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North Brooklyn Seeks Some of that Jersey Barrier Magic on Grand Street

An illegally parked van in the Grand Street bike lane. File photo: Julianne Cuba

North Brooklyn is asking the Department of Transportation to upgrade the Grand Street bike lane into something that lives up to its magnificent name.

In a letter to the DOT sent this week, Transportation Alternatives' North Brooklyn Committee, plus area electeds such as Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, state Senator Julia Salazar, Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, and City Council members Lincoln Restler and Jennifer Gutierrez asked the agency to fulfill the promise of the vital east-west bike connection, something that can only happen if it gets upgraded to an actual protected bike lane.

"The Grand Street bike lane has the potential to be an essential link between communities, but it needs protective jersey barricades and measures taken at each intersection to stop cars from entering the protected bike lane," the signees wrote. "Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before the next preventable death."

Crucially, the signatories want more than just Jersey barriers to replace the easily ignored plastic delineators on the bike lane. The group also asked for the entrances to the bike lane itself to be upgraded, because it's currently plagued with double-parking and construction equipment.

"From day one, the Grand Street bike lane has failed to keep people safe," the letter states. "The implemented plastic delineators have not prevented vehicles or dumpsters from blocking the bike lanes. Illegal double parking in the bike lane creates a dangerous situation for both cyclists and motorists."

As a result of the less-than-grand design, the street has been unsafe. Since 2019, there have been 67 cyclist injuries along Grand Street and 196 reported crashes overall. The letter also points out that the city's own data from the last "Cycling in the City" report [PDF] showed huge increases in trips over the Pulaski and Williamsburg bridges and the Kent Avenue bike lane between 2019 and 2020, meaning that the cruddy design also means that Grand Street is missing out on the bike boom all around it.

DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez and Mayor Adams have a chance to finally end the chaotic saga of the Grand Street bike lane if they make the changes that the elected leaders and activists have asked for, a story that stretches back to before the days of the L train almost shutdown. Activists and then-Council Member Reynoso began pushing for a safer redesign on the street after cyclist Matthew von Ohlen was killed in a hit-and-run in 2016. That campaign stretched into the planning process around the planned closure of the L train tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn, when the bike lanes on the north and south sides of the street were first proposed and then installed as a mitigation measure for transit shutdown.

L train service between boroughs never actually shut down, but the de Blasio administrations kept the bike lanes. Nonetheless, the redesign has been flawed from the very start, to the point where one bike activist once said the city should just scrap the entire project if it wasn't going to design it for safety. The eastbound route, on the south side of Grand, is only protected with plastic delineators that drivers easily can, and do, destroy or park on. The bike lane is also literally wide enough to drive a truck in, a design flaw of which car and truck and even bus drivers have been willing to take advantage, something that can be seen in both agonized tweets and Google Street View images of the area.

The letter comes as the DOT begins to make good on Rodriguez's initial promise to harden half of the city's plastic delineator-protected bike lanes in his first 1oo days in charge of the department. That promise has become a pledge to finish the work of hardening 20 miles of bike lanes by the end of 2023. Five-and-a-half miles of bike lanes have been initially identified by the DOT for hardening, but beyond those first miles the agency said its still looking for where it wants to start putting down barriers.

"We’re working around the clock to harden the bike lanes we’ve already announced and appreciate the support for this important work," said DOT spokesperon Vin Barone. "We are considering locations across the city for future lane hardenings and will have more to share soon."

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