Good Riddance to the Prospect Park West Bike Lane Lawsuit

Here to stay. Photo: NYC DOT

The people suing to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane have given up, more than five years after initiating a lawsuit that nearly sank New York City’s bike program.

In a statement, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety (“organizations” that, to the best of my knowledge, now stand in for two people — former Brooklyn College dean Louise Hainline and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel) say they are dropping the lawsuit because it “is unlikely to result in any significant change.”

The irony, though, is that the lawsuit was the centerpiece of a campaign that did lasting harm to the whole city.

Steisel and Hainline filed suit in March 2011 after months of saber-rattling by Jim Walden, a corporate lawyer at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher whose services they acquired pro bono thanks to former NYC DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall.

The purpose of the lawsuit wasn’t so much to win in court as to inflict maximum political damage on NYC DOT until the city cried Uncle. It was news because it was a lawsuit about bike lanes, not because it had any legal merit. And it was the perfect vehicle to lob unsubstantiated attacks at the city’s bike program.

A core tactic was to identify vacuums in public knowledge and shamelessly exploit them. Walden, for instance, got a ton of mileage out of the fact that most people — including most reporters — have no idea what the standard procedure is to assess the impact of a street redesign on injury rates. Which method is trustworthy — the DOT method that says the street is safer with the bike lane, or the Jim Walden method that says it’s not? There was a correct answer, but the NBBL crew knew that most reporters would be pathologically averse to taking sides.

Discussing the bike lane on NY1 at one point, Walden, who helped take down the Bonanno crime family when he worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, said that “as a former federal prosecutor, I’ve never really seen something like this.” The DOT bicycle program — worse than the mob!

They were relentless, and for a while it seemed like they might permanently cripple the city’s ability to implement protected bike lanes. For about eight months, I woke up in a cold sweat every night thinking about how Streetsblog should counter the latest attack.

The city never did say Uncle. What saved the bike lane were four things: the lawsuit’s lack of basic merit; the refusal of Council Member Brad Lander, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and Mayor Bloomberg to cave; the advocates who fought back; and the large number of people who used and appreciated the new design, which worked really well. If, at any point, the city had actually removed the PPW bike lane, the protest would have been enormous.

After the lawsuit was dismissed in August 2011 (it staggered along on appeal until yesterday), Streetsblog acquired and published emails from Hainline, Steisel, and Weinshall that revealed the astounding network of political and media contacts they recruited for their campaign.

It turned out that the principal players in NBBL had instigated tabloid editorials against NYC DOT initiatives, drafted legislation to slow the progress of street redesigns, and prodded surrogates in government to generally gum up the works for DOT. There was no visible connection to NBBL and its members at the time these attacks were happening. It wasn’t until Streetsblog published their correspondence that people could see their fingerprints.

As much as I would like to be gracious in victory, the fact is Hainline and Steisel set back New York City’s street safety efforts by at least a few years. The bike program survived, but it lost a lot of momentum because of this lawsuit. In some ways, NYC DOT still seems scarred by it and more hesitant to think big about street redesigns.

Yesterday’s NBBL statement is not an apology. It’s a longwinded attempt to save face and maintain the fiction that they sued to erase a perfectly safe and functional bike lane out of a sense of civic duty, not selfishness. It’s their last jab, a final round of misinformation to plant in the news cycle.

The only thing left to say is good riddance.

  • MollyOpp

    I am amazed yesterday’s press release didn’t contain napkins with dried tears on them from NBBL

  • POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

  • Larry Littlefield

    I agree, and am annoyed rather than pleased.

    What probably happened is they were finally prevented from just stringing the case out, and told to make their first submission/show up in court. Then the jig was up. If I were running the city, I’d make them show up rather than allow them to slink away. But DeBlasio was as much on their side as anything, something that is now coming back to haunt his housing plans.

    Years and time and money wasted by a bogus lawsuit. Whereas the same people had no objection to a highway improvement publicly disclosed as mass transit but built as widening by four lanes with no review at all. And they talk about bait and switch.

    This shouldn’t be just forgotten, as in no harm no foul. It should be considered a marker of what the NYC political class, a whole generation of it, really is. And many of them are still around.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Given the long passage of time, we believe the most responsible choice for our groups’ members and our community is to ensure that the bike lane is as safe and effective as possible going forward.”

