Ninth Street Update: Robert’s Rules of Order

First off, please accept my apologies for continuing to torture you with the intensely parochial drama taking place on Park Slope’s 9th Street. I justify all of this coverage by imagining that this story may be useful for advocates working towards Livable Streets goals in other neighborhoods.

For those who are just coming in to the story, a few weeks ago the Department of Transportation put forward a thoughtful, responsive and well-designed "Road Diet" plan for Park Slope’s dangerous, crash-prone 9th Street. Sadly, a rather well organized group of residents led by a Community Board 6 executive committee member named Robert Levine has set out to kill the plan (or, at least, get rid of the bike lane portion of it).

Here is an unedited video clip of Levine making his case against DOT’s plan at last month’s CB6 board meeting:

Levine says at the outset, "I’m not against traffic calming. I’m not against bike lanes. I think the combination of both on 9th Street is a dangerous situation." To Bob, the bike lanes and the traffic calming are two entirely separate things.

I’ve now sat through three community meetings on this issue and have tried hard to explain how neighborhood streets designed to accomodate motorists, pedestrians, transit users and cyclists tend to be safer, more functional and more community-friendly than streets designed only for motor vehicle traffic. Bike lanes, in other words, are traffic calming and congestion relief and even a way to free up some parking spaces if they help people making local trips to leave their cars at home. U.S. planners call this idea "Complete Streets." In Europe, many call it "Shared Space."

While Levine is relatively calm in the video clip above, it has been exceedingly difficult to explain these ideas because each time I have spoken at a meeting he has, literally, tried to shout me down or use some procedural tactic to prevent me from being allowed to speak. It seems that the last thing Levine wants is for his neighbors to actually see DOT’s plan and understand it.

Why all of the emotion and anger over this project (and where the heck was it when a 77-year-old woman was mowed down on 9th St. and Seventh Ave. in August 2004, about four doors down from Levine’s own house)?

Bike lanes are clearly the primary target. But in the video above Levine’s intensity kicks up a notch when he gets to the topic of double-parking:

We were
told years ago that we can double park on 9th Street the way one-way
streets can [on street cleaning days]. The precinct captain told us at a block meeting that we would be
allowed to do that since it wouldn’t block the buses and there would still be
plenty of room because the street is wide. And that lasted about a month until
the meter maids started giving out tickets.

The bike lanes, it seems, are in the way of Bob Levine’s double-parking. And while you might think that city officials would never prioritize double-parking over facilities that keep cyclists safer, get them off the sidewalks and help the city as a whole become more environmentally sustainable, Levine has been effective in getting elected officials to press his case.

State Assembly Member Jim Brennan has contacted DOT on behalf of the Ninth Street Block Association and in a letter to Acting DOT Commissioner Judith Bergtraum, State Senator Eric Adams wrote, "Prior to placing these lanes on a street used as a main traffic hub, one must consider alternatives." Adams asks, "What studies or proof has been provided to demonstrate that bike lanes contribute to a decrease in accidents?" Adams’ Chief of Staff, Ingrid P. Lewis-Martin likewise told me on the phone, "the jury is out" on whether bike lanes make streets safer.

Actually, the jury delivered a clear verdict on that issue.

In September 2006 New York City’s Departments of Transportation, Public Health and the NYPD came out with a report entitled, Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City 1996-2005 (PDF). The unprecedented multi-agency study found that of the 225 bicyclists who were killed on the streets of New York over that ten year period, only one fatality took place in a marked bike lane. The report concluded that bike lanes enhance motorists’ awareness of bikes and are a significant contributor to cyclist safety.

If, however, as seems to be the case with Levine, your interest is in removing cyclists from 9th Street rather than keeping them safe, there is still a significant body of independent research showing how a "Road Diet" like the one proposed for 9th Street helps pedestrians and motorists by reducing the rate of car crashes, smoothing traffic flow and making a street safer and more comfortable for all users.

Bike lanes, it turns out, can be beneficial to New Yorkers who aren’t even using bikes.  

Fortunately, Levine seems to be fighting a losing battle. This week’s Brooklyn Papers letters page contains an absolute outpouring of support for DOT’s plan and at its most recent shout-down, the Park Slope Civic Council managed to pass a motion thanking DOT for its "response to long-standing community concerns regarding the unusually high rate
of motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities along Park Slope’s 9th Street" and offering some good suggestions for how to make the plan more palatable to the neighborhood. Council Member Bill de Blasio supports DOT’s plan and it looks like a number of other elected officials are coming aboard as well. There will be an important meeting of CB6’s transportation committee on Thursday, May 17 that supporters of DOT’s plan need to attend.

