If the Streets Get Safer, Southern Brooklyn Residents Will Ride

Lantner-Survey-Graph
Southern Brooklyn's bus riders want the option of safe cycling. Image: Murray Lantner

Southern Brooklyn isn’t necessarily known as the epicenter of New York City cycling. Car-ownership rates are some of the highest in the city, and elected officials from the area tend to be particularly vocal livable streets opponents. But a recent, admittedly unscientific, survey shows that there’s a hunger for bike infrastructure from Sheepshead Bay to Mill Basin.

Murray Lantner, a livable streets activist who lives and grew up in Mill Basin, conducted the survey last fall, asking bus riders how they felt about bike lanes. About two-thirds of those who responded said that they’d like to see more bike lanes in their neighborhood. “Safety was a big concern,” said Lantner, “for them, or often for their kids.”

In these neighborhoods, relatively distant from the city’s job centers, cycling is more likely to link up with the subway system than serve as a stand-alone commute mode. Half the respondents said that if there was a network of safe bike lanes leading up to the King’s Highway B/Q station, along with bike parking, they’d start cycling to the subway rather than wait for the bus.

The survey has a small sample size and the data isn’t from a truly random group of bus riders — respondents were told the survey was about cycling. (You can see the whole thing, along with a letter Lantner wrote to the local community boards and elected officials in this PDF.) Even so, it shows that there’s a sizable pool of would-be cyclists in the area. And their voices aren’t being heard.

Instead, the elected and appointed representatives of these neighborhoods dominate the conversation and are uniformly anti-bike. A Courier-Life article from September noted that community board opposition to bike lanes has sprung up in Manhattan Beach, Gerritsen Beach, and Canarsie in recent months.

I spoke to Community Board 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano at the time, and she told me that “bike lanes create hazardous conditions in our board area” and that she wouldn’t support putting them anywhere in the district. She lambasted DOT’s efforts to build a bike lane network, saying that “the crooks took over the sheriff’s job.” (CB 18 was in the news recently for the $7 million city subsidy lavished on its fancy new headquarters, a quid pro quo secured by Turano’s boyfriend and predecessor as district manager, State Senator Carl Kruger.)

It’s not just the community boards fighting against stripes on the street. When DOT tried to install the Canarsie bike lanes over CB18’s objection, Council Member Lew Fidler stepped in, threatening DOT with legislation mandating additional requirements for public input. “They shouldn’t put down any bike lanes without coming back to the community for relevant input,” argued Fidler at the time. DOT backed down.

Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods are always going to have an organized bloc of drivers. In Fidler’s district, for example, a majority of workers commute by car [PDF]. But Lantner’s survey reveals that many residents would love to speed up their trip to the subway or have a new option for running errands. They shouldn’t be shut out of the debate.

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