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Adriano Espaillat

Bikelash Rehash With Gale Brewer and Adriano Espaillat

Gale Brewer and Adriano Espaillat are calling on DOT to rip out protected bike lanes on Dyckman Street, which would undo a major street safety project that took a decade of citizen advocacy.

Congressmember Adriano Espaillat and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer want to rip out Inwood's new Dyckman Street bike lanes. They don't want you to get the wrong impression though -- they're all for bike lanes! Just not the useful, real-life bike lanes that people in the neighborhood fought for.

In a piece sent to Streetsblog yesterday, Espaillat and Brewer insist that Dyckman Street is unlike every other commercial street in New York with protected bike lanes. They then recycle the same litany of objections that surface whenever a bike lane debuts in New York City.

After Inwood residents campaigned nine years to get this project built, these two Manhattan reps are ready to give up on it after a few wintry months. I'll post the full letter, but to summarize, Espaillat and Brewer warn that:

The bike lanes will be ruinous for local merchants. Businesses on Eighth and Ninth avenues in Chelsea said the same thing nine years ago. So did some businesses on Columbus Avenue in Brewer's old City Council district. So have a handful of merchants on Queens Boulevard. Every prediction of retail armageddon has turned out wrong.

People will die because of slower emergency response. The universal argument of traffic-calming opponents everywhere. It's what the cranks say about pedestrian islands, bike-share stations, and protected bike lanes despite the absence of any evidence that emergency response times have been compromised by retrofitting NYC streets with this stuff. Public officials like Brewer and Espaillat lean on the imperative of emergency response when they want to knock a bike lane, but for some reason they never invoke it to argue for smarter parking meter rates, congestion pricing, or the elimination of parking requirements, which would all reduce traffic and get obstacles out of the way of FDNY. Wonder why.

Dyckman is actually more dangerous with the bike lanes. Brewer and Espaillat have no data to back this up either. Just take their word for it! They personally inspected the street, you see. Sure, Dyckman was wide and dangerous before the redesign, with hundreds of people injured in crashes over the past decade. But why get into the very real threat to life and limb posed by the old cars-first design when there's a bike lane to scapegoat. Bikelash scholars will recognize the tactic from Grand Street, Prospect Park West, Amsterdam Avenue, and every other bike lane fight in the history of bike lanes.

Because they're serious and reasonable, not spineless politicos willing to sacrifice public safety at the drop of a hat, Brewer and Espaillat propose an alternative bike route, which is not a ridiculously inconvenient detour that no one will use. Kidding, of course it is. That's how the game is played.

To state the obvious: This is about parking. Double-parking was a problem before the bike lanes were installed, and it remains a problem with the new redesign. The glut of cars made Dyckman a crummy street for walking and biking before the redesign, and there are still too many cars today.

Getting rid of the redesign won't solve Dyckman's traffic problem or make the street function any better for retail. It will just expose people to a heightened risk of injury and death. Lest anyone forget, these were the good old days on Dyckman Street:

dyckman_before1
Deliveries were a cinch before the bike lane. Photo: NYC DOT
dyckman_before2
A perfectly functional, uncongested Dyckman Street before the damned bike lane. Photo: NYC DOT
dyckman_before3
Crossing the street in peace, with no bike lane in the way.
Biking in a wide-open free-for-all of double-parking an -- like it oughta be.
Biking like it oughta be -- in a free-for-all of double parking, with your head on a swivel as you prepare to overtake the next illegally-parked car without getting creamed by a distracted speed demon passing on your left. Photo: NYC DOT
Biking in a wide-open free-for-all of double-parking an -- like it oughta be.

And here is what Brewer and Espaillat want to erase:

The project shortens crossing distances and slows motorist turns. More than 300 people were injured in crashes on Dyckman between 2009 and 2017.
Pedestrian islands shorten crossing distances and slows motorist turns. More than 300 people were injured in crashes on Dyckman between 2009 and 2017. Photo: Brad Aaron
Photo: Brad Aaron

Brewer, of all people, should know that every street redesign needs a little patience. She's the veteran of a zillion bike lane spats. A bout of complaining after implementation is the most predictable thing in the world.

If Brewer and Espaillat were acting out of genuine concern about the traffic dysfunction on Dyckman, they would ask DOT to raise the price of curbside parking during peak hours. That policy has a track record of reducing traffic and double-parking on commercial streets. Instead they're putting out pathetic bikelash boilerplate, undermining a street safety project nine years in the making. Here's their op-ed.

About The Bike Lanes on Dyckman Street

By Congressman Adriano Espaillat and MBP Gale A. Brewer

As public officials, it’s our responsibility to address the concerns of our constituents, and sometimes that means pushing back when well-intentioned projects create negative repercussions in the communities we serve. The recently implemented Dyckman Street protected bike lanes were intended to serve a worthy goal: safely connecting the Harlem and Hudson River bike paths. Unfortunately, they’ve had a detrimental impact on businesses and residents in Inwood, and their safety benefits have been much more mixed than everyone hoped, with the narrowed street posing a problem for first responders when every second matters.

Dyckman Street, alongside 207th Street, is one of the two major commercial hubs in Inwood, with dozens of small businesses and mom and pop shops. These businesses, many of which have been in the community for decades, are truly the economic backbone of the neighborhood, and they rely on access to Dyckman Street for deliveries, customer parking, and storefront visibility for potential growth and development. Since the installation of the bike lanes, these businesses have reported that they are struggling, and many are at risk of closing. The bike lanes could threaten the continued existence of the vibrant commercial corridor of Dyckman Street, which was the driving force behind the transformation of the thoroughfare.

We’ve also seen with our own eyes that the bike lanes’ installation has made the street harder to navigate and created new safety problems. We’ve taken several walking tours of the Dyckman area with officials from the NYC Department of Transportation, and witnessed incidents of emergency service vehicles having difficulty getting to their destinations and pedestrians struggling with obstructed crosswalks due to the street congestion created by the new street design. Local leadership in the Fire Department (FDNY) has also written to express significant concerns about the impact that bike lanes on Dyckman Street on their ability to respond expediently to emergencies.

We support utilizing green modes of transportation and efforts to make streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars alike -- but we also recognize the same approaches don’t always work everywhere, and when a plan has a negative impact in the community, government agencies have to be willing to adjust it. In the case of the bike lanes on Dyckman Street, we’re concerned about the threat to both the surrounding business community and public safety.

As a solution, we propose moving the bike lanes from Dyckman Street two blocks north to 204th Street. This could alleviate some of the street congestion and businesses’ concerns, while still providing area cyclists with access to a safe route connecting the East and West sides of Manhattan. We encourage Commissioner Trottenberg to take swift action on this issue. If not, and the bike lanes on Dyckman Street are allowed to remain, we believe the Inwood community will continue to suffer.

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