Tonight: Support the New PPW and Stand Up for Safer Streets

Photo: NYC DOT

At tonight’s Brooklyn Community Board 6 meeting, NYC DOT will present its final report on the re-designed Prospect Park West. The Brooklyn Paper has the latest safety stats from the city, and they show what one would expect from a project that has substantially reduced speeding: crashes and injuries are down across the board.

From July to December last year, total crashes were down 16 percent and total injuries were down 21 percent compared to the six-month July-to-December averages from 2007 to 2009. Before the re-design, crashes were twice as likely to cause injury than after the redesign. There have been no reported pedestrian injuries on the new PPW and no injuries from bike-on-ped crashes, according to NYPD.

If you want to see these safety gains made permanent and concrete pedestrian refuges go in on PPW, now is no time to get complacent. It’s time to pack the room at the CB 6 meeting. The politically connected anti-bikeway group that goes by the name “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” will be there, and they will be spreading misinformation.

Streetsblog has acquired part of a document that NBBL has distributed to make its case (see it for yourself in this PDF). Reader Mike Epstein wrote the following response, which might provide a little extra motivation to turn out tonight and speak up for safer streets:


The people who put together this document are very good at lying. The biggest lie is their name: “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.” They are against bike lanes, not for them. Let me point out a few more cases of their double-speak, exaggerations, and outright fabrications.

“PPW… has historically been very safe” [P. 1]

Not if you consider a speedway to be safe. Before the redesign, most cars on PPW were speeding, and the statistics from both DOT and Park Slope Neighbors verify that. Before the re-design, crossing the street felt more dangerous and traffic moved so fast that most people were too scared to bike on PPW. It’s hard to imagine that was a desirable state, but apparently it was for NBBL. By their argument, the BQE is a safe, traffic-calmed street, because it has few (or no) pedestrian injuries.

“A self-interested group of bikers… successfully promoted a Class 1 protected bicycle lane” [P. 1]

This is the big lie. The idea of traffic calming PPW did not come from “a group of bikers.” The public process that led to the redesign started at the Park Slope Civic Council’s transportation forum in the spring of 2006. Speeding on PPW and Eighth Avenue and the lack of bikeability were major public concerns that came out of that forum.

The PPW redesign process continued in numerous meetings and public charettes run by the Grand Army Plaza Coalition. PPW was constantly discussed as a street in need of redesign.

In June 2007, Community Board 6 requested that DOT study traffic-calming measures and a protected two-way bike path for PPW. Here is an excerpt from the resolution:

“DOT should, as promptly as possible, establish a class 2 bicycle path on PPW to connect the proposed 9th Street bicycle path with the 15th Street (Bartel Pritchard Square), 3rd Street, and Grand Army Plaza entrances to Prospect Park, as well as the 3rd Street/2nd Street bicycle path. DOT should study traffic-calming measures on PPW, including the possible installation of a one-way or two-way Class 1 bicycle path on PPW.”

NBBL doesn’t want you to know that this public process has been going on for five years, that the project was requested by the closest thing there is to a representative body for the community, or that the survey about the completed redesign by Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin and Community Board 6 found broad support for keeping it — 71 percent in Park Slope.

“PPW… actually functioned well” [P. 1]

Maybe for the small percentage of neighborhood residents who drive everywhere, but it was a frightening street for the majority who get around without a car — a speedway full of drivers traveling at speeds exceeding 40 mph, weaving for advantage, that has no place dividing a dense residential neighborhood from a beautiful and popular park.

“duplicative protected bike lane” [P. 1]

Hardly. The lane in the park is one-way, has few entrances and exits, is not protected from cars during rush hours, and is primarily for recreation. It does not serve most commuter or transportation needs within Park Slope. And the project is in large part about traffic calming, not just the bike lane. PPW has gone from a wild-west speedway to a calm, residential, neighborhood street. It’s quieter, easier for pedestrians to cross, and the calmed traffic means a much lower chance of fatalities in the event of crashes.

“pedestrian and vehicular safety has in fact decreased” [P. 1]

To have any validity, NBBL’s claim that safety has decreased must be based on comparing “before” and “after” data collected using the same methodology. But that is not what NBBL has done. They have compared apples to oranges. Their “before” data comes from the state DMV, which only compiles crashes severe enough to generate a police report. Their “after” data is based on witness accounts, and describes events that may not rise to the level of a reportable crash (in many cases, it is the same witness describing these events). The two datasets are not comparable. An honest comparison would use “before” and “after” data from the same source — data that will be available from the DMV for all to see.

