BIKELASH! Bay Ridge CB Rejects DOT Cycle Network — Will City Push Back or Cave?

Cyclists have met the enemy and it is Bay Ridge Community Board 10. Photo: Dan Hetteix
Cyclists have met the enemy and it is Bay Ridge Community Board 10. Photo: Dan Hetteix

A Community Board 10 panel rejected a limited plan for bike lanes that removed zero parking, removed zero traffic lanes, and had zero miles of protected bike lanes after a bitter public meeting featuring residents who objected to the city plan because it supposedly removed parking, removed traffic lanes, and had too many protected lanes in it.

The DOT had offered Bay Ridge only a “starter pack” of unsafe painted bike lanes on a few roadways, but a group of 18 vocal Bay Ridge residents persuaded the CB10 traffic and transportation committee to demand that the city do even less.

Last Thursday’s meeting was truly a low point in civic dialogue. It was held as the culmination of a year and a half of intensive public outreach involving over 80 comments on an interactive web portal, hours of public meetings, and an over-capacity public workshop session held in January.

The previous five meetings were cordial and constructive, but Thursday’s mood was sour. Angry residents interrupted the DOT presentation before it was halfway complete. CB10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann asked for the attendees to listen to the proposal first before responding. Many didn’t. Here’s a taste:

    • Jeff, a resident of 84th Street, was against Citi Bike racks taking up parking spots. Citi Bike is not part of the proposal.
    • Evelyn, also of 84th Street, deemed a proposed lane on her block a “bike lane to nowhere” upon reaching Colonial Road. Colonial Road is an existing class 2 lane that serves the entirety of the north-western part of the neighborhood.
    • Another resident, Michael, was angered by the possibility of bike lanes on Third and Fifth avenues — except that Fifth Avenue isn’t part of the proposal.
    • DOT officials said three times that no parking would be removed, one-third of the residents were angry that the bike lanes would make parking more difficult.
    • Maureen, also a resident of 84th Street, said she objected to bike lanes because they will make it harder to double-park: “Double parking is a way of life in Bay Ridge.” She did not explain why a double-parking driver, who is already breaking the law and subject to a $115 ticket, would change his or her behavior because of the presence of a painted bike lane, which carries the exact same $115 fine.
    • Another resident objected to the protected bike lanes that aren’t in the plan anyway — but seemingly unknowingly made an argument in favor of them by saying the presence of painted bike lanes made opening her car door too difficult. “You just open the door, and you don’t know what’s gonna happen,” she said. “I just don’t wanna deal with the bikes.”

Peter, a resident of 69th Street, summed it up by stating flatly, “I don’t trust DOT not to take some parking spots,” he said, earning applause from the anti-cyclists in the crowd.

Many cyclists were in attendance, but were ignored.

“If you gotta go to a store, take a bus. Or walk. There’s no need to take a bicycle to go shopping, I mean that’s ridiculous,” said Frank, who said he commonly drives in Dyker Heights. Linda, another lifelong resident, briefly confused DOT officials by railing against a protected bike lane on 23rd Street in Manhattan where she visits her son. “We don’t need to get around with bikes. You do that when you’re children!” she said.

Other residents were, yes,  even more blunt.

“I don’t see a reason for bicycles.” said Dee, a resident of 73rd Street. “Nobody rides in the bike lane unless it’s a delivery guy.” She demanded to know if there are any “studies” on the number of cyclists injured or dead in the neighborhood. (Point of information: Multiple city websites offer that information. In the 17 months between January 2018 and the end of May, 2019, there have been 3,870 crashes in Community Board 10 alone, causing injuries to 60 cyclists, 218 pedestrians and 655 motorists. That’s roughly eight crashes per day in just Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.

Claudette Workman, DOT Deputy Brooklyn Borough Commissioner, tried to calm the crowd down, emphasizing that the agency’s plan — 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 — would make the roads safe for “every single road user.” She was booed upon mentioning the word “every.”

(Here’s a point of information about how bullying city officials can work to the detriment of all: The DOT’s own studies show that painted lanes are less safe for all road users than protected bike lanes, but the city offered Bay Ridge what it called a “starter pack” because it feared a backlash during this yearlong process from drivers who would object to the removal of parking. But the agency’s appeasement of drivers had the very opposite effect: It emboldened them to storm the final meeting in a long process and reject even basic markings.)

