DOT’s Fear of Community Boards Leads to Bike Lane Gaps in Brooklyn

Disjointed street design changes coming to Kingston Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue illustrate how DOT’s sheepish approach to bike lane implementation interferes with the development of a connected bike network.

One corridor, three community boards. Three drastically different projects. Same old DOT. Map: DOT
One project, three community boards, three different designs. Map: DOT

At Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, these north-south routes connect with Tompkins Avenue and Throop Avenue, which both have bike lanes. But for years, the bike lanes didn’t extend south of Fulton into Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

Kingston and Brooklyn, already marked on the city’s bike map as “potential future bicycle routes,” run through an area with one of the city’s higher bike-to-work commute rates. They connect with east-west bike lanes on Eastern Parkway, Empire Boulevard, East New York Avenue, and Maple Street. They are natural candidates for a bike lane extension.

The mile-and-a-half stretch crosses three community boards — CB 3 in Bed-Stuy, CB 8 in Crown Heights, and CB 9 south of Eastern Parkway. Instead of bringing a cohesive project to all three boards, DOT proposed three different designs, one for each community board.

Community Board 9 has a mixed record on bike lanes — its members pushed DOT to add them to an Empire Boulevard road diet in 2009, yet weren’t able to muster enough votes last year to support a road diet with bike lanes on Franklin Avenue.

On both Kingston and Brooklyn, DOT proposed keeping two motor vehicle lanes on the southernmost blocks near Kings County Hospital and going down to one lane north of Lefferts Avenue. Though there is plenty of room for bike lanes in CB 9, the plan doesn’t include them. Instead, parking lanes on both sides of the street would be enlarged to up to 13 feet wide [PDF].

Why didn’t DOT propose extending the bike lanes south into CB 9? I asked DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo after a press conference this morning. “There’s differences in widths and traffic flow, and those sorts of things,” he said.

Later, he cited rapid neighborhood change as a factor. “Have you read any coverage of CB 9? They are literally disintegrating because of gentrification. Literally disintegrating,” Russo said, referring to rancor over a rezoning study for Empire Boulevard.

Trouble is, ditching the bike lanes didn’t help DOT get CB 9’s support. Although its transportation committee backed the proposal in June [PDF], the full board voted it down later that month, DOT says.

Things look different in CB 8, where DOT proposed a road diet including bike lanes between Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue [PDF]. Thanks in large part to transportation committee co-chairs Rob Witherwax and Dr. Fred Monderson, the board backed a similar design for Franklin Avenue last year. In April, CB 8 supported the bike lanes for Kingston and Brooklyn, with 33 in favor and two opposed [PDF]. DOT says the markings have been installed, with signal retiming coming next.

The shortest section of the project is in Community Board 3, between Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street. DOT proposed sharrows connecting the Tompkins/Throop and Brooklyn/Kingston bike lane pairs, a treatment Russo pointed out is common for a “wiggle” route connecting otherwise disjointed bike lane segments. The plan would not have removed any traffic lanes or altered street design, other than adding stencils showing where cyclists should ride [PDF].

CB 3 is often hostile to street safety projects, including Slow Zones and curb extensions, and in June the board voted against the sharrows, with 16 against and 11 in favor, according to DNAinfo. DOT told Streetsblog that it is “still in discussions with local stakeholders about the project.”

This post’s second paragraph has been updated to reflect the recent implementation of bike lanes in Community Board 8.

  • BridgeTroll

    DOT says, “Well maybe if CB9 was even functioning enough to vote no to something as proven as bike lanes we wouldn’t put them in”. This is another level of nonsense.

  • J

    Sounds like Russo’s backbone is what’s disintegrating.

  • AlexWithAK

    CB3 opposed SHARROWS??? You’ve got to be kidding me. They’re literally just paint on the street. The people on that board are a joke.

  • Joe R.

    Why oh why do we let community boards have any say in these matters? If we were trying to build the subway nowadays we would doubtless end up with a bunch of disconnected, relatively useless segments by giving community boards input. We do we let them advise us on matters they’re clueless about?

  • People’s lives are less important than parking. Period.

  • Do community boards get to vote on green light timing, width of double yellow lines, type of concrete used in sidewalks and the manufacturer of street lights?

    Of course not. Why arent bicycle projects being treated like road infrastructure instead of optional park fencing?

