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Cycle of Rage

311 is a Joke: DOT Is Perfectly OK With a Blocked Bike Lane in Downtown Brooklyn

8:01 AM EDT on July 13, 2021

This construction on Johnson Street in Downtown Brooklyn puts westbound cyclists in the direct line of eastbound car traffic. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It's just a simple one-block protected bike lane, but the fact that it is filled with construction debris instead of providing a safe route to the Brooklyn Bridge is a pretty good latest example that we have entered late-stage de Blasio.

First, the basics: The Department of Transportation built a two-way protected bike lane on Johnson Street in Downtown Brooklyn several years ago so that cyclists heading to or from the Brooklyn Bridge would not have to ride on dangerous Tillary Street. The bike lane links a protected lane in the median of Adams Street to a protected lane on Jay Street.

Earlier this summer, construction crews hired by the New York City College of Technology started ripping up the sidewalk of Johnson Street, but they did not provide safe passage for cyclists — which is required by a 2019 city law, a law that is touted on the DOT's own website.

"Contractors failing to follow the stipulations will be subject to summons," the DOT said at the time.

It may not look treacherous from the picture at the top of this story opinion piece, but bridge-bound cyclists have to swerve into on-coming traffic on a narrow street where the DOT allows drivers to park their cars. Drivers turning onto Johnson Street from Adams Street aren't expecting cyclists coming towards them in their lane, either.

So we reported the illegal construction to the DOT via the city's very flawed 311 system on July 6 at 1:08 p.m. Here's what the construction zone looked like at that time:

The day of the 311 complaint. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The day of the 311 complaint. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The next morning at 8:06 a.m., we received the following email from 311: "The Department of Transportation will inspect the condition and will determine the next action." We were pleased.

But at 9:18 a.m., we received the following bad news: "The Department of Transportation inspected the condition you reported and found that the condition meets its standards and/or there is a valid permit to conduct work." This is not true.

Maybe the DOT did inspect the site in the one hour and 12 minutes between those two emails. But if it did, it was a fake inspection that inspected nothing. (In fairness to any DOT inspector, the permits, which are supposed to be displayed in public, were, in fact, on a corkboard hidden off in a corner behind some debris. A security guard came over when I took pictures and was in full support of our investigation. "You gotta do your job!" he told me, whereupon we started comparing injuries we had sustained while cycling on New York City's dangerous streets, which was a delight to both of us, but neither of our meniscuses. Still, the permits are supposed to be properly displayed, no matter how nice the security guard is.)

If you climb through the debris, you will find that there is a valid permit for the work, which gives the permit holder,  Pro Con Group, "OCCUPANCY OF ROADWAY" permission. But the permit also stipulates that the construction company must "comply with all applicable laws, rules and specifications of the NYC DOT," and those laws include the requirement that construction crews provide safe passage for cyclists.

“Contractors need to know that the sidewalks and streets in front of such projects need to remain safe and completely passable for all users, including cyclists," then-DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said after Council Member Carlina Rivera's maintenance and protection of bike lanes bill passed.

The DOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gersh Kuntzman is editor of Streetsblog. When he gets real angry, he writes the Cycle of Rage column. Archives are here.

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