“The lane in November is not used nearly as much during the week as DOT has reported” [P. 8]

NBBL assert that their video cameras and counters observed fewer cyclists on Tuesday, November 19 than the number of cyclists recorded in DOT’s bike counts (470 vs. 863). Again, NBBL use the dishonest tactic of comparing apples to oranges. Their video camera was set up on the third floor of a PPW residence between President and Carroll Streets. DOT compiled their bike counts between 4th Street and 5th Street. The difference is significant.

Ninety percent of the bike lane is south of Carroll Street, meaning the NBBL footage comes from the northern tip of the bike lane. The DOT counts were taken at the center of the bike lane. The DOT location would therefore capture more bike trips, especially considering that it’s easier to access the bike path from the south than from the traffic maelstrom at Grand Army Plaza, and that many cyclists enter and exit PPW from the bicycle lanes on 2nd Street and 3rd Street, major connecting routes to the heart of Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Downtown Brooklyn, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Using the standard multiplier effect of 50:1 for constituent letters, these letters represent almost 7,500 unhappy people.” [P. 2]

In other words, NBBL feel the need to fabricate the documented opposition to the bike lane by a factor of 50.

The pro-PPW-redesign Facebook group has 1,895 members. One could use a 50:1 multiplier to claim that 94,750 people strongly support the redesign, but that would be completely dishonest.

When it comes to measurements that don’t use enormous multiplier effects, the new configuration has proven to enjoy significantly more support than opposition. Again, the Lander/Levin/CB6 survey found general support for the traffic calming project, with the vast majority of respondents preferring to keep the new design as is or make minor adjustments.  And when NBBL staged a rally in October, they were outnumbered by a factor of about 5 to 1 by supporters of the re-design.

The core issue here is that NBBL represents about 25 or 30 very wealthy, very politically connected people (former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, former First Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel, and several of their friends and relatives) who are throwing a highly visible tantrum because they didn’t get their way. No more and no less.

If Iris Weinshall cared about street safety, she could have done much, much more to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities during her tenure as DOT commissioner. The fact that so much has been done to make New York City streets safer since she left office is a testament to her approach to transportation. When she was DOT commissioner, Weinshall said repeatedly: “My job is to keep the traffic moving.” She never saw the job of transportation commissioner as being anything much beyond that. Street safety, sustainability, improving conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders — these were never Iris Weinshall’s priorities.

Please bear in mind that the neighborhood supports this project, the community board supports this project (and requested it in the first place), and its success has been rigorously documented. All that’s going on here is that a few well-heeled people don’t like change. They are getting headlines, press, and attention from the City Council because they are politically connected. And the local press loves a good street fight — especially if it’s about bikes and even moreso if it involves Park Slope. Meanwhile, the real story is the broad and deep support for this project, and the successful transformation of PPW into a street that works better for most people, not the lies concocted to make you think there’s a ton of opposition to it.

  • J

    Well said, Ben. Even the papers are on board now. The whiny yet well-connected opposition is looking more and more out of touch.

  • Thank you. However, credit for everything below the row of asterisks goes to Mike Epstein.

  • Mike Epstein

    Ben, you’re too modest: you edited my dashed-off mess into what everyone can read here!

  • eveostay

    Great job, Mike. Too bad they didn’t just make the standard multiplier be 40 Million. Then they could claim that everyone in the entire world is opposed to the PPW bike lane.

  • And of course, like all their other “data,” the “standard multiplier” only applies to opponents.

    According to the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” when Park Slope Neighbors collected before-and-after speed data that showed a huge drop in speeding on PPW, it was the work of a “prejudiced amateur.” When DOT’s own results confirmed the reduction in speeding, well, they alleged that DOT’s data was flawed, and that the bike counts were inflated. Now that their own bike counts have been exposed as, well, the work of prejudiced amateurs (tantamount to setting up a camera at Exit 69 of the LIE and claiming it’s representative of Expressway traffic volume), what are they going to claim now? That NYPD is faking accident statistics?

    Look, people who are opposed to the redesign of Prospect Park West are entitled to advocate for and against anything they wish. But let’s be clear that their advocacy is aimed at making a traffic-calmed, safer street (crashes with injuries down 62.5%!) less safe again. They not interested in making bike lanes better, and frankly, they’re not being very neighborly, either.

    Once it’s warm enough to set, it’s high time to pour the concrete.

