PPW Bike Lane Lawsuit Will Be Decided on the Merits — Bring It On

Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Bert Bunyan ruled yesterday that Prospect Park West bike lane opponents did indeed file suit before the six-month statute of limitations had run out. The case will proceed after all.

The outcome is a surprise, since Bunyan reversed his initial 2011 decision to dismiss the suit. The case only had legs because an appeals court kicked it back to Bunyan in 2012. But here we are.

What this means, as far as I can tell, is that there will now be a trial to rule on the actual merits of the bike lane opponents’ case. I’m waiting to hear back from the law department about whether the city can or will appeal this decision, but even if the city can appeal, why drag this out any longer? The lawsuit has no merits.

Years before DOT replaced a traffic lane on PPW with a two-way protected bike lane, Brooklyn Community Board 6 sent a letter asking the agency to study a two-way protected bike lane on PPW. Prospect Park West had a speeding problem and people wanted DOT to fix it. The bike lane-plus-road diet was the city’s response. The redesign went through the usual community board process and has worked as advertised since it was installed.

Knowing all that, the people suing the city, Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel, need their pro bono attorneys from Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher to prove that DOT’s decision to implement the bike lane was “arbitrary and capricious.”

If it’s arbitrary and capricious to install a bike lane after such a thorough process, then it’s hard to think of a street redesign that would be safe under the law. Any crank with a skillful legal team could overturn any street overhaul.

Five years ago, Streetsblog showed the complaint against NYC DOT to some experts in this area of the law. NYU law professor Roderick Hills called it “largely public relations, with no more law behind it than is minimally necessary to avoid sanctions for frivolity.”

The lawsuit lost its value as a PR campaign years ago. At some point it became impossible for the bike lane opponents to mask the selfishness, resentment, and extraordinary access to power that propelled the lawsuit all along. It’s not a gigantic spectacle with friends-of-NBBL launching tabloid broadsides at DOT any more, it’s just sad and hard to comprehend. A ruling on the merits should finally put the whole thing to rest.

  • J

    It would be great to see Iris Weinshall, Louise Hainline, and Norman Steisel do something positive for biking in NYC. Maybe a public bike ride down PPW to bury the hatchet?

  • Seniors for Litigation

    Sure. PPW wins on the merits. In a sane world. But that’s not the world we live in.

    Once you let a firm like Gibson Dunn into the court room, a whole Pandora’s box opens up. Ask Al Gore what Gibson Dunn did to him in a case folks might remember called Bush v. Gore, 2000. Look at what Gibson Dunn did for Chris Christie in Bridgegate. How is that guy still governor? How is he not indicted? Ask a genuine pro bono attorney, Steven Donziger, what Gibson Dunn did to him over more than two decades in his environmental case on behalf of Ecuadorian villagers against Chevron. Gibson Dunn, quite literally, destroyed Donziger…

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/sludge-match-chevron-legal-battle-ecuador-steven-donziger-20140828

    This is what they do, folks. They don’t win cases on the merits. They win in other ways. They are ruthless and amoral and very good at winning.

  • Neighbors for Better Neighbors

    What evidence would lead you to believe that they want to do something positive for biking? Iris Weinshall is so cowardly, she has allowed this to continue even though she’s distanced herself from the lawsuit. Lousie Hainline can’t even show up in court to watch the procedings. Norman Steisel only showed up on the day he testified. He claims “hundreds” of supporters, but – wouldn’t ya know! – says that they’re afraid to stand up in public. How convenient!

    These people hate their “community.” It would be great if they grew a conscience and looked at the thousands upon thousands of people – families, seniors, kids, and just about every other demographic – who rely on this lane and many others like it not just for biking but for safe walking and driving, but they won’t. They are selfish to an almost absurd degree.

    I’d say they deserve every amount of shame heaped upon them by the community, but they clearly are not capable of being ashamed. If they were, we wouldn’t be six years into this madness.

