East Flatbush Cautiously Endorses Protected Bike Lanes But Will Have To Wait Until Next Year For Them

CB17 was feeling the love for useful bike infrastructure on Tuesday night.
CB17 was feeling the love for useful bike infrastructure on Tuesday night.

A bike network is slowly growing in central Brooklyn, but the two-wheeled lords of East Flatbush will have to wait ’til next year for it. (You want better cliches? Write them yourself.)

The Department of Transportation took its first step in filling in a huge gap in the city’s protected bike lane network on Tuesday night with a virtual bike lane planning session in Community Board 17. And whether he meant to make the point or not, one DOT employee bluntly pointed out that the area definitely needs some bike lanes.

“You’ve got a lot of choices here with streets with no bike lanes,” said planner Preston Johnson, while he led one small breakout group’s discussion.

That observation is kind of an understatement, since East Flatbush has no protected bike lanes and three conventional painted bike lanes in the neighborhood on Bedford Avenue, Rockaway Parkway and Clarendon Road. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has been one of the DOT’s Bicycle Priority Districts since 2017, which means that the city was supposed to have been determining ways to make the streets safer for years.

Although CB17 was one of the two priority districts where cycling injuries fell as of 2019, there’s still work to be done. In 2019*, there were 3,643 crashes in the district, resulting in injuries to 90 cyclists, 249 pedestrians and 1,230 motorists and the deaths of one pedestrian and 2 motorists. (* Streetsblog is using 2019 as a benchmark instead of 2020 because traffic patterns were so abnormal due to the COVID pandemic.)

The night did not end with any firm commitments, but it was also not designed to. Instead, the Zoom meeting was an opening gambit, an opportunity for the DOT to explain the different types of bike lanes it could build and get a sense of what the neighborhood wanted. Per a Zoom poll of the full group, 64 percent of the attendees said that they lived in or near CB17, 77 percent were cyclists of some kind and 75 percent said they knew someone who biked in the neighborhood.

The overall discussion of the meeting trended towards finding spaces for protected bike lanes, with participants bluntly telling the DOT that they didn’t particularly feel safe with sharrows or on painted bike lanes.

“Shared lanes give a false sense of security,” said meeting attendee Nikki Morse.

Crowd feedback when the DOT showed off the types of bike lanes they could build resulted in meeting leaders writing “Useless, more dangerous” on top of a picture of a sharrow and “maybe useless” on a picture of a painted bike lane.

A tough crowd for painted bike lanes.
A tough crowd for painted bike lanes.

In smaller breakout rooms, discussions also trended towards finding places for protected bike routes through the neighborhood. Although some of the rooms reported concerns about “losing” too much parking, or congestion as a result of traffic changes, no room members came back and said they would refuse to accept any kind of protected bike lanes. There was clearly room to figure out where the lanes could go, with some attendees asking for bike lanes on smaller streets and others asking for lanes on the medians of larger streets like Kings Highway and Linden Boulevard, so the DOT does have positive feedback to work with.

Although the agency will have to keep many different voices in mind while it builds out the bike network (and drivers will be sure to suggest they’re the real neighborhood voice), demographics in the area are not too far off from the city as a whole. According to the census, 52 percent of households in CB17’s neighborhoods are car-free and 35 percent have one vehicle, compared to 54 percent and 31 percent of households citywide.

Nothing is imminent in the neighborhood though. One of the final slides of the night said that virtual and in-person outreach will continue through the winter, spring and summer, and a proposal won’t be brought to CB17 until the fall of 2021. Actual implementation of any bike lanes won’t happen until 2022, according to the DOT, when a new mayor and City Council will be running the show.

And a number of potential future City Council members in the area lean towards bike lanes, or at least the ones who spoke to Streetsblog. The leading candidates in the crowded District 40 race expressed support for safe streets and bike lanes, while two out of the four candidates running in District 45 said that the neighborhood needs traffic calming efforts. However, incumbent Farah Louis was cool the bike lanes and bus lanes in her district for some reason.

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