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What Happens When Senator Chuck Schumer Doesn’t Like the New Bike Lane?

United States Senator and Prospect Park West resident Chuck Schumer opposes the two-way, protected bike path in front of his home and has spoken privately with City Council members to discuss “what they're going to do about [this and other] bike lanes,” the Post’s David Seifman reported this weekend.

The Seifman report is the first news account to provide details of the Senator’s involvement in efforts to eradicate the popular PPW redesign and have the street revert to its old form, with three traffic lanes, two parking lanes, zero bike lanes, and rampant speeding. Other members of Schumer’s family, including his wife Iris Weinshall, the former DOT commissioner, were already known to oppose the project.

The news about Schumer’s opposition came the same weekend that WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein reported that PPW opponents including Weinshall and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel have arranged for the white-shoe law firm Gibson Dunn to represent their interests. Randy Mastro, head of the firm’s litigation arm and a former deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, referred the anti-bike lane group to attorney Jim Walden, who took it as a pro bono case. (Walden made the maximum contribution to Schumer’s re-election campaign in 2010.) A lawsuit is expected as soon as this week.

So what happens when a traffic-calming street redesign, which originated from community-based planning workshops and enjoys broad public support, encounters opposition from the most powerful politician in the state? Here’s a timeline of the highlights.

2006

Community groups including the Park Slope Civic Council and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition convene a series of public workshops to discuss traffic, street safety, and public space issues in Grand Army Plaza and the vicinity. The need to redesign Prospect Park West to reduce speeding and improve the neighborhood's bikeability emerges as a high priority.

2007

In June, as part of its resolution approving the 9th Street bike lane, Brooklyn Community Board 6 asks DOT to study the implementation of a two-way protected bike lane on Prospect Park West.

2009

Park Slope Neighbors collect 1,300 signatures requesting traffic calming and a two-way protected bike lane on Prospect Park West.

April: DOT presents the concept for a two-way protected bike lane on PPW to the transportation committee of CB6. The committee supports the concept in a unanimous vote.

May: The full community board votes in favor of the project, 18-9, then votes 16-14 to request that construction be delayed until September.

2010

April: With the PPW project not built yet, DOT holds an open house explaining the redesign and showing radar data that measured more than 70 percent of motorists speeding on the street, as a result of excess road capacity for traffic.

April: A segment on NY1 reports that anonymous flyers have been distributed on PPW, claiming that the project is proceeding without public notification.

June: The Prospect Park West bike lane is striped.

June: Opponents of the lane, including Chuck Schumer's daughter Jessica, begin to organize. They form a Facebook group called "No Bike Lane on Prospect Park West Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes." Membership in the group is quickly eclipsed by membership in a pro-bike lane Facebook group.

July: The Daily News reports that Iris Weinshall is opposed to the bike lane.

Sometime after the lane has been installed, Senator Chuck Schumer speaks privately with City Council members to share his displeasure, asking what the legislators are "going to do about [this and other] bike lanes,” the Post reports.

October 21: Supporters of the redesign and opponents hold simultaneous rallies on PPW. Most estimates have the pro side at about 250 participants, and the antis at about 50.

October 22: DOT releases the first batch of preliminary data on the PPW redesign, showing that speeding has declined by a factor of five and that cycling has substantially increased.

December 7: Results from a survey conducted by City Council members Brad Lander and Steve Levin and CB6 show 78 percent of Brooklynites and more than 70 percent of Park Slope residents want to keep the bike lane.

The Times reports that Schumer’s wife Iris Weinshall and former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel met with Lander and Levin to lobby for the PPW redesign to be undone.

December 8: DOT releases a second batch of preliminary PPW data, showing that traffic travel time has not been discernibly affected by the redesign.

December 9: The City Council transportation committee holds a hearing on the city’s bike policy. Committee chair James Vacca devotes a disproportionate amount of attention to one bike lane – Prospect Park West – describing a personal visit to PPW and allowing project opponents Marty Markowitz and Norman Steisel to testify at length, before anyone else.

December 31: DOT's six-month PPW study period ends.

2011

The year begins with a barrage of negative press and opinion pieces about NYC DOT's bike program. A common claim is that the city is installing bike lanes without public input.

January 21: With the PPW study period over, DOT releases its final data on traffic, cycling, and crashes and injuries on the re-designed street. The injury rate is down significantly and no bike-ped injuries have been reported by NYPD. Bike lane opponents say they do not believe DOT's data.

City Council Member James Oddo sends a letter to City Hall asking that all bike lanes be subject to environmental review. Experts on environmental review say the proposal holds no water.

With assistance from politically connected white-shoe law firm Gibson Dunn, bike lane opponents file a freedom of information request for DOT's data on PPW. "Legal action" is expected soon, potentially using environment review law as the basis for suing the city.

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