Cycling advocates tried to calm down the crowd. “This meeting strikes me, as someone who has come to all the other meetings, as unusual because the last meeting it was more 50-50 pro and con. This meeting really seems overly aggressive against bicycles.” said Rona Merrill, one of the seven pro-cyclists to speak. Another cyclist attempted to calm the angry murmurs in the room by ending his comment with, “I hope we can still be friends.”

Traffic & Transportation Committee member Dean Rasinya claimed that the public session was a sincere effort to hear from the community and later added, “There is a legitimate concern that we don’t have enough bike lanes in Bay Ridge.”

But then he added, “Personally, I don’t want to see any bike lanes” and initiated each motion to disapprove each bike lane. Without a quorum of committee members present, he only needed two other members to kill each bike lane as it was brought up in a line-item vote.

Committee members did not mention any statistics or studies relating to either car, pedestrian, or cyclist safety in their deliberations. Nor did they request clarification from the DOT representatives, who sat 30 feet away awaiting the results of the vote. The total length of deliberations was 15 minutes. All the lanes were rejected with one exception: a route running north along Ridge Boulevard, which was intended as a companion to the Third avenue route, which ran south. Without its parallel companion, which was rejected unanimously, it is functionally incomplete.

Painted lanes in Dyker Heights lanes — along 64th and 66th streets and 10th and 11th avenues — were approved unanimously. But public comments from residents of Dyker Heights were oddly lacking. Instead, a disproportionate number of anti-bike-lane protestors came from a three block section along 84th and 85th streets.

Bike South Brooklyn! founder Brian Hedden figured out why: the Community Board “sent notices to [residents of] 85th and 84th streets, so they got people saying not to put bike lanes on 85th and 84th street,” he said. “If they canvassed 74th and 75th streets, they’d have people saying not to put lanes there, too.” Community Board 10 primarily relies on expensive direct mailers, and lacks a social media presence for publicizing events beyond a narrow geographic range often a few blocks in size.

“They were definitely informed to come and speak against it, but I don’t think they understand it,” agreed cyclist Ed Yoo.

And another cyclist, Patrick, who traveled from Gravesend to participate in the meeting, told Streetsblog that it was bizarre that some Bay Ridge residents claimed they didn’t know about the yearlong planning process.

“I’ve known about it for so long now,” he said. “It’s been one of the only things on my mind. I thought this was going to be as civil as the last meeting.”

The committee’s recommendations now head to a final full board vote on June 17. The Department of Transportation can, of course, ignore the community board’s vote, which is only advisory. The agency has done that in many neighborhoods, but also has chosen to delay bike lane plans in other neighborhoods.

Daniel Hetteix is the host and producer of Radio Free Bay Ridge, a hyper-local neighborhood podcast. You can listen to the meeting above in its entirety at Radio Free Bay Ridge’s community archive.

After publication of this story, Community Board 10 Chairwoman Doris Cruz wrote the following letter to Streetsblog:

I write to correct some factual errors in Streetsblog NYC concerning CB10’s Traffic and Transportation Committee’s vote on the DOT bike route proposal for the district.

  1. The headline of the blog states “Bay Ridge CB Rejects DOT Cycle Network…” That claim is false for two reasons.

First, the Board did not vote on this yet. Only the Traffic and Transportation Committee (T&T) did.

Second, T&T did not “reject” the network.

When DOT initially advised CB10 that it was planning to expand the bicycle lane network in the district, CB10 requested that all proposed bike lanes be presented at the same time, rather than individually, over time. This enabled T&T to evaluate the effect of each proposed route on each of the other proposed routes and on existing bike, car and pedestrian patterns, as well as the district-wide efficacy of the overall proposal.

Rejecting some of the proposed routes or suggesting changes in others in order to improve the network proposal is not a “rejection” of the entire proposed network. To the contrary, that is exactly as the process was intended to work, to make the overall project better for all.

In fact, only two of the 10 proposed routes were rejected outright by T&T. The committee’s votes on two other routes were held in abeyance pending further review for safety reasons. One other was tentatively approved pending further study by DOT on the directions of travel. Five routes were approved without limitation.