    When I come across tacks or broken glass, I guess I’ll know where it came from.

  • mistermarkdavis

    I have driven, biked, and walked on PPW. I like the redesign. I would say the average speed of drivers unencumbered is certainly above the speed limit, but the redesign protects pedestrians and cyclists from scofflaw drivers.

  • Perfect analysis as always, Ben.

    I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that your coverage of this case was outstanding. While most of our local media, including the Times, preferred to focus on said/she said, conflict-based stories and JSK hit jobs, Streetsblog remained focused on real reporting. Seriously. “The NBBL Files” should win some sort of award bestowed by a prestigious university for excellence in journalism.

    So thanks. As much as Hainline, Steisel, Weinshall, and company set back the cause of safe streets in New York City — which, as you note, should not be understated — it would have been a lot worse without your work and the work of everyone at Streetsblog.

  • Joe R.

    Just go here and buy tires if tacks are an issue:

    http://www.marvelcompoundtires.com/Bicycle-Tyres_c_13.html

    I started using airless tires in 2007 and haven’t looked back since. It’s a real pleasure going out for a ride knowing I can’t get a flat.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This bike lane along a park turned out to be the Bastogne of bike lane infrastructure.

    Unlike Hitler, NBBL chose to withdraw rather than face unconditional surrender. I guess they weren’t too crazy to listen to the generals in the end.

  • So did Katie Marquart, the Gibson Dunn pro bono coordinator, finally realize the firm was giving away its services for a case that clearly shouldn’t have qualified for a minute or pro bono work, let alone years? I’d love to know the real story behind why the suit was finally dropped.

  • Tyler

    “You’re making Gibson Dunn look dumb. Stop taking their calls.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    If there were any justice and Gibson Dunn had a pro-bono page on its website to highlight the firm’s values, it should be required to keep this lawsuit right at the top for the next 30 years.

  • Eric McClure

    What Doug said.

  • NYCBK123

    All of the people involved in this NBBL charade could have used their money, connections, and time for something good. What a waste.

  • Reader

    Think about how many actual seniors were killed by drivers in the last 6 years. Now try to think of a single thing “Seniors for Safety” did to prevent those deaths.

  • JudenChino

    I tried getting various legal blogs interested in the story but none would take the hook. Abovethelaw thought it was funny. I mean, what a fucking joke. I’ve worked in Big Law for a while now and firms like GD&C and other mega firms go buck wild in their marketing about how much they care about Pro Bono.

    Of course the case terminated when GD&C refused to continue to provide Pro Bono services. A full on trial against the City? The type of resources necessary for that. The pro bono stuff I see, is usually housing court, helping asylees, helping the poor avail themselves of services and things like that. Domestic violence clinics etc . . .

    And these fuckers were using the resources of a litigation powerhouse against a fucking bike lane. Shame Shame Shame. I even got a recruiter call about their corporate practice a while back and I was like nope. All so these rich, entitled, connected, selfish motherf–kers could preserve more free parking.

  • Simon Phearson

    And any time spent on the matter would be docked from the attorneys’ credited time, so that it wouldn’t boost the firm’s overall pro bono participation rate.

  • Thank you! There were so many essential people involved, without any one of whom the defense of the bike program may have failed. Proud that Streetsblog was a big part of that.

    Special shout out to Streetsblog alum Noah Kazis, who did the blogging equivalent of hand to hand combat vs. Jim Walden and pored over thousands and thousands of pages of email printouts to pull together the various strands of the NBBL Files.

  • RyanMcShane

    And the sentence after the one you quote reads (re ensuring the safest possible bike lane): “This was always our desire in the first place.”

    Oh my goodness. We could spend all day on this, but they never stop flat out lying, do they, even when slinking away?

    Their idea of a safest possible bike lane was no bike lane at all. Their idea of the safest possible bike lane was to not even build one, and make riders travel through the more-dangerous, single-direction-only paved bits of Prospect Park itself.

    So, no, nibblers, ensuring that, in the final result, the City built the safest possible bike lane was never, ever one iota of your “desire.”

    Can some one with better Disqus chops than me please post the NBBL demo picture of the woman with the sign reading (approx.) ‘bike’s go here w/ arrow pointing inside the park, not here i.e. PPW?

