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Brooklyn Pol: I Will Get Cops Out of Schermerhorn Street Bike Lane!

Police employee-owned vehicles fill the bike lane on Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

You say you've got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan.

For a while, City Council Member Steve Levin was the only person in the 76th Precinct with a radar gun -- the local police didn't have one until last week. Photo: Elizabeth Graham/Brooklyn Paper
City Council Member Steve Levin — obviously a file photo.
Council Member Stephen Levin. Photo: Elizabeth Graham/Brooklyn Paper

Brooklyn City Council Member Steve Levin, nearing the end of his two terms of utter inaction on reining in unsafe parking practices of NYPD officers in his Downtown district, responded to virtually 10 years of constant complaints about cops parking in the bike lane on Schermerhorn Street with a promise no one had heard from him for years: "I am committed to fixing this before I'm out."

The solution? The city must give cops at least a dozen existing non-dangerous parking spots to finally get police assigned to Transit Bureau 30 to stop parking their private cars in the Schermerhorn Street bike lane — an illegal practice that for years has endangered cyclists along a vital corridor.

Levin says he’s willing to take heat from many of his car-loving constituents so long as officers from Transit Bureau 30, which is between Hoyt and Bond streets, can use the additional parking spots instead of parking illegally in the bike lane. Levin never called for the transit bureau cops to stop driving to the stationhouse, which is within a five-minute walk from nine subway stations.

"If they need cars and need to park close to the entrance of the precinct, we should be getting rid of public parking spaces for as many cars as they need," said Levin, employing rhetoric that calls to mind the fact that 51 percent of NYPD cops live outside the five boroughs. “The situation with the local precinct is not having enough spots dedicated for them to park their cars."

Levin said he will invite the Department of Transportation, NYPD, and Department of Buildings for an intra-agency meeting to tackle the issue from all fronts (though, apparently not, the front of denying city employees free parking).

“Really sitting down with the local precinct commander and Deputy Commissioner of Transit and DOT and saying, ‘Realistically how many spots do you need? Do you need 12, 15? OK, can we sacrifice those number of [public parking] spots?’ That is a good place to start."

The problem of police employees' private vehicles has plagued the downtown area and its bike lane for a decade — cars parked over the white painted lane force cyclists to swerve around them and into traffic, making it even more dangerous than if there wasn't a bike lane there at all.

"It's not a bike lane — it’s less safe than having no bike lane at all," said Levin.

Former NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan — who was reassigned when Dermot Shea became commissioner last year — claimed at a city council hearing that he regularly called up local commanding officers to warn them to crack down on cops' illegal parking. But either he was lying about making such calls or his conversations were ineffective because police have never moved their cars from the bike lane.

Worse, cops drive recklessly, as Streetsblog found in its months-long investigation into police driving records (one police employees' private vehicle has racked up 28 moving violation tickets). And in 2015, some cops got caught using graffiti to appropriate the bike lane and part of the sidewalk for their own personal parking spaces.

Even last week's supposed crackdown on placard abuse has not stayed these scofflaws from their appointed illegal parking.

Again on Monday night when Streetsblog visited Transit Bureau 30, private cop cars were still parked in the bike lane — and on the sidewalk. An officer who gave only the name Depalo said it's an issue of "street design" coupled with a lack of parking to which New York's Finest believe they are entitled. He also endorsed Levin's proposal for more parking spots for the 40 officers that work in the substation each tour.

Cops cars parked in the bike lane on Monday night. Photo: Julianne Cuba
Cops cars parked in the bike lane on Monday night. Photo: Julianne Cuba
Cops cars parked in the bike lane on Monday night. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Some safe-street advocates who regularly bike the dangerous stretch called out the two-term pol for failing to address the issue all of these years.

"This problem has been reported for nearly a decade. I’m both frustrated that Levin has not been able to hold [the cops] accountable," said Dave Abraham.

Levin admits he hasn't done enough.

“I understand people's frustration with me because I’ve been hearing from people and responding to them for a couple of years now," said the term-limited pol. “It is dangerous, there’s no excuse. It goes against all work being done to make our streets safer.”

But with almost two years before the 2021 election to fill his vacated seat — for which three staffers in his office are vying — Levin says he’s now “committed” to fixing the problem.

The pol conceded there are issues with placard abuse on Schermerhorn Street, but the main problem is its design and lack of protection — he suggested the Department of Transportation mimic what it did on the Jay Street bike lane, which has its own problems.

“It’s not just about enforcement, because it’s an infrastructure issue. The bike lane needs to be protected in some way," said Levin. "Along the lines of what we did on Jay Street, which was successful. It was pretty successful. Compared to how it used to be it is significantly better.”

Neither NYPD or DOT responded to a request for comment.

City & State NY is hosting a full day New York in Transit summit on Jan. 30 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. This summit will bring together experts to assess the current state of New York’s transportation systems, break down recent legislative actions, and look towards the future of all things coming and going in New York. Join Keynote Speaker Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, along with agency leaders, elected officials, and advocates. Use the code STREETSBLOG for a 25-percent discount when you RSVP here!

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