  • WalkingNPR

    “It’s hard to think of a street redesign that would be safe under the law. Any crank with a skillful legal team could overturn any street overhaul.”

    That’s what has me concerned about this situation. We need to get DOT out from under the spell of the Community Boards, not kowtowing to them even further. Our current, JSK-less DOT is entirely too timid with street redesigns already and I fear this will have a further chilling effect.

  • “It’s hard to think of a street redesign that would be safe under the law. Any crank with a skillful legal team could overturn any street overhaul.”

    My fear is that this is the entire point. Yes, there’s NIMBYism at play here since the NBBL “compromise” was simply to move the bike lanes either inside the park or down to 8th Ave, but don’t forget that they also supported a moratorium on all bike lane installations and crowed when the Plaza Street protected bike lane proposal was watered down to a buffered lane:

    “If we had not done what we’ve been doing with the bike lanes, they probably would have moved ahead,” said Louise Hainline, president of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.

    http://brooklynspoke.com/2011/11/08/louise-hainline-kicking-ass-taking-bike-lanes/

    I don’t believe the lawsuit has a chance, but 6 months ago I didn’t think Donald Trump had a chance either.

  • Eric McClure

    The JSK-less DOT just proposed protected bike lanes on Jay Street and a two-way protected bike path on Chrystie. Not bad for timid.

  • Eric McClure

    Let me offer the glass-half-full view:

    The city will push to get this case tried on the merits as soon as possible, will win easily, and the resulting case law will create a precedent that will inoculate DOT from these kinds of frivolous suits in perpetuity. Future generations will look back at NBBL and Seniors for Safety and thank them for the misplayed gambit that literally paved the way for turning New Amsterdam into Amsterdam.

  • vnm

    I like this view!

  • Agree! Whatever chilling effect the PPW lawsuit may have had is long over, even if the lawsuit drags on.

    As Jon Orcutt said, the bikelash of the JSK years “sowed the seeds of its own demise.”

  • BBnet3000

    The Jay Street project is an attempt to get something for nothing. Placate the advocates while doing little for the cycling experience on Jay. With zero impact on driving on Jay, and even inviting buses to get out of the way of autos by stopping in the bike lane, how could even this CB complain?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The case can’t win on the merits. So their play is…

    1) A deal with DeBlasio to not present the case property and provide an excuse for the judge. By not bringing up the whole review process prior to installation, and not calling Weinshall to testify to provide the contrasting process for other DOT measures that privileged drivers over other street users.

    2). Stall. Five years for the appeal to be heard? OK, how long for the case? And how long for its appeal?

    They cannot allow the case to be decided on the merits. So they will seek to avoid it, and stall until they can cut a deal.

  • Joe R.

    A more important question is why is it taking 4 years from the time the case was kicked back by the appeals court for it to go to trial? Lawyers are well known for dragging cases out forever to collect more fees but it’s high time we stopped going along with it. The plaintiffs probably want stall it some more so it can’t be decided on its merits. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen. The case should be bought to trial and decided in 2016, preferably by mid 2016. Other countries don’t let things drag out for years in their legal systems. The US has become a sad joke because of this.

  • Seniors for Litigation

    Only flaw in this plan may be that if they stall too long all of the plaintiffs will be deceased by the time the case is heard. Not sure if that actually matters to Gibson Dunn — having living clients for their “pro bono” work — but there you have it.

  • Benson Hedges

    Can anyone shed any light on how Weinshall ended up as chair of the Prospect Park Alliance? I only just noticed that recently and find it absolutely abhorrent. Would consider contributing time and resources to any campaign to remove her – anyone aware of anything? Seems totally clear that she is still connected to this whole thing, even if she pretends not to be.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You bet, as I wrote here.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/our-efficiently-inefficient-system-of-injustice/

    Why this is allowed to happen I don’t know. Because it privileges the powerful? Because it runs up the fees? Because lawyers are like kitchen remodelers — they grab all the business they can, and then try to put off people until they can get to them?

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