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Eyes on the Street: Flatbush Avenue’s Dangerous Sidewalk Bike Lane

12:01 AM EDT on July 23, 2020

The Flatbush Avenue sidewalk bike path is not ideal, to say the least! Photo: Brian Hedden

The Department of Transportation hasn't caught on that calling a sidewalk a "bike lane" doesn’t make it so. 

In Brooklyn, the most conspicuous example is on Flatbush Avenue, where such a sidewalk “lane” goes southeast from Hendrickson Place near Kings Plaza to the Belt Parkway.

On this Flatbush Avenue “lane” — which connects the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Marine Park and Mill Basin to such attractions as Floyd Bennett Field, the Jamaica Greenway and The Rockaways — cyclists must cross four Belt Parkway highway on/off ramps, with no signage for cars to help their safety. As with many older, Robert Moses-era projects, speeding cars get priority, so people on bikes must hone their traffic-crossing skills. (See photo below.)

Crossing a Belt Parkway ramp. Photo: Brian Hedden
Crossing a Belt Parkway ramp. Photo: Brian Hedden
Crossing a Belt Parkway ramp. Photo: Brian Hedden

On the DOT's newer bike projects (think of the on/off ramps between Northern Boulevard and the Cross Island Parkway, or the “slip lanes” between the Queens Boulevard service road and main road), it’s a different story: Cars are required to stop and yield to bikes making crossings.

Also, I keep hearing the commissioner talk about the resources the DOT pours into resurfacing roads, but it doesn't look like this sidewalk (below) has been redone since the Koch administration (not like concrete is a good riding surface to begin with).

A typical pitted stretch of the bike path. Photo: Brian Hedden
Photo: Brian Hedden
A typical pitted stretch of the bike path. Photo: Brian Hedden

Meanwhile, the Flatbush Avenue “path” includes such “mountain-bike” features as this bump (below), which covers a bridge expansion joint over the Belt, and has been known to send the contents of my basket flying when I hit it unaware (we've all had the same experience on the similar bike-sidewalk of Ocean Parkway, which was supposed to be redone, but has been delayed and delayed).

Watch out! A bridge joint presents a hazard on the Flatbush Avenue bike path. Photo: Brian Hedden
Photo: Brian Hedden
Watch out! A bridge joint presents a hazard on the Flatbush Avenue bike path. Photo: Brian Hedden

Another impediment to bike travel on this path are tree limbs that protrude into it, such as the one just southeast of Hendrickson Place, alongside the Marine Park Golf Course, pictured in the photo below.

Yes, at 6-foot-3, I am tall, but it doesn't seem like good infrastructure to ask riders of any height to “eat tree” when they’re just trying to get someplace.

Meanwhile, the six traffic lanes on Flatbush Avenue can easily accommodate all the speeding cars, and it doesn't seem like they need all that room. Surely a protected bike lane could be put in the street, putting an end to needless bike/pedestrian conflicts that come from having the sidewalk double as a bike lane.

A tree blocks the bike path on Flatbush Avenue. Photo: Brian Hedden
A tree blocks the bike path on Flatbush Avenue. Photo: Brian Hedden
A tree blocks the bike path on Flatbush Avenue. Photo: Brian Hedden

Some intrepid, brave-hearted cyclists ride in the street now, as is their legal right. Speaking for myself, I ride on many high-intensity streets that I wouldn't have three years ago, and on which I wouldn’t expect any other bike rider to follow suit, but I'm still not fearless enough to brave six lanes of high-speed car drivers who have been conditioned to think that the southern end of Flatbush Avenue is an extension of the highway system. 

With six lanes for cars, Flatbush Avenue has room for a proper bike lane. Photo: Brian Hedden
With six lanes for cars, Flatbush Avenue has room for a proper bike lane. Photo: Brian Hedden
With six lanes for cars, Flatbush Avenue has room for a proper bike lane. Photo: Brian Hedden

The DOT should note, however, that cyclists of all ages can be seen riding on this pitted path at all hours — Flatbush is the only practical link between Marine Park and Mill Basin on one side, and the Jamaica Greenway and Rockaway peninsula on the other. It’s one of only three popular routes for riders arriving from other parts of Brooklyn (and the other two present their own sets of issues).

But, let me state again, this is a sidewalk. The DOT should install a proper bike lane and end this anomalous, dangerous situation. Please resolve to fix it, stat!

Brian Hedden(@BriHedden) is the co-founder of the advocacy group Bike South Brooklyn!

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