    The bike lane they desired was no bike lane at all. None.

  • RyanMcShane

    As the back-and-forth raged, the Guardian (UK) ran an article calling PPW the “most important bike lane in the world.” Those were heady times. Pretty sure their dramatic rhetoric got some push-back from the reader comments on the piece.

    I might even be misremembering the precise term they used (don’t think I am) but it was lofty. Bastogne would work. I think I’ll scout up the piece if I can and add a link as an edit if anyone wants to relive those days, or give me a fact check. Will add as time permits.

  • It reminded me of Trump blaming birtherism on Hillary Clinton.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Right, and the other direction was riding on 8th Avenue where there is no room at all.

  • jeremy

    The same people are now fighting the Citi bikes.

    They will realize in 5 years from now that not only will they bring safer streets, but they are also increase parking spaces in the long run.

    These people are a bunch of morons full of selfishness. Bitter because they drive all day in a congested city. Just read the comments here.
    https://www.change.org/p/all-of-us-citi-bike/

  • mfs

    +2

  • mfs

    it’s actually a really different segment fighting citibikes – that group seems to be very conservative in a traditional sense – check out their twitters. PPW was much more driven by intergenerational division.

  • AMH

    I couldn’t find that one, but this one’s pretty good:

  • Sandy

    As a motorist, I find these bike lanes to be ridiculous! The bikers never stay in this lane and are constantly zigging and zagging on our streets in their arrogant manner to tell us all that they own the streets. The police need to be giving tickets to the bikers who have no helmets, no horn, no lights in front and back of their bikes and who generally don’t follow traffic rules. Bikers need to be required to wear reflectors on their clothing at night. And any one who bikes on the sidewalks over the age of 12 should have their bike seized and given a summons.
    I notice that Brad Lander opposed this suit. Brad Lander is the head idiot of the city council who doesn’t think of the ramifications of his actions before he opens his mouth. Did Lander ever attend college? Just last week, he called on Israel to end its occupation of Gaza, something which occurred more than ten years ago, even though under international law, Israel never occupied Gaza. In May, Lander was the instigator behind the soon to be nickel shopping bag tax, something which Simcha Felder is working to over turn. I am not surprised by Lander, not really, as his models are De Blasio are Charlie Schumer. If Lander cared about average people, he would be fighting for better medical insurance coverage for those on the Affordable Healthcare Act or Obama care. Although regulated by the state, Obama care plans are disappearing and options for the 40% of New Yorkers on these plans are getting smaller and smaller. Oscar, one of the larger plans, has told those in Brooklyn effectively to “go to hell” by its planned reduction in hospitals from 71 to 30 and doctor providers from 40,000 to 20,000. Perhaps Lander would be better off doing something productive by fighting for decent medical coverage for those in Brooklyn rather than stressing us all out with a nickel tax on shopping bags or fighting for more bikes. As of now, I have not seen on Democrat who has gone of the record stating that Obama care needs to be reorganized or criticizing Obama care and I will probably vote for Trump. I don’t mind paying for health insurance, but I resent that I am getting garbage coverage for my money while those on medicaid, pay nothing and get better coverage. And I doubt Brad Lander will fight for better coverage; he doesn’t have to worry as councilmen have great medical coverage.

  • jeremy

    Nice trolling, but a waste of time on your end

  • RyanMcShane

    http://i.imgur.com/D7Azr4h.png

    Lifted from a 2011 post at our very own Doug G.’s excellent site, though image not hotlinked from there, because bandwidth.

    Doug credits it to Gothamist, and it looks like they may even be running it again atop their current piece on the lawsuit’s demise.

  • Irene

    I find bike NIMBYs ridiculous! I notice that Dorothy Rabinowitz opposed Citi Bike. She’s written editorials for the WSJ. So has Karl Rove. But Karl Rove was pulling GWB’s strings. Then the Iraq war! Where was I? Oh, right, bikes…

    (I’ll cut it short. Sorry, I don’t have the stamina to write an off-topic rant that compares with yours. You win!)

  • Joe R.

    Knock yourself out. You and your ilk already lost this fight. It’s pretty apparent you’re needlessly stressing yourself out with all this. I’ve heard exercise helps reduce stress. Perhaps you should give cycling a try? You know the old saying—if you can’t beat them then join them.

