OPINION: What I’ve Learned Biking Every Block in My District

A Brooklyn City Council candidate is riding and walking 120 miles to gain a feel for each street's issues.

The Krebs Cycle: Brooklyn Council candidate Justin Krebs has been biking every block in his district. This is Ocean Parkway. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The Krebs Cycle: Brooklyn Council candidate Justin Krebs has been biking every block in his district. This is Ocean Parkway. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Painted bike lanes that abruptly end or run into fast-moving traffic, pushing bikers onto the sidewalk. Citi Bike stations that still do not extend into my City Council district or the neighborhoods beyond.

These are the kinds of things I’ve seen while taking part in “Bike Every Block,” a project to bring the message of our campaign to every street in the district. Literally.

Justin Krebs
Justin Krebs

The 39th Council District runs about five miles between Maimonides Hospital in Borough Park and Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park and includes 120 miles of streets. Each day for the past two weeks, I’ve biked its blocks — zig-zagging through its neighborhoods, chatting with local business owners in Carroll Gardens and Gowanus, parks advocates in Windsor Terrace, parent leaders in Kensington, and voters on their stoops or public benches in the Columbia Waterfront District and Cobble Hill. I’ve sampled the coffee in Borough Park, tried the lunch specials in Park Slope and had a happy hour beer on every “Main Street” in our district.

The rides have strengthened my resolve to create safer streets and more vibrant neighborhoods and to protect our cyclists, strollers, seniors, and pedestrians. You can marvel at how smooth the bike lanes are on Clinton Street while making a trip up to Cobble Park or to cafes on Atlantic Avenue, and wonder why the same isn’t true all the way down Dahill Road. We must expand a safe, interconnected network of bike lanes across the district — and reimagine our public streets as public spaces.

The city’s oldest bike lane, on Ocean Parkway, looks impressive on the map — until you get there and realize that the street is a multi-lane highway. It’s a reminder that a Council member must be creative and tenacious in working with the Department of Transportation to solve persistent problems. On two wheels, you can feel the car drivers treating McDonald Avenue by Greenwood Cemetery or Eighth Avenue near Tiny Scientist like neighborhood highways — and know that we need must reduce speeds and our over-reliance on cars.

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Much more can be done in order to extend the network of bike lanes and bus lanes to make it safe and easy for ages 8 to 80 to get to schools, local businesses, and outdoor public spaces. We must focus on enforcement and design solutions on the most dangerous intersections.

As a parent who biked my older daughter from Park Slope to Carroll Gardens for pre-school, then took my twins by bike, subway, or bus into Sunset Park for their pre-K year, I wanted to see whether I’d feel safe biking, or having my kids bike, to schools around the district — to P.S. 230, P.S. 130, P.S. 32, The Children’s School, Brooklyn New School and others. Many schools aren’t easily accessible by bike. If we committed to giving middle- and high-school students safe ways to bike to school — a goal of advocates — we’d need an ambitious and equitable expansion of our bike lanes and infrastructure in every neighborhood.  (My three elementary school-age daughters want to try biking to school, which is uphill from our home, the wrong way on a one-way street. We are negotiating.)

In my past work in parks, culture, parent organizing, and community building, I’ve always sought to create those shared spaces that allow us to emerge from our homes and live in public, where strangers become neighbors and neighbors become friends.

In every neighborhood, I’ve witnessed how residents have fought valiantly to create open, green, shared and public spaces. Volunteers plant community gardens; local advocates maintain pocket parks, transform traffic triangles into sitting areas, and establish playgrounds under elevated train tracks. Dead-end streets become make-shift basketball courts; building courtyards echo with children’s laughter. Our stoop culture has found new meaning during the pandemic. These supplement district gems, including Prospect Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park, and our beloved playgrounds.

Here’s a slideshow of our ride with Krebs:

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But I also see how we can do more. We must map our neighborhoods to enable everyone to enjoy to well-maintained, accessible, public space. We can open closed schoolyards and add functional play spaces so every kid can walk to a playground. We can support the community gardens and pocket parks and turn more vacant lots into beautiful places to breathe and gather. We can invest in our Main Streets to create opportunities for more outdoor seating, outdoor performances and permanent outdoor dining — including open streets that are staffed and funded in every neighborhood and pedestrian-first zones.

Having biked about 100 miles, I have 20 to go. If you see me riding by, wave me down! If you want to show me something about bike lanes, parks, open space, Main Streets, schools, buses or anything else, drop me a note. If you want to get together to talk about our neighborhoods — or anything else — I’m always ready.

Of course, if you’d like to hop on a bike, join me! Just know that, while we won’t be taking the most efficient route from Maimonides to Pier 6, we’ll surely enjoy the ride.

Justin Krebs is the co-founder of The Tank, a performance venue, and a candidate for City Council in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @justinmkrebs. Streetsblog covered his campaign here.

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