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Carlos Menchaca Wants to Make Fourth Avenue Protected Bike Lane a Reality

With DOT preparing a major capital project for Brooklyn's Fourth Avenue next year, it's now or never for a protected bike lane on this important route linking Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, and Downtown Brooklyn. Fortunately, local Council Member Carlos Menchaca has been on the case for months, talking with local residents, community groups, and DOT about how the Fourth Avenue project can make the street safe for biking.

Carlos Menchaca
Council Member Carlos Menchaca.
Carlos Menchaca

I spoke to Menchaca today about this effort. He said that DOT has been cool to the idea but hasn't closed the door on a Fourth Avenue protected lane, which he said is "the next natural step" for safety along the corridor. Here's our interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about the efforts to put a protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue.

This community has been thinking about Fourth Avenue and the enhancements for such a long time now. Community Board 7 came out in favor of the enhancements that you see now, on the Fourth Avenue corridor from Atlantic over to Bay Ridge.

March 30 marked, for me, the moment where we really got together. Both [my] staff and some community members had been talking about it. We sat down and said, “What do we want to see here?” We had been briefed by DOT in the last year, 2014 and 2015, and there was some clarity that the enhancements that are there are working. But at the end of March, we said we really wanted to push the bike lane forward. We met with Keith Bray and the DOT staff in early April, and there were some initial positive responses to the concept. Then, in June, we got a cold response, and so where we are right now is [trying] to better understand [DOT’s] analysis, and compare it to a lot of the community’s analysis.

Why is Fourth Avenue, as opposed to Fifth Avenue or any other north-south running arterials in the neighborhood, the preferred location for a protected lane in the neighborhood?

You know, I myself use Fourth Avenue to get from one point of the district to another, from Red Hook to Bensonhurst, that’s what I use. I don’t own a car, [my bike] is my usual transportation for myself, [and] I take Fourth Avenue. At the moment, it’s one of the safer routes to cross through the neighborhood. Fifth Avenue is just too congested, with the bus route and deliveries for the commercial stores. And Third Avenue, well, Third Avenue is Third Avenue. You have some high speed corridors there with a lot of trucks, and anything beyond Third Avenue to the water just doesn’t make sense for, you know, a kind of cut-through street. Sixth and Seventh Avenue don’t actually go across through Greenwood Cemetery, so Fourth Avenue become the obvious place for discussion and pushing the issue around the [protected] bike lane.

DOT is set to cast Fourth Avenue pedestrian safety improvements in concrete, which may preclude the possibility of future protected lanes on the corridor. Image: DOT
DOT is set to cast wider medians on Fourth Avenue in concrete (shown as painted buffers in this diagram of an earlier project), which will make it harder to add a protected bike lane. Image: DOT
DOT is set to cast Fourth Avenue pedestrian safety improvements in concrete, which may preclude the possibility of future protected lanes on the corridor. Image: DOT

Why has DOT been resistant to the idea?

I don’t know exactly what their hesitation is, but they’re pointing to design, and so what we need to do as soon as we get back into fall, into September, is really have community discussions with the community board about what those concerns are. So I’ve asked DOT to have the conversation with us in the community about what those concerns are exactly.

And it could be a range of things. It could be real commitment to the current capital design that they’ve already placed and put in motion, so maybe this is an inertia issue. Maybe they’re moving forward and that’s [just] how agencies work. Or maybe there’s some real design issues to actually place a bike lane that’s protected on this route. Whatever it is, we want to know, and then we can take appropriate steps afterward with community and city agency and really build a thoughtful space to move this question forward.

You should contact [DOT] for a comment, but I don’t want to close the door on [a protected lane] at all. The most recent response [to our request for a bike lane] has been a cold one, but there’s nothing stopping us from generating support and some thoughtful consideration for something that I think could be a good thing for the community.

Are you concerned that the upcoming capital projects that will cast the 2012 and 2013 pedestrian safety fixes in concrete will prevent the future installation of a protected bike lane?

One hundred percent. Once they lay that concrete, if nothing happens, if momentum proves to be the strongest thing here, then we will never see a bike lane on Fourth Avenue. Now is the time.

I think that whatever happens on Fourth Avenue, we are already moving in the right direction. The enhancements that we see today have proven to make Fourth Avenue safer and have slowed down traffic. So questions around larger pedestrian walkways, the bulb-outs, the protected bike lane -- these are all things that can further enhance Fourth Avenue, and that is what we want to see. And we have some smart people in our community that are invited to the table with DOT to help get us to that final resolution.

There are a lot of folks talking about and thinking about this right now, really as a result of a collective understanding that we need to make Fourth Avenue safer. This is not about the bike lane, this is about enhancing Fourth Avenue to its best possible design. That’s what we’re talking about here, and that has included a lot of organizations and the community board and just local residents who are passionate about this.

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