I’m optimistic that by the end of July we’ll see slimmer, trimmer, safer 9th Street. But the opponents of this plan have the energy, local political clout and free time to make things difficult. Let’s just hope the politicians allow the planners do their job.

  • ddartley

    Do you have reason to think that enforcement against double parking in a bike lane will be any different than in Manhattan? Because, seriously, if it’s enforced like it is here in Manh., he has nothing to worry about from bike lanes. Has this come up in discussion?

  • One of the most destructive things that Levine has been doing has been to tell everyone he can that fines are higher for double-parking in bike lanes and that enforcement is more strict.

    I actually brought an NYC summons in to the last PSCC meeting to show that there isn’t even a checkbox for “double-parking in a bike lane.” On the web site the fine is listed as $115 for both.

    Despite showing this information to Levine repeatedly and publicly, he continues to insist that the bike lanes will cost him and “working people” lots of money. Sound familiar?

  • ah, the difference here in brooklyn, at least in park slope, is that the city council member’s support of the DOT’s plan is contingent upon a guarantee that the double parking rules won’t be enforced!

    (has the world gone stark raving mad, or what?)

  • Slick

    I can’t get the video to work… But, I did read the link to Gawanus with the story about how they forced you to stop talking. This quote from Levine took me aback: “We’re adding bikers to the mess of traffic on Ninth Street.”

    Um… stop me if I’m wrong here but, THERE ARE ALREADY BIKERS ON 9th! This plan just makes the street safer so people are less likely to die on that street.

    Who’s going to run to unseat Levine?

  • It appears the video is private. Please mark it public on YouTube so everyone can see it.

  • Video should be working now.

    Slick: Levine and all Community Board members are appointed, not elected. Sorry.

  • Charlie D.

    I think he is mistaken when he is discussing right-turning traffic. He basically says that traffic cannot merge to the right before turning and must yield to all bicyclists in the bike lane. Many motorists have this misconception that they should stay in their lane before making a right turn over a bike lane. I thought motorists were supposed to signal for a right turn, check for bicyclists, merge into the bike lane, and then turn. It is the exact same thing motorists are supposed to do were there not a bike lane present. Someone should explain this to Levine.

  • Fascinated

    OK. So NEXT THURSDAY, MAY 17 at Old First Church 729 Carroll Street (Corner of 7th Avenue) at 6:30 PM, there’ll be a CB6 meeting about this proposal? Is that correct? It’ll be a hardship (6:30 on a worknight?), but I’ll be there.

  • Fascinated

    And now that I’ve seen the video, I say let this guy talk as much as he wants. I have no idea what he’s trying to say, and I bet no one else does.

  • Lars

    It’s a beautiful rant.

  • MD

    His point about Vanderbilt is not fully accurate. True, there are no bike lanes, but the restriping did include a widening of the parking lane in order to give cyclists more room. A bike lane would have been included had there been room and cyclists are definitely part of the mix.

  • Slick

    Who appoints Community Board members? How do we enlighten them to get better people in these positions?

  • Zam


    Levine specializes in “not fully accurate.” That’s his whole thing.

  • d

    What world does Levine imagine where there are so many bikes streaming up and down a 9th Street bike lane that drivers would be unable to make a right turn? Would installing a bike lane suddenly create an uninterrupted parade of cyclists leaving cars stuck at an intersection forever, unable to find an opening to make their turn?

    It’s as ridiculous as saying that there should only be one-way streets because having to wait for traffic in the opposite lane means you can’t make a left turn.

  • JK


    You do a public service by highlighting this story in such an insightful way. Keep this pieces coming. This is a great microcosm of the larger transportation reform debate.

    Thing I dont fully understand is why Eric Adams, DiBlasio and other electeds are so convinced that Bob Levine and friends can help them more at the polls than Aaron Naperstek and friends. Does Bob know how to make his vote count more than livable streeters? Does he get 1000 votes?

    DiBlasio should be embarassed for supporting a double parking waiver. It is such atrocious public policy to arbitrarily declare de facto double parking zones. Either the law applies to all or to none. If true, the precinct captain (I assume the police kind, not political) should be called on the carpet about this. All and all, really sordid and particularly sorry effort by the electeds.

