Long-Awaited Upgrades Finally Coming to Schermerhorn Street, DOT Says

Police employee-owned vehicles fill the bike lane on Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Police employee-owned vehicles fill the bike lane on Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The city will finally redesign Schermerhorn Street, a notoriously lawless stretch of roadway in Downtown Brooklyn that features the triumvirate of roadway chaos: placard-abusing cops parking in bike lanes, double-parked trucks unloading and taxi drivers idling as they await customers from multiple city facilities.

For now, details are very light, but buried in a Community Board 2 e-mail alert for Thurday’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee meeting was the first bit of good news on Schermerhorn Street since Michael Jackson filmed a music video in an abandoned subway station there: DOT will present some ideas for the key route linking the “green wave” route on Bond Street and the protected lane on Jay Street. The plan apparently includes:

  • Schermerhorn Street would become one way between Smith Street and Third Avenue.
  • The roadway would get a two-way protected bike lane between Boerum Place and Third Avenue.
  • The remaining painted bicycle lane between Boerum Place and Clinton Street would move to the south side of the street.
  • There will be additional pedestrian improvements.
Council Member Stephen Levin. Photo: Elizabeth Graham/Brooklyn Paper
Council Member Stephen Levin way back when. Photo: Elizabeth Graham/Brooklyn Paper

Since January, 2015, there have been 555 reported crashes on Schermerhorn Street — just .9 miles between Clinton Street and Flatbush Avenue — injuring 124 people, including to 30 cyclists and 38 pedestrians, and killing one pedestrian, according to Crash Mapper

DOT declined to answer follow-up questions about the project, saying only that the agency is eager to get to work redesigning such a perilous street. 

“We’re excited to engage the community board on this holistic approach to address traffic and bicycle safety on Schermerhorn Street,” said Vincent Barone, a spokesperson for DOT.

It’s been a long time coming. Ever since former Brooklyn Council Member Steve Levin entered office in 2010, he and advocates have been trying to fix Schermerhorn Street, where officers from the 84th Precinct and Transit Bureau 30 stash their private cars, in the bike lane and on the sidewalk — but to no avail.

In January, 2020, Levin told Streetsblog that he was “committed to fixing” Schermerhorn Street by the time he left office. Part of his proposed solution was to actually give the NYPD parking — he said the city should give cops at least a dozen existing non-dangerous parking spots to finally get police assigned to Transit Bureau 30 to stop parking their private cars in the Schermerhorn Street bike lane.

The roadway is a mess not only because of placard abusers from the NYPD (who harassed a cyclist after he reported the cops for illegally parking there). Trucks frequently double park in the bike lane at a supermarket at the corner of Hoyt Street. And taxis frequently double park and idle as they await or drop off passengers at multiple agencies, including a city Human Resources Administration office and offices of the state Labor Department and Unemployment Insurance.

“I think most of us had given up any hope of meaningful progress on Schermerhorn Street,” said Brian Howald, an activist and member of the committee.

It’s such a notorious stretch that a Twitter user posted a $100 challenge in November seeking any cyclist who could make it the full length of the very short roadway without being pushed out into traffic. No one has claimed the prize, which seems as unlikely as anyone breaking Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

Levin, of course, is now out of public service and in the private sector, yet still no changes had come to fruition. His successor, Lincoln Restler told Streetsblog on Monday that he’s excited because “getting this has been a top priority across the district.”

But the devil is in the details, said Howald. DOT must properly protect cyclists in the bike lane with proper sturdy equipment like jersey barriers, not flimsy flexible delineators such as what’s currently on Grand Street in Williamsburg.  (DOT has promised to provide upgrades.)

“Whether this is something to praise depends on the details. What we don’t want is another Grand Street, where protection is non-existent or easily circumvented,” said Howald. 

But Jon Orcutt of Bike New York hailed the progress, at least — so long as the design actually prevents cops and other drivers from parking in the bike lane.

“I think this is good! Agreed the details are key, but with the street becoming one-way, that should provide enough space to make the bike lane parking-protected,” said Orcutt. “Part of the idea of doing a parking-protected bikeway along the south side of the street may be to make it less accessible/desirable for the local cops to park in and block it.”

Levin, who heard about the plan from Streetsblog, said he wished it could have happened sooner, but was pleased it was moving forward at all. 

“Looks exciting. If it’s done in a way where it is operating the same way that protected lanes operate, where (cars) can’t veer into the lane, then I would hope it would be successful,” said Levin.

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