the part of DOT.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    This is not about the bike lane, this is about enhancing Fourth Avenue to its best possible design.

    It’s refreshing to hear words like “best possible” for once rather than “better than it was before”. And from my own CM!

  • Tony Giordano

    Maybe this suck-up article should ask why I have a series of emails from Carlos refusing to consider a protected bike lane for two years? Maybe you should have asked me about how I counted all the police accident reports for 4th ave and found that the new configuration has led to more accidents then before? Maybe you should ask Carlos who and what groups he is holding these discussions with?

  • Tony Giordano

    While I’m at it, maybe you’d like to see the emails and phone logs of my discussions with Transportation Alternatives and see how they too refused to help push – for even a study – from the beginning I have never “demanded” a bike lane, just a serious study. But DOT countered with lies – like the ave wasn’t wide enough (until we saw the dimensions on 6th ave in manhattan where dot is pushing a protected bike lane). When DOT did the 4th Ave study they refused to count bikers because in the words of bklyn commissioner keith bray – “we don’t want to encourage bikers to use 4th ave, it is too dangerous”…but a few months later we found out that dot quietly made 4th ave a bike lane. And the next year they made it a “signed” bike lane – but with no signage until Sunset Parker FB asked about the “signs”…then they suddenly appeared. The same thing happened when we asked dot when the new 25mph signs would go up and they said “We don’t need to put them up, people know if the speed is not listed it is 25mph” – only when we began posting our own speed limit signs did they post them. This has been a sick game played by dot for the last 3 years with sunset park. But here is the best – for over a month a meeting was scheduled with NYC DOT Commissioner Trottenberg with our Assemblyman and State Senator. At the last minute we were told by Keith Bray she was called away by an emergency – but we filed a freedom of information law request – three times – and finally got Trottenberg’s calendar for the day and found out she had never put us on the calendar and instead had some non-emergency meeting scheduled…deception,

  • M Peggy Bree

    While i understand and agree we need a bike lane, I think the new plan is irresponsible and dangerous. If anyone travels 4th avenue they know that the current plan is a disaster and yet you are proposing an even worse plan. At present, since it is against the law to double park in NYC, the combined moving/parking lanes are illegal and result in the loss of one fully active lane on an avenue that is a main thoroughfare and quite heavily used. To remove one of the moving lanes is total insanity and will result in backed up traffic, gridlock, more opportunity for accidents both vehicular and pedestrian. Then there is this little strip called ‘buffer’ … is that the bike lane? If so, i think it’s location adds an irresponsible amount of danger for bike riders. I feel the bike lane should be adjacent to the sidewalk, then the parking lane, then the moving traffic lanes. Also. widening the raised median will only further curtail safe traffic movement on 4th avenue. It is wonderful to address and create a great solution to a problem, but the proposed new 4th avenue is not a viable solution. I for one am not one of the community who agree to the new proposed 4th avenue.

  • John

    This proposal in the image above does not get rid of any of the moving lanes, it simply maximizes the space that is actually used by parked vehicles.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    In my experience at present when a car is double parked it intrudes on the right lane. People driving in the right lane then intrude into the left, and people in the left intrude into the buffer. The buffer is about to go away.

  • J

    The problem is geometry. Cars take up tons of space and bikes simply don’t. Doing nothing means continued traffic jams, pollution, and death. On the other hand, cities with networks of protected bike lanes have a proven track record of growing their population, reducing traffic deaths and pollution all without growing traffic.

  • Vooch

    another graphic showing street space required for various forms of mobility. Cars require 10x the street space versus cars to move same number of people.

  • M Peggy Bree

    I am not saying that we don’t need a bike lane.. i am saying that the proposed layout for 4th avenue is not safe,, neither for vehicular nor bike traffic. They need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better plan. Perhaps studying how other cities have incoirported a bike lane might educate them on safer layouts.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

To keep making progress on traffic safety, redesigns as substantial as this protected bike lane planned for Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn will have to be implemented citywide. Image: NYC DOT

DOT Shows Its Plan to Get the Reconstruction of 4th Avenue Right

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Fourth Avenue is far and away the most viable potential bike route linking Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, and Park Slope, but it's still scary to ride on, with no designated space for cycling. At 4.5 miles long, a protected bike lane would make the reconstructed Fourth Avenue one of the most important two-way streets for bicycle travel in the city, connecting dense residential neighborhoods to jobs and schools.