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Jim Walden Tries to Distance Bike Lane Lawsuit From Weinshall and Schumer

Weinshall, Schumer, Steisel
Iris Weinshall, Chuck Schumer, Norman Steisel

This morning, Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden continued his media tour calling attention to the lawsuit he filed earlier this month to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane. Appearing on the Brian Lehrer show, Walden tried to distance the group he represents from former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall and her husband, Senator Chuck Schumer.

Walden told Lehrer that Weinshall is "not part of the group" suing the city. That may be true in some strictly legal sense, but just a few months ago Weinshall was writing letters to the Times alongside fellow bike lane opponents Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel. (Get your free access to it while you still can.) The paper identified all three authors as members of the bike lane opposition group "Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes," which is now a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Speaking of Steisel, he doesn't seem to be making media appearances very much these days, either. Having press quotes come from a former deputy mayor, who tried to circumvent the public process by writing directly to a current deputy mayor, was probably bad optics for NBBL. (And can we drop the pretense that "Seniors for Safety" is somehow an independent group, distinct from NBBL? The leaders of each acronym, Louise Hainline and Lois Carswell, live within a stone's throw of each other on the northern blocks of PPW, and their goals and message are indistinguishable.)

With Weinshall and Steisel no longer visible players for the opposition, Walden tried to portray his clients as a persecuted minority seeking justice from the government that wronged them.

When caller Megan said she feels safer walking to the park with her three children, this is how Walden tried to flip the script:

I think there are a very significant number of people, and maybe the minority at the end of the day, statistically, but a significant minority that feel less safe, and for the Department of Transportation to say their voices don't count, and we need to neutralize them and counterattack them, I think is just awful conduct for a public official. We filed this lawsuit three weeks ago, and not one of those DOT employees has been put on administrative leave. I find that just shocking.

Walden later said that he took the case pro bono because it fits with his commitment to "good government litigation."

Statistically, of course, the minority who feel less safe are actually safer, because speeding is much less prevalent on the redesigned street. The notion that the DOT has been dismissive of the concerns that remain overlooks the ongoing adjustments it's making, like installing rumble strips for bike traffic at pedestrian crossings. DOT has a successful and popular project on its hands. Should it start firing people because someone sued to remove it?

As for the "counterattack" language that Walden finds so shocking -- consider the full context. As with other arguments the plaintiffs make, Walden is cherry-picking the information he chooses to present.

Walden is referring to the June 21, 2010 email exchange between DOT's Ryan Russo and Park Slope Neighbors' Aaron Naparstek (full disclosure: Aaron is the founding editor of Streetsblog) cited in the lawsuit, in which Russo wrote, "This lane is under serious attack, is Park Slope Neighbors counterattacking?"

When these emails took place, DOT had already received 1,300 signatures from Park Slope Neighbors requesting the two-way, separated bike lane on Prospect Park West. The community board had approved it the previous year, and the project was in the final stages of implementation.

After this lengthy process, opponents started mobilizing against the project. They were going straight to the top, the mayor's office, to lobby for its reversal, out of view of the public. We now know that their ranks included Steisel, members of Schumer's family, and reportedly Schumer himself. This is the "minority" whom Walden accuses DOT of ignoring.

Which is really the shocker here: That DOT employees, faced with this situation, would then alert the very people who asked for the project in the first place. Or that Jim Walden would work "pro bono" to circumvent the public process which led to this safety improvement, then claim that he is doing it in the name of "good government," not NIMBYism and politics.

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