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Bay Ridge

Bay Ridge’s Anti-Bike Cold War Starting to Melt

East-west routes in southern Brooklyn are limited.

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In the midst of a wide expansion of bike lanes across the five boroughs, Bay Ridge is, in the words of one Community Board 10 meeting attendee, “frozen in time.”

A thaw might be coming this spring.

More than 25 members of the public — commercial van drivers, concerned parents with their 11-year-old children, retirees, and commuters, all of whom identified themselves as cyclists — attended a widely unheralded CB10 subcommittee last Tuesday that revealed some common ground with the Southern Brooklyn board.

It didn't start out that way, of course. This is a community board, of course, that has shot down many a bike proposal, leaving Bay Ridge unsafe and cut off. As the meeting started, prospects looked bleak, as the subcommittee offered a dose of 1990.

“We need to solve [unsafe streets] before we put bikes there," said one board member.

Another added, “We already have a bike lane along 72nd street!” as if that existing route was enough. Another man with a windshield perspective groused that bike lanes are unnecessary because, "I don't see many bikers."

Yet the presence of so many cyclists emboldened other voices on the board. One board member said he had been doored. Another questioned why the DOT paints sharrows on some streets, but not others.

"Why not put them on all roads? Roads are already shared," she asked. "I mean, it’s just paint, why not just put them everyplace?"

As the public comment session opened up, any tensions between the board members and the residents — who surrounded them and lined up out the door — melted. Many board members stopped attempting to judge each individual request and instead increasingly deferred to a visioning session as the only forum by which these issues could be properly discussed. Most important, the variety of cyclists attending the meeting broke down the board's preconception that cyclists were a single-issue bloc that could be appeased with a single solution; nearly all the residents cited different preferred routes through the neighborhood. Some biked in all weather, others biked only on weekends. One woman batted down the tired canard that local businesses depend on cars by saying she shops by bike.

In fact, when she does use her car, "I drive someplace else [out of the neighborhood] that's less of a headache," she said.

A father was concerned that, having taught his daughter to bike, that she would soon turn 12. and be in danger without protected lanes.

An overflow crowd attended last week's CB10 subcommittee meeting. Photo: Dan Hetteix
An overflow crowd attended last week's CB10 subcommittee meeting. Photo: Dan Hetteix
An overflow crowd attended last week's CB10 subcommittee meeting. Photo: Dan Hetteix

The degree to which this variety shocked the board was most evident in a watershed moment halfway through the night. After multiple cyclists commented that they avoided heavily commercial Fifth Avenue due to double-parked cars, constant u-turns, and "general chaos," cyclist Ed Yoo insisted he preferred the route, despite the dangerous.

Community Board 10 Chairwoman Doris Cruz asked Yoo why he did not use the community board-endorsed north/south sharrow along Sixth Avenue or Fort Hamilton Parkway.

"Time," Yoo said. "If I bike along the sharrows, it leads me along Fort Hamilton Parkway which gets just as bad as Fifth with obstructions in Borough Park, and it costs me 10 minutes on my commute to Manhattan."

The answer was jarring to a board that had previously assumed safety was the only thing cyclists cared about. By prioritizing speed, Yoo reminded the board that most cyclists aren't hobbyists but commuters. The next speaker drove this home: "There's no such thing as a safe route."

Not once was residential street parking brought up as an issue. The closest the conversation came was a discussion by board members about removing some paid street parking on Fifth and Third avenues in order to create dedicated delivery zones for double-parked trucks.

After going 30 minutes over time, the subcommittee agreed to recommend a visioning session for the spring. Critically, members also floated the idea of creating their own internal bike plan concurrently with the DOT, possibly holding supplementary meetings with local advocates to get additional feedback. The decision to move forward will likely be put to a vote at a general board meeting next Monday.

“We don’t need to rely on the DOT. We can provide input ourselves. There’s no reason we can’t come up with a plan ourselves, and maybe have you take a look at it,” said one board member to Mr. Branch. Addressing the cyclists gathered in the room, he added: “It's time to move forward in Bay Ridge, safely and together.”

Daniel Hetteix co-hosts the hyperlocal podcast Radio Free Bay Ridge, which focuses on political and civic issues in and around the Brooklyn neighborhood. He is also a member and contributor to Bike South Brooklyn!

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