  • My thoughts exactly. What that tells you is 16 of them believe that cyclists should not legally be allowed to use the roads. How can you work with that.

  • Joe R.

    We do unfortunately let community boards have a say on where traffic lights should be installed. That’s one of the reasons NYC has more traffic signals than upstate, NJ, PA, and CT combined. Same thing with stop signs. You know the saying about too many cooks in the kitchen. DOT and DOT alone should decide on all matters related to streets. That includes bike lanes, whether or not to install traffic signals, speed limits, type of streetlights, etc.

  • BBnet3000

    Putting aside the misuse of “literally”, why is Russo promoting the anti-cycling narrative that bike lanes have something to do with gentrification?

    Lots of poor people and lots of minorities cycle. Its ridiculous to suggest that its a rich white man’s mode of transportation and really irresponsible of a high ranking city employee to be promoting this narrative.

  • BBnet3000

    You are absolutely correct, and this is the one thing Vision Zero would have changed if it were more than the world’s largest taxicab bumper sticker initiative. Safe street design is a matter of road engineering.

    In bike-friendly places, the volume of traffic is the primary determinant of what bike infrastructure gets built on a street. Most Dutch streets have no bike infrastructure at all, because they are neighborhood streets for local traffic only.

  • ohhleary

    “There’s differences in widths and traffic flow, and those sorts of things,” he said.

    That’s complete and utter BS. The stretch in CB9 is actually *wider* than the stretch in CB8, and the DOT’s own presentation to CB9 shows the Franklin Avenue bike lane on a street with higher traffic volume as an example of a similar treatment.

    Russo and his ilk are simply afraid to admit that the DOT’s new approach is to have no spine. And people will be injured and even killed because of it. Shame on them.

  • Alex 3speed

    At this point we all agree drunk driving kills, and yet the CBs have 0 power to stop liquor licenses. We unfortunately don’t all agree safe streets projects save lives even though the numbers are clear, and yet the CBs can 100% block street improvements.
    CBs like 3BK are opposing gentrification. I’d say you’d be much better positioned to do so by having power over liquor licenses instead of bike lanes. Also, where is the effort to revitalize still dead commercial strips in many of these areas that will make biking to jobs a thing? It’s not directly related, but one of the tragedies of gentrification is that it’s aimed at housing that sometimes takes over formerly industrial/commercial spaces. Our housing crisis is cannibalizing space for local jobs, which further exacerbates the need to leave the neighborhood for work, which in places like Bed Stuy, many CB members do so by car.

  • BBnet3000

    Also, having lower levels of bike infrastructure due to higher traffic volumes is exactly the opposite of how bike-friendly places decide what infrastructure to put in. It’s exactly the opposite of Vision Zero.

  • Ari_F_S

    I don’t believe that is the case. DOT uses a “warrant study” to determine is a stop sign or traffic signal are installed.

    I used to be on the transportation committee for a CB. We never got to vote on stop signs or traffic lights.

  • Cold Shoaler

    I have come to HATE this propaganda on the NYC bike map: marked on the city’s bike map as “potential future bicycle routes,”. These are even worse than the lies showing “bike lanes” that have faded to oblivion. Polly’s DOT is just the worst.

  • JamesR

    I’m on a CB and this is not true. This is City DOT’s purview. The CB can ask DOT to do a study on a particular intersection but requests do not get granular enough to request a specific traffic signaling device like a stoplight or stopsign at a given location.

  • BBnet3000

    I think of those lines every time I ride on Fort Hamilton Parkway past Greenwood Cemetery. A stressful “take the lane” route where there is tons of room for real bike infrastructure and where hundreds of people a day ride on the narrow 5′ sidewalk shared with hundreds more pedestrians.

  • Welcome Guest

    Geez, maybe someday it’ll finally sink in that, aside from a handful of zealots, New Yorkers don’t give a rat’s ass about your vision zero nonsense.

    Instead of banging your heads against the wall, maybe you should be packing you bags and brushing up on your Dutch, Danish, or Portlandish.

  • Nonsense. The entire federal government shut down in 2013 because it wasn’t “functioning” likely due to electeds inability to behave like rational adults. Why would people expect that Community Board members in NYC or alternately the activists that attend behave any differently, particularly when there’s evidence that they aren’t actually being covered in the news or to those in attendance, including perhaps people employed by DOT?

