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Cyclists Endangered as West Village Bike Lanes Attacked With Glass, Signs

8:34 PM EST on January 10, 2019

Cyclist Jonathan Warner spotted broken glass in the 12th and 13th street bike lanes on Thursday. Photo: Jonathan Warner

Another city bike lane that was already under fire from pro-parking forces has been vandalized, this time with broken glass and signs and graffiti calling for its removal. It's the second time since November that a bike lane has been vandalized in a politically motivated attack.

This graffiti appeared on 13th Street near Avenue A on Thursday. It is a reference to parking spaces that were removed to provide more safety for cyclists. Photo: Chelsea Yamada.
This graffiti appeared on 13th Street near Avenue A on Thursday. It is a reference to parking spaces that were removed to provide more safety for cyclists. Photo: Chelsea Yamada.

Cyclists started noticing the anti-bike lane screeds on the 13th Street bike lane on Thursday afternoon. First, Chelsea Yamada of Transportation Alternatives sent Streetsblog a photo of the words, "Bring back our parking" in orange paint near Avenue A.

Later, cyclist Jonathan Warner noticed that the lanes on 12th and 13th streets were covered in patches of broken glass, which he believed was an intentional attack on cyclists.

"It's pretty deliberate," he posted on Twitter. "All over 12th and 13th in a specific 2-3 ave radius. Makes you think."

He also spotted anti-bike lane signs that reflected the opinion expressed by the anti-bike lane 14th Street Coalition, which has demanded that the bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets, plus dedicated bus lanes on 14th Street, be removed. All of those streetscape improvements were made in anticipating of the L-train being shut down in Manhattan in April — but the proposed cancelation of that plan has led self-styled neighborhood groups to call on the city to undo the changes.

"West Village parking only," the signs read, according to Warner's photo on Twitter. "Bike lanes only benefit other people."

The message was an echo of a statement put out by the 14th Street Coalition just one day earlier.

"The 14th Street Coalition does not want their neighborhoods to be guinea pigs with extremely disruptive changes to their safety," the group said in a statement demanding the removal of the bike and bus improvements.

Thumbtacks spotted in the 43rd Avenue protected bike lane. Photo: Office of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer
Thumbtacks had been spotted in the 43rd Avenue protected bike lane in November. Photo: Office of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer

The latest attack is reminiscent of the attack on the 43rd Avenue bike lane in Sunnyside, Queens, in late November. In that incident, thumb tacks were spread across the bike lane in a clear attempt to injure cyclists. NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill later condemned the attack as "particularly nasty," but stopped short of calling it a terror attack or a hate crime. He promised a full investigation.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson condemned the attack.

"This is unacceptable," he tweeted. "In my district. Shame on whoever did this. All New Yorkers are entitled to safe streets and shared spaces, on two wheels or not."

It is of course unclear who did either attack, but both came after months of heightened, anti-bike lane rhetoric that specifically focused on the supposed impact of bike and bus lanes on the ability of car owners to store their private vehicles in the public right of way, which is euphemistically called parking. Overnight on-street parking was not even legal in New York City until the 1950s, but many car owners believe it is their right to store their vehicles near their homes — and homes in Greenwich Village, through which the 12th and 13th street bike lanes pass, are extremely expensive.

In one irony, the leader of the pro-car protests against the environmentally beneficial bike and bus lanes is Arthur Schwartz, who is also the political director of the New York Progressive Action Network.

After several transportation reporters and activists pointed that out, the political group tweeted that Schwartz is a cyclist who supports bike lanes ... just not in his neighborhood — the definition of a NIMBY.

"He is NOT against mass transit improvements AND considering he is a bike rider, he's not opposed any cycling improvements," the group said in a tweet.

It later added that Schwartz is "absolutely a progressive."

"Arthur is a lawyer for over 18 block associations and community groups that believe that their needs and concerns have been ignored by the city and the MTA," the group added.

The city and the MTA held hundreds of hours of community meetings and briefings to inform affected communities about every proposal to mitigate the impact of the shutdown of the L train's Canarsie Tunnel, which was expected to start in April. The apparent cancelation of the work has thrown all of the mitigation effort into turmoil, with some pro-car forces calling for them to be undone, but a larger chorus of elected officials demanding that the improvements remain. City statistics show that protected bike lanes improve safety for all road users and that buses move faster in dedicated lanes.

Mayor de Blasio has not committed to retaining the improvements, but used his State of the City address to call for major improvements in bus travel times.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment. The 14th Street Coalition issued the following statement to Streetsblog on Friday afternoon: "While the 14th Street Coalition has rejected the need for dedicated bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets. The Coalition has had no involvement in, nor condoned, the defacing of bike lanes."

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