  • Mike

    Bikers always stay in this lane. There’s basically no way to zig and zag out of it into the car lanes. It’s part of what makes the lane awesome. Not sure how you wound up on Obamacare on this, but crazy is as crazy does.

  • Vooch

    cyclists and pedestrians DO own the streets

  • Jeff

    Ugh, I know, and what about the way the wheels on the grocery carts always get stuck?

  • RyanMcShane

    When I want to read lunacy of the bikelash+zionism flavor (seldom) I’m gonna go with Tal Barzilai. Sorry.

    It’s really a very limited niche, and there’s already one nutball on the beat, working full-time. Maybe come back in year or ten when you’ve worked up a fresh shtick of your very own? Or maybe not.

  • Joel Epstein
  • J

    Good design gets good results. PPW pissed off some powerful people, but it also was designed well enough for parents to allow children to ride bikes to school on it. Children! You literally can’t win in a fight against children riding their bikes to school. This is the lesson of PPW. Build designs good enough to allow children to bike on them. You may get a strong opposition, but you’ll ALSO get strong and lasting support. DOT has only done this level of design in one or two places, and I should mention that “Mixing zones” are NOT kid-friendly. DOT, build kid-friendly bike lanes, and you’ll get kids using them. And then biking will be a real option for a lot of people!

  • Larry Littlefield

    So I’m not the first guy to think of the PPW bike lane as Bastogne!

    On to Berlin! (Where they have a pretty good bike infrastructure).

  • Joe R.

    It’s worth noting the location of this bike lane helped a lot. In fact, this is a perfect execution in the perfect kind of situation to use a protected bike lane, namely one where there is no cross traffic. You don’t need mixing zones, the traffic signals for motor vehicles don’t need to apply to the bike lane, you can have bike traffic in both directions regardless of whether or not motor traffic is one way. These things give cyclists speed and safety advantages which they just don’t have on most other protected bike lanes in NYC. Unfortunately, there are rare situations where you can do this. The bike lane needs to be running next to a park, cemetery, railway, body of water, or superblock in order to avoid having cross traffic.

  • Joel Epstein

    yup. how it looked to me back in 2011. glad it’s here to stay!

  • Not just kids, but older people too. Real 8-80 design! Some of our strongest allies on PPW were older people who rode bikes (and a lot who didn’t). They helped counter the false narrative that the bike lane was only for young transplants.

  • Mike Dunlap

    Ha. This has to be a joke. Nicely done.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The big picture is, I’ve been irritated by these “environmental” and “process” NIMBY lawsuits since back when I was a junior planner at NYC planning.

    And disgusted at the extent to which city planning, and environmentalism, have been hijacked by “I’ve got mine jack” feudalism that has nothing to do with planning for the future or the environment.

    Over time, I’ve come to be less offended by selfish people advancing a philosophy of selfishness than by selfish people hiding behind “progressive” and “egalitarian” motives. The sort of thing that is thick on the ground here in metro NY, home of exclusionary zoning in the suburbs and class (less so than race) bias in the city and suburbs alike.

    As bad as this was, things were actually worse 30 years ago, and are heading in the right direction. Let’s send all those “environmental” consultants into retirement, and replace them with new experts who actually care about the environment.

  • Vooch

    might be good model for the streets surrounding Central Park

  • Guy Ross

    Berliners would beg to differ.

    http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/fahrrad/infrastruktur-wie-gute-radwege-fuer-berlin-aussehen-koennen/11561116.html

    (you can read the comments because this is Germany where civil discourse is still civil)

  • Jules1

    Woo hoo! I hope the end of this lawsuit gets as much media coverage as it did during the peak of the “bikelash” drama.

  • Mike

    Can we now get a separated lane on Plaza St,? That plan was a casualty of this “backlash.”

  • dporpentine

    I feel this post doesn’t show properly personal contempt for two people who decided to drag their rotting flesh into the public sphere and pretend that people ran from them out of fear of their intimidating insight rather than revulsion at their grotesque indifference to the safety of the people around them. I’m speaking of course of Norman “$15 dollars” Steisel and Louise “the lane is not in the Landmark District” Hainline.

    I hope this very public failure haunts them for the rest of their lives.