City Planning Minor Tweak to Vanderbilt Avenue, a Major Cycling Thoroughfare [Updated]

The plan is certainly better than sharrows on both sides of Vanderbilt, but it's unclear if cyclists will use the new lane on neighboring Clermont Avenue.

The city has already removed the southbound chevrons of death from Vanderbilt Avenue as it remakes the two-way roadway and neighboring Clermont Ave. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The city has already removed the southbound chevrons of death from Vanderbilt Avenue as it remakes the two-way roadway and neighboring Clermont Ave. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Say good-bye to the sharrows on Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn and say hello to…um, not really all that much.

The city Department of Transportation has begun a project to alter cyclist behavior through Fort Greene, scrubbing the shared bike paths on both sides the two-way truck and bus route in favor of a real bike lane on the northbound side of Vanderbilt and a new bike lane on the southbound side of neighboring Clermont Avenue.

On Clermont, the city has started painting a southbound bike lane between Flushing Avenue and Fulton Street. Photo: Michael Lydon
On Clermont, the city has started painting a southbound bike lane between Flushing Avenue and Fulton Street. Photo: Michael Lydon

Cyclists have complained about Vanderbilt Avenue, which serves 2,000 riders a day, who currently share the critical route with cars, trucks, double-parkers and the hulking B69 bus. Since 2010, 117 cyclists and pedestrians have been injured between Flushing and Atlantic avenues.

DOT officials agree that the current design of Vanderbilt “does not function well for drivers, bus riders, or cyclists.” Some cyclists call sharrows “the chevrons of death” because they often appear on roadways that are too narrow to protect bikers from drivers and double-parkers.

Here's a typical scene on the current Vanderbilt Avenue, where one double-parked truck causes havoc for cyclists and for impatient drivers. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Here’s a typical scene on the current Vanderbilt Avenue, where one double-parked truck causes havoc for cyclists and for impatient drivers. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

But it is unclear whether cyclists will use the new southbound lane on Clermont, which is not a thru-street and would require Park Slope-bound cyclists to detour at some point onto Vanderbilt to continue south. To ease their pain, the city has promised to repaint the existing bike lanes on Vanderbilt between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue, which officials say “discourages drivers from driving or stopping in bike lane.” (I have plenty of photos — here, here, here and here — that show that drivers have no compunction of parking in green-painted lanes. And that’s just today.)

And without enforcement against double-parked trucks — an epidemic on the two-way Vanderbilt — buses will consistently be forced into oncoming traffic. (See photos of that crisis here.)

The plan, which is under construction, is a watered-down version of a two-way protected lane on nearby Clinton Avenue that DOT proposed in 2016 — only to backtrack amid some complaints from residents, including one woman who testified at a hearing that the bike lane was being built for outside “settlers.”

A more radical design for Vanderbilt Avenue could have eliminated on-street private car storage to accommodate protected bike lanes on both sides of the 42-foot-wide street. Or the city could have made Vanderbilt and Clermont one-way streets.

“[The plan] can be bolder in terms of pursuing protected bike infrastructure, given ridership,” Community Board 2 member Brian Howald said at a community hearing in June. “There’s not enough protected bike lanes in the pipeline for this part of Brooklyn,” Howald added this week. “Maybe it’s politically difficult, as we saw on Clinton Avenue, but it has to happen. Vanderbilt is one of the most-used streets outside of Manhattan.”

Update: After publication, a DOT spokesperson told Streetsblog, “We are open to exploring the feasibility of protected bike lanes in the area. However, this project will provide immediate safety enhancements for all roadway users without any changes to traffic flow, capacity, and parking.”

The plan for Vanderbilt (before and after). Photo: DOT
The plan for Vanderbilt (before and after). Photo: DOT

 

The plan for Clermont Avenue, one block to the west. Photo: DOT
The plan for Clermont Avenue, one block to the west. Photo: DOT
  • D’BlahZero

    I’ve been taking Adelphi southbound to avoid the Vanderbilt sharrows for years. Left on Fulton, right on Clermont. There’s an LPI at the Clermont/Atlantic light. Then over to Vanderbilt.

  • Seth Rosenblum

    Clermont seems way more sensible than Clinton ever did. Especially if DOT can secure a bike & pedestrian only right-of-way through the Pacific Park development to the Dean street bikeway.

    Still doesn’t make as much sense as a two-way protected lane on Vanderbilt.

  • Jeff

    How many hoops do they expect people to jump through just to make use of a watered-down network of half-assed bike lanes designed from the ground up to hurt motorists’ feelings the least with zero consideration for how cyclists actually get around? People like me who don’t particularly give a shit (but still want a robust bike network because it just makes sense) will continue taking whatever north-south route we feel like, and people who do want extra protection won’t get it from this plan. But I guess DOT can tick some boxes about improving north-south connections through Fort Greene on paper?

  • D’BlahZero

    I hope they do before and after counts for each direction on Vanderbilt. I bet the northbound volume stays high. mediocre as it is, it’s still heavily used.

  • Jeff

    To be clear, under this little game, northbound cyclists are meant to continue to use Vanderbilt. I assume your question is whether southbound volumes will substantially lighten (and shift to Claremont) or remain high.

  • Daphna

    Sharrows being replaced by an in-the-door-zone-of-parked-cars bike lane that will serve as a double-parking zone – infrastructure that is 0% effective being replaced by a design that is 1% effective – not good. Sharrows are useless and should be thrown out of the DOT “toolbox”. A narrow 5′ bike lane sandwiched between parked cars and a travel lane, without a buffer on either side, is nearly as useless. Bike lanes need to be curbside with some protection to be effective. The bike lane on Vanderbilt Avenue should be curbside parking protected such as is on Jay Street – a design that allows protected lanes that are narrower than those on wider avenues.

    I would like to see the DOT revive the 2016 plan for the bi-directional protected lane on Clinton Avenue. That would be effective infrastructure.

  • moocow

    2nd this, sounds like we need to go a block out of the way, for a block or two? Whaaat?

  • jr195

    I prefer sharrows to door-zone bike lanes. Bike lane lines suggest that bikes are only allowed to ride inside them, which we know is usually impossible and often unsafe. Drivers get pissed off when I’m outside the line, and often point it out to me when I ride outside to avoid a double parker (obliviously).

    Sharrows indicate the street is a legitimate bike route, but don’t prescribe exactly where you must ride. And there are usually more bike-shaped stencils on the ground than with bike lanes. When you get harassed by a driver, point at the bike stencil.

  • Daphna

    Sharrows and door-zone bike lanes are both nearly useless. It is a toss up of which is more ineffective. As others wrote, it is a way for the DOT to pretend they addressed an issue when there was a lack of political courage to make that kind of change that is really needed, something more substantial.

  • Miles

    So riders going south on Clermont who haven’t carefully studied the map just dead end on Atlantic and magically swerve over to Vanderbilt? And all this gets to happen in the door zone? What a beautiful bike “network,” pat yourself on the back DOT…

  • Daniel

    Do they really expect anyone to take the detour? It looks like cyclists will just need to take the lane for a bit on Vanderbilt and get stuck in the dumb, it’s the 21st century and we still don’t have car tolls in Brooklyn yet, traffic.

  • strangemonkey

    for those wondering which way is north (me :)), i think northbound vanderbilt is towards flushing ave, while southbound clermont is towards fulton st. / atlantic ave.

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