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Eyes on the Street

Too Green: City Neglects Overgrown Bike Paths

There’s too much green on these greenways. 

2:56 PM EDT on August 17, 2023

The Kent Avenue bike lane has become dangerously narrow. Photo: Jonah Schwarz

Greenways are overgrowing in Brooklyn.

Plants along two busy borough bikeways have grown so out of control that cyclists are at risk of running into each other on narrowed paths.

Unkempt vegetation has intruded into the much-used two-way bike lane on Kent Avenue between Clymer and Williamsburg streets in South Williamsburg, rendering the lane wide enough for just one rider at a time at certain sections.

It would not take much to fix the problem, noted one rider on that stretch Tuesday.

"They should maintain [it] so bikers who use it don't get whacked and don't need to ride in the middle of the lanes," said Williamsburg resident Tom Buck.

The decorative plantings have also overtaken the stretch of greenway on Second Avenue along the Brooklyn Army Terminal Sunset Park that opened to riders last year, with one person on social media calling it a "weed jungle."

A recent video of Second Avenue showed just how bad it's gotten: At some locations half of the path is entirely impassable due to overgrowth, according to to clip provided to Streetsblog by John Tomac of the group Bike South Brooklyn.

The Second Avenue greenway at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Video: John Tomac

The city Department of Transportation manages both Brooklyn paths, though most other greenways around the city are under the Parks Department.

DOT spokesman Scott Gastel declined to give a specific timeline for when the agency might trim the plantings beyond saying that the agency will “address” them “in the near future." (Council Member Lincoln Restler later tweeted that the trimming would happen "next week.")

Advocates urged the city to get to it — saying the shrubs make the otherwise-great greenway unsafe.

"In some spots there’s hardly enough room for one cyclist,” said Kathy Park Price, a Brooklyn organizer with Transportation Alternatives who also had to fend for space on a recent ride through Kent. “Riding the greenway is generally pleasant, but on those narrow gaps — especially at night — you see headlights coming and you brace yourself.”

A whopping 106,162 people rode on just on just one block of Kent in July about a mile to the north between N. Eighth and N. Ninth streets, more than 140 people an hour, according to DOT counts. Yet one frequent rider said he hasn't seen the city come in and cut back the brush once this year.

“They put in flowers over the spring it was really nice, but now it’s just sort of overgrown,” said Andrew Matsuoka, a Fort Greene-based software engineer and also a volunteer with Transportation Alternatives. “I don’t think I’ve seen it trimmed this year.” 

DOT is not alone in mismanaging key bike infrastructure.

Parks routinely lets its asphalt paths deteriorate for years — and then hires contractors to do poor patch-job repairs. Its greenways are often the only safe routes for cyclists in large swaths of the city, such as the dilapidated Ocean Parkway in southern Brooklyn or the Hudson River Greenway in uptown Manhattan.

Advocates urged the Adams administration in a March letter to better maintain the paths by simplifying the confusing mix of agency jurisdictions, and they called out the two greenways as particular problem paths.

“DOT does not appear to have a strong capacity to maintain plantings along the greenways it builds, such as by the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway along the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal,” the letter reads. 

The city should hand over the maintenance of asphalt to DOT — which already oversees the city's streets — let Parks handle all the greenery, and task the Department of Sanitation with snow removal, de-icing, and basic sweeping.

“We want the greenway system to grow and we don’t want this to be an issue every summer,” said Hunter Armstrong, executive director of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, which helped pen the letter. 

Additional reporting by Jonah Schwarz

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