  1. Streetsblog NYC claims “18 vocal Bay Ridge residents persuaded the CB10 Traffic and Transportation Committee to demand the City do even less” [than unsafe painted bike lanes].

That assertion is misleading.

In total, 33 people spoke at the recent hearing, not just “18 vocal Bay Ridge Residents” in opposition.  With varying degrees of ardor and reason the speakers opposed or supported either the entire network or specific components of the plan. The job of the board is to understand the proposal, consider the opinions and rationale of the DOT, consider the testimony given at all the public hearings, consider any comments submitted in writing, consider alternatives to the proposal, separate fact from fiction and reason from emotion, and then make recommendations. Through this process the Board balances public and private interests in making its decisions.

As it must, the T&T Committee considered the testimony of all 33 residents who spoke at the recent hearing, not just the “18 vocal Bay Ridge residents” who spoke in opposition. And, as it must, T&T considered the testimony of the many who testified at the preceding five hearings, both in favor and in opposition. Ultimately, the T&T Committee will give a report and recommendations to the entire Board.

The board will then deliberate and make its recommendation to DOT.

  1. Streetsblog NYC claims: “Many cyclists were in attendance but were ignored.” That claim is false.

This was a public hearing by a governmental body where all have a right to speak. Every person who asked for speaking time was granted the same amount of speaking time as every other speaker. Nobody, pro or con, resident or cyclist, was ignored or denied the right to speak.

  1. Streetsblog NYC claims T&T Member Dean Rasinya “…initiated each motion to disapprove each bike lane.”

That is false. Mr. Rasinya did not move to disapprove “each bike lane.” Only two of the 10 motions were to disapprove a route. The balance of the motions were to approve the proposed bike lane or to await more information before voting on the proposed bike lane.

  1. Streetsblog NYC implies that CB10 “informed” the residents of 84th and 85th Streets “to come out and speak against [the proposed bike lane network].”

It claims “Community Board 10 primarily relies on expensive direct mailers, and lacks a social media presence for publishing events beyond a narrow geographic range, often a few blocks in size.”

That’s misleading.

In preparation for the hearing, the board’s public outreach was substantial. Consistent with board practice and legal obligations, the notifications were sent to those residents expected to be most significantly impacted by the proposed bike lanes. Notifications of the meeting were mailed to residents of 72nd Street to 77th Street from Seventh to 14th Avenues; 73rd to 78th Street from Narrows Avenue to Sixth Avenue; 81st Street and 82nd Street, Colonial Road to Ridge Blvd.; 83rd Street to 84th Street, Ridge Blvd. to Fourth Avenue and 85th St to 91st Street, Ridge Blvd. to Fifth Avenue.

Additionally, CB10 coordinated  student “lit drops” advising of the hearing to the residents of 66th Street, Seventh Avenue; Bay Ridge Parkway [from] Third to Fourth Avenues; 84th and 85th Streets, Colonial Road to Seventh Avenue.

The board maintains an easily accessible website on which all board and Committee meetings and their agendas are published well in advance. [Streetsblog note: This is itself misleading. But we will allow the readers to determine if this is a good government website by 21st-century standards.]

The proposed routes were included in Community Board 10’s newsletter and the board sent several email blasts with the information. The board maintains an extensive email distribution list of anyone who attends a meeting and signs in with their contact information.

Though the notification efforts were proper and substantial, and far more widespread than “a few blocks,” as suggested in your blog, it is never surprising that those who come to speak, as in this case, are those most directly impacted by the proposal at hand.

Frankly, the tone of the published article portrayed an inaccurate picture of the meeting. The T&T Committee Chair allowed all who wanted to speak equal time and maintained order. Through this all the T&T Committee adopted a recommendation which they will present to the full board in support of the bulk of this proposal and will work toward a continued collaboration with cyclists, residents and other stakeholders on expanding the bicycle network in Community District 10.  

Very truly yours,

Doris N. Cruz

Here is Streetsblog’s response: We stand by our story, which reveals yet again the broken engagement process between DOT and community boards in pro-car neighborhoods.

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