  • Lars

    And I used to be such a big DeBlasio fan…

    …I have been proven wrong. I am sorry all.

  • Does the de facto double-parking waiver apply at all times, or just for the one or two hours of street cleaning?

  • Bill de Blasio is actually the only local elected official who has come out in favor of this plan prior to a vote of the full Community Board so I really don’t think he deserves any criticism here.

    I believe that he has asked the local police precinct not to do excessive ticketing of cars loading and unloading on the residential blocks of 9th Street. I don’t think that’s unreasonable and, politically, I think it helps move this plan forward.

    Bill now has a professional urban planner on staff and I really think that that has helped a ton in this case.

  • Lew Wallace


    Glad you clarified DiBlasio’s support.

    However, cops or parking agents can’t be expected to interpret what things like “excessive” ticketing means. The message that goes to them from management is to avoid 9th Street. Why should they bother with the hassle of getting the boss pissed when there are so many other places to ticket.

    If there really is room for load/unload then DOT should sign-it to allow that. It remains bad policy to have a hodge podge of unwritten understandings about enforcement. It’s also fundamentally unfair. Why for instance do 9th Street motorists get this and Bedford Ave or Vanderbilt Ave motorists don’t? It’s hard enough getting the cops to take bike lanes and bus lanes seriously without councilmembers telling them not to — especially ones with a reputation for being thoughtful. So good for DiB for supporting the overall plan but not good on selective enforcement.

  • mike

    Lew – agreed. DiBlasio could have been more helpful if he had suggested removing some curbside parking and dedicating it to exclusive loading/unloading — in other words, trying to actually solve the problem instead of pandering to motorists. Though his support for the overall plan is appreciated, his comments about enforcement were distressing.

  • Steve

    Charlie D. (#7), I don’t think motor vehicles are supposed to enter the bike lane for making right turns. They are allowed to only when in the process of parking, or when necessary (for example, when someone is double parking opposite the bike lane in a 40′ street with parking on both sides, making the bike lane the sole means of proceeding). When motor vehicles do have to enter the bike lane, they must do so in a manner that does not interfere with a bicyclists. This is set forth in 34 Rules of the City of New York § 4-12.

    As a practical matter, this simply means that cars should stay out of the bike lane until actually ready to turn, then, if there are no bicyclists proceeding, cross the bike lane and make the turn. This presents no great obstacle to motorists, and certainly is less of a burden than yielding to the pedestrians who will be in the crosswalk at a slower speed than bicyclists, and in greater numbers, with the right of way, in the same turning scenario under discussion.

    In addition, since the bike lane markings are removed in intersections, and motorists have to use due care to avoid hitting bicyclists in any event–bike path or no–the bike path does not add any restriction on the turning motorist. NYS VTL § 1146.

    When you consider how few bicyclists there are, how many pedestrians there are, the relative speed of the two in clearing an intersection, and state law requiring motor vehicles to yield to both, you can’t credibly argue that a bike path will increase waiting times for vehicles to turn, even if it results in a doubling or tripling of cyclists using the route in question.

  • the issue of cars entering the bike lane for any reason could be easily made into a moot point by placing the bike lane next to the CURB, and moving the parking area (or loading area, or whatever) next to the traffic.

    this is the design used in european cities with very high rates of cycling, and makes the lane much safer by eliminating this conflict between parked/parking cars and bikes. why not make 9th street the first one in NYC?

  • Xue

    The main conflict point for bicyclist is actually at intersections, not midblock, despite the obvious perceived threat of parking cars & opening doors. The stats are in the DOT/DOH bicyclist fatality study released a few months ago. The curbside bike lane begs the question that if bicyclists are most likely to be hit at an intersection now, when they are basically next to the turning vehicle, how will drivers see bikers emerging into an intersection from behind parked cars?

  • i think the problem could be solved by ending the parking before the intersection so the bicycles are visible.

    at any rate, why not use the design that is working in the cities with the world’s highest rates of cycling? we will never get those numbers here until people feel safe on bikes, and i for one will never feel truly safe with parked cars on one side of me (threatening to pull out or open their doors) and moving cars on the other. those white lines on the road are pretty meaningless to most drivers, whether they are at an intersection or in the middle of the block.

    which brings up another point: the intersections would be much safer for bikes if drivers were trained to look for them, as they are in cities with really significant numbers of cyclists. we need safe lanes to get the numbers, and we need the numbers to truly influence behavior of let’s start with the lanes.


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