Council Members Surprised to Hear CBs Approved Bike Lanes

With news swirling about possible cuts to New York’s bike network build-out and City Council oversight of street re-designs, we’d be remiss not to pass along this anecdote from the Bikes in Buildings hearing earlier this week. After DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan wrapped up her testimony to council members, she was peppered with questions about how her department goes about installing bike lanes, TA’s Wiley Norvell told us:

[There was] a pretty vigorous discussion of the overview process of bike lanes being put in. Many council members were proceeding under the assumption that bike lanes were being installed without community input. Rather pointedly, Commissioner Sadik-Khan explained that some of the more contested lanes that had been put in had all passed through the Community Board process with overwhelming approval.

I think it surprised these members to hear that these vocal voices among their constituents were in fact not the majority voices within their own communities. I think we’ll probably be hearing more on that in the next year, as more lanes are put in and existing ones are digested.

I think it’s the first time the DOT’s been able to come to City Hall and say, pointedly and honestly, that they have done extensive community outreach. I think, probably more than any other agency, and even within the DOT probably more than any other issue, they’ve done their homework with respect to the communities that they’ve installed bike lanes in. It was gratifying to see them able to defend the work they’ve done effectively.

The city’s installed 150 miles of bike lanes in the last two years. Of those 150 miles, maybe two miles have been contentious. And even in those cases, they’ve been installed with community board approval.

We’ve seen DOT garner community board support many times over for measures like protected bike lanes and on-street parking reform experiments. Meanwhile, saber-rattling CBs have apparently stymied progress on a car-free Prospect Park proposal backed by more than 10,000 signatures, and Brooklyn pols are bowing to pressure (from outside the local CB) to significantly roll back a bike lane that DOT presented multiple times to CB1. Remind me again, who’s doing the steamrolling here?

  • Wiley

    Still, there’s an important distinction between Community Board approval and Community Board input. There are lanes that were presented to Community Boards that didn’t pass, like Vernon Boulevard in Queens, that got installed anyway. While it’s important to present at every board about bike lanes and street improvements, approval is not and should not be mandatory.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    The last few DOT bike lane presentations I have seen at community board meetings have been nothing more than courtesy calls. The agency has more or less stated that it will incorporate any community feedback that it deems relevant, but it requires no board vote because implementation is happening no matter what … in the next couple weeks in some cases.

    I am all in favor of an expanded bike path network, but I understand why some people are upset with the agency right now. I re-read the Wiley Norvell statement above and note that “SOME of the more contested lanes that had been put in had all passed through the Community Board process with overwhelming approval.” (Emphasis added.)

  • J

    If politicians start facing off against their own CBs, they will quickly find out who really represents the community.

  • re:The Vernon Blvd bike lane. The DoT presented their plan for Vernon in Queens to CB1’s Transpo committee and CB2’s Land Use committee (they don’t have a Transpo) and at the general CB2 meeting. The TA Queens Committee showed up in force in both instances. CB1’s Transpo committee said they couldn’t see a problem with it and CB1 didn’t request a presentation to the whole board. CB2’s Land Use voted unanimously in favor of the Vernon bike lane. However after DoT presented to CB2’s general meeting the Chair Joe Conley tabled the discussion without a vote and requested that the DoT come up with a new plan for them. And AFTER work had begun on Vernon CB1 wrote a letter opposing the bike lane, but this too never came to a vote before the general committee or even in a cabinet meeting. I couldn’t tell you who decided to do that.

    Additionally CB2 passed a resolution, proposed by member Al Volpe, to oppose the popular Skillman bike lanes, once again AFTER they had been installed. This came about by sneaking the resolution into a meeting after the public portion had passed and without placing the resolution onto the agenda. I know it wasn’t on the agenda b/c I personally called CB2’s office that day to ask if they would be discussing the bike lanes and 3 members of the Queens Committee attended to speak anyways. They brought me a copy of the agenda, and no anti-bike resolution there either. All of this is perfectly legit in the murky world of community boards.

    At least in my neck of the woods, the CBs don’t reach out to elements of the community they aren’t familiar with. They don’t take the time to educate themselves on new policies or strategies in the city (whether or not they support them) and in many cases don’t even pay attention at their own meetings. CB2 doesn’t even have a Transportation Committee but Gershon wants to give them more power over transportation issues. How is that responsible?

  • gecko

    NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is an amazingly effective advocate for sensible transportation.

    We need dozen’s more like her along with large scale engagement of the public.

    Where communications is civilization’s nervous system and seems to be rapidly reinventing itself to meet the demand, transportation is its circulatory system and failing miserably.

    We need the electronics engineering-equivalent forward thinking scientists, mechanical, and civil engineers to create suitable transportation that will serve the 8 to 10 billion people predicted to populate this planet by mid-century. Current proposals are not even close.

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