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-remake-times-square-article-1.2334469 Oh and discussions about Times Square in the news only recently brought this quote “the bike Nazis who speed through our city without license plates or responsibility, fueled by a sense of arrogant entitlement, rarely obeying traffic signs, red lights or speed limits. Sometimes killing people.”

  • Mark Henselt

    What the hell purpose do sharrows serve? Bicycles are already permitted to drive with the traffic on virtually any city street. If there is not room enough for a separate bike lane (which I don’t think are needed anyway), then how do sharrows serve any purpose, besides, of course, bloating the already-too-high DOT budget and benefitting paint manufacturers?

  • Mark Henselt

    How does not wanting bike lanes all over the place equate to not wanting cyclists to be able to legally use the roads? I’ve been riding my bike all over Brooklyn for about 45 years now, even without marked bike lanes. Never had an accident. Never was hit by a car. Never struck a pedestrian. I guess I must have simply been extraordinarily lucky for 45 years. Maybe I should be playing the lottery.
    Actually, I was always able to use my brain as a bike rider and realized that, in a contest with a 4000 lb vehicle or a much larger truck or bus, I would be the loser. Too bad all the hipster snowflakes, along with Billy Boy and Polly, aren’t smart enough to realize that.

  • Your prejudice, misrepresentation, ignorance, and self delusion about cycling, not withstanding, you’ll note the OP was talking about sharrows, which are nothing more than paint telling motorists that bikes can use the road too….opposing even that, suggests that these people don’t believe bikes should be on the road.

  • The purpose of telling drivers that cyclists are to be expected, as well as wayfinding for cyclists. But no, because you claim to have a collision free record, you’re up and ready to ignore reality, the actual collision stats, and what every other person thinks, and pretend that a large number of drivers don’t act and drive as if cyclists are not allowed on the road.

  • Mark Henselt

    All motorists know that bikes can ride on the roads. The idiotic sharrows serve no other purpose other than enabling the DOT to crow that they have added _____ miles of additional bike lanes.
    Hipster snowflakes seem to be incapable of figuring out how to safely ride with traffic unless they are in protected lanes or at least have bike drawn on the streets. Luckily, I am intelligent enough to know how to ride my bike safely, to NOT wear ear buds as I blithely ride in traffic, NOT zip diagonally, through intersections, etc etc. Cyclists do not own the roads, but often act as if they do and if they should hit a pedestrian, they forget that bicycles are vehicles; as long as the pedestrian is not killed, well, too bad, so sad.
    Obviously, you have not been collision-free. I wonder why.

  • “All motorists know that bikes can ride on roads.” Are you being intentionally ignorant? Plenty of drivers routinely yell at cyclists to get on sidewalks. Seems that your intelligence is based around arrogance, not knowledge or understanding. You’re what’s wrong with cycling advocacy. Whether you’re astroturfing, or you believe what you say, I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care.

  • Mark Henselt

    No, opposing sharrows just means that I don’t believe in the DOT’s massive waste of taxpayer dollars on those sharrows, bumped out sidewalks, refuge islands, Herald Square picnic tables, and so on. Even you, as a cyclist should agree that the DOT should actually worry about paving the streets so that there are smooth surfaces for bike riders to use since wheels are easily deformed by riding over the crappy surfaces that pass for roadways here in NYC.
    I’m sorry, but hipster snowflakes like you are the prejudiced, ignorant, self-deluded (and incredibly self-centered) jerks who cause bike accidents. Why not go back to Podunk where life is peachy keen?

  • Mark Henselt

    Despite your apparent hatred of cars, all drivers DO know that bicyclists are permitted to share the roads. I’ve never ever heard a driver yell at me to ride on the sidewalk. If you have had that experience, perhaps the reason is that you are engaging in reckless cycling. (e.g.darting out of a bike lane into traffic when there is a double parked car; no vehicle should be changing lanes before he ascertains that there is an opening in the adjacent lane) Sharrows do nothing to change that.
    Yes, I am arrogant, seeing that I know how to ride my bike safely and have never been in an accident. I doubt you can say the same. Just because you ride a bike, that does not mean that you are the savior of the environment or that you get a free pass when it comes to the laws of the road. It is self-entitled, hipster snowflakes like yourself that make cycling a horror in NYC, despite what that POS Polly T. says. Go back to Podunk where you can ride in safety. The big city is not for you.

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