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DOT to Bay Ridge: You Get Unsafe Bike Lanes Because We Don’t Want to Remove Parking

11:13 AM EDT on May 10, 2019

On Thursday night, DOT officials unveiled their plan to allow car-storers to continue to use the public right of way to block safety improvements. Board member Steve Harrison, who doesn’t want to remove parking, is on the far right. Photo: Dave Colon

Bay Ridge will get painted bike lanes instead of proven life-saving road designs because the Department of Transportation capitulated to car owners — and then spun its unprotected bike lane plan as a win because no parking spaces will be reclaimed for public benefit.

“We’re not removing any travel lanes; we're not removing any parking lanes,” Nick Carey of the Department of Transportation told members of Community Board 10 on Thursday night. “We’re going to keep saying it maniacally."

Maniacally might be the operative word. Or "fearfully." Clearly, the DOT did not want to touch what some people believe is a third rail in Bay Ridge: parking.

“The board as a general rule agrees” that parking should not be removed, CB10 member Steve Harrison told the DOT reps, before joking that board members can't possibly support removing parking spaces because the neighborhood would start boiling tar and plucking feathers.

“As a general rule we do value our lives,” Harrison said.

But, apparently, the board does not value other people's lives. The DOT “starter pack” of painted lanes will put the lives of pedestrians, cyclists and, yes, motorists in second place to car storers yet again — and flies in the face of the DOT's own data in presentations to other community boards. In other neighborhoods, the agency is happy to tout statistics showing that protected bike lanes bring about a 15-percent drop in total injuries and a 21-percent drop in pedestrian injuries. And DOT has long said that its “road diet” plans — which remove a lane of car travel to slow down drivers — improves safety and does not adversely affect travel times. But such data was not presented on Thursday.

One wonders what DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg would make of the whole thing, given that she herself has written that “[DOT] data clearly show that the addition of a new protected bike lane – that makes crosswalks shorter and narrows driving space — increases street safety for all users: pedestrian, motorist, and cyclist alike.”

The bike network proposed by DOT on Thursday would consist of painted lanes on the southbound side of Bay Ridge Boulevard and 11th Avenue, on the northbound side of Third and 10th avenues, on the eastbound 64th and 85th streets, on the westbound 65th and 84th streets and painted bike lane on each side of Bay Ridge Parkway. The proposed routes were based on the recommendations that residents gave the department when it asked Bay Ridge residents to suggest the areas where they thought the lanes should go at a public visioning session in January.

It appears to be the lingering hangover of DOT's experience before the same community eight years ago, when local lawmakers forced the city to scrap what would have been a modest painted bike lane. But maybe that fear is misguided: Bay Ridge is changing, thanks to the election of pro-safety Council Member Justin Brannan and State Senator Andrew Gounardes. And the public is coming along, too, warming up to cycling and bike infrastructure after a summer of relentless street safety activism over speed cameras around schools, which then-Senator Marty Golden opposed.

A protected bike lane on Seventh Avenue in Bay Ridge could eliminate speedway conditions on the wide roadway. Photo: Google
CB10 has expressed support for a protected bike lane on Seventh Avenue in Bay Ridge. Photo: Google

Since then, Community Board 10 has expressed support for a protected bike lane on Seventh Avenue, Bay Ridge’s first, albeit one that did not require the removal of parking. And at the meeting on Thursday, several asked when the long-delayed Fourth Avenue protected bike lane would finally reach their neighborhood.

And other CB10 members and members of the public expressed concern at the Thursday night presentation over issues endemic to unprotected lanes and sharrows, such as the lack of safety and the presence of drivers who double park in painted lanes. Yet protected lanes are still a bridge too far for the DOT in Bay Ridge.

The agency said it would start implementing the network by the end of the summer. CB10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann told Streetsblog that she wanted members of the transportation and traffic committee to see the streets where the lanes are planned with their own eyes, and to get feedback from local cyclists. The full board will vote in June, though the board's vote is only advisory.

The overreliance on community input as a way to endlessly slow safety improvements down is nothing new to city government, though there are voices that are questioning why non-experts should be the ultimate deciding factors on how to prevent death and injuries on the city’s streets. But even local cycling advocates are starting to feel the strain as the process to bring some kind of safe street infrastructure to southern Brooklyn drags on.

“Everyone at this point is getting a little worn out, having to do this on a fairly regular basis,” Brian Hedden, a Bay Ridge resident and member of Bike South Brooklyn, told Streetsblog. “It's been a year and a half for me now, it wears even me down, and I think a lot of people are feeling that as well.”

Hedden said he'd prefer “a more holistic leadership process from the city, and particularly one that isn't always pitting one group of neighbors against another,” but added, ruefully, “It doesn't look like we're going to have that process.”

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