  • Ben and Mike are absolute correct in underscoring the great value of this project: traffic-calming and street safety for all modes. I am confident that the more we talk about the bigger picture, and not just benefits or hinderances for a single mode, the better off we’ll be. Indeed, it was the focus on a single mode that got us into this mess to begin with!

  • Good post! The PDF link is broken, though.

  • Mike and Eric point out a fundamental prejudice held by NBBL/Weinshall/Steisel. The group does not see bike commuting as something that should be held to the same standards as driving.

    Cyclists do not have to travel the entire length of the bike lane for it to be valuable to them, any more than drivers have to travel the entire length of the roadway for it to be valuable to them. Just as a driver is free to enter PPW at GAP or anywhere else and then make a turn on after just a few blocks, cyclists are free to turn wherever they please.

    They also exposed this prejudice when they claimed in their NY Times letter that the cyclists they counted were “recreational” bikers, as if the only people who would count are people biking to work. By that logic, people driving to the movies shouldn’t have roads built for them. Sorry, NBBL, but no one has to justify where they are going and what they are doing.

    It’s clear what we’re up against and only a solid turnout tonight will help. Many thanks to Mike for his excellent response to this group of liars.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    I’ve been Googling around to find out more about “the standard multiplier effect of 50:1 for constituent letters.”

    There’s a real dearth of information on this topic in the political science literature.

  • PDF link has been fixed.

  • Michael Cairl

    Excellent job, Ben and Mike. Yes, this has been around since the Park Slope Civic Council’s March 2006 transportation forum. The Civic Council also held a livable streets workshop in February 2009 that was opened specifically to community residents rather than “usual suspects.” More people commented about speeding than about anything else. The report of the workshop is on the Civic Council’s Web site.

    The whole point of the PPW reconfiguration was to make a safer street. The bike lane was not the objective, it was an accessory. The data show clearly that PPW has become safer. So why do people object? I’m sure there are some hard-core bike-haters out there but the real issue is an aversion to change – change not only to the physical configuration of PPW but, more importantly, changed transportation. Transportation in this city is a mix of modes all of which need to be accommodated in a safe manner. Bicycles and pedestrians are part of the transportation mix; biking and walking are not just recreational activities any more. Local streets, including PPW, belong to and must host the whole range of users.

    Lastly, some in the community believe they were not properly informed about the reconfiguration. All I can say is the process of being informed works best when it is active. Settle for being informed in a purely passive manner and you’ll have zero input to the result.

  • Geck

    My brief take on the meeting: DOT is very pleased with the results. The data show it is one of the most successful projects of its kind the DOT has ever done. DOT would like to make a few minor tweaks. DOT is open to suggestions. NBBL does not trust the data. Steisel is pissed because he thought it was all an experiment; it is not-it is a safety enhancement that is subject to review and modification. It would be a lot more expensive to remove it than it was to put it in. There will be another opportunity to hear from the community and the community board will mull it all over after that. Oh, and parking is an issue.

  • I agree with Geck’s synopsis (no. 12). As an aside, I think it might be hard for some of the NBBL types to grasp that DOT doesn’t make policy, they only execute it. Ryan repeated over and over again that DOT’s job is to keep the traffic moving, safely. DOT doesn’t decide the ultimate future of the bike lane or of the SBS on the East Side or of any other safety improvements in the city; that’s the mayor’s and city council’s job.

    Bullying the DOT reps by questioning the integrity of their data collection, or of their commitment to community participation, is just amateurish, and reflects badly on those who do it.

    My favorite part was where Lois Carswell asked why her FOIL request hadn’t been fulfilled within 30 days, and Ryan answered that at the time of the request, the survey whose data she was requesting hadn’t been completed, so it made no sense to send it out. It sounds like DOT is a lot more responsive to FOIL requests than the police department, which took a year to get back to me with an accident packet from January 2010.

  • You guys are stealing my thunder for tomorrow’s post on this stuff.

  • Sorry, Ben, it’s just so hard to go to sleep and ignore the fact that I’ve just been in the same room with many of Streetsblog’s finest commenters.


A Refresher on How PPW Bike Lane Opponents Cherrypick Their Numbers

While parents and kids were out celebrating three years of safe, all-ages cycling at the Prospect Park West Family Bike Ride last week, the remnants of NBBL were apparently scouring their Rolodex for media contacts who still take them seriously. A short item from Post columnist David Seifman notes that unidentified “critics” of the PPW […]