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Ossé: Bedford Ave. Bike Lane is Stuck in DOT’s ‘Community Engagement’ Purgatory

"Over the past couple weeks [the DOT] has been saying that they need to do more community engagement on the issue," the Council member said of the much-discussed project.

Photo: Dave Colon|

Council Member Chi Ossé addresses a crowd demanding a protected bike lane on Bedford Avenue.

A Brooklyn Council member says the Department of Transportation told him its proposed protected bike lane on Bedford Avenue is delayed so the agency can conduct more "community engagement" on the much-vetted project.

Council Member Chi Ossé broke the bad news on Saturday at a rally on Bedford Avenue and Dean Street that was convened to urge the DOT to install the protected bike lane that was promised last year.

"Over the past couple weeks [the DOT] has been saying that they need to do more community engagement on the issue," Ossé said, adding that plenty of engagement has already been done: last year, DOT pitched its plans to Community Boards 3 and 8, including an in-person meeting for CB3.

"They brought this to the community board and there was an outpouring of support for this protected bike lane," Ossé said. "If they want to speak to more people about how much they want more street safety within this community, then bring it on because we're going to make sure that this protected bike lane comes to our communities."

When the agency presented the project to CB3 last April, DOT bike unit senior project manager Lauren Renée said the bike lane would be installed in the second half of 2023.

But it was not.

And last November, Ossé blasted the agency for telling him that the bike lane would maybe get installed by April this year. But now there's no firm timeline; Bedford Avenue was not mentioned in the DOT's streets plan update this year, further suggesting that opponents inside City Hall are sandbagging the life-saving project.

The DOT confirmed that it's doing more outreach, but won't say to whom or how long.

"Bedford Avenue is a key north-south corridor in Brooklyn, and a protected bike lane upgrade will fill a key gap in the network and improve safety for everyone, whether you’re walking, biking or traveling by car," said spokesperson Vin Barone. "DOT continues to incorporate feedback received from the community board and additional key stakeholders."

In the meantime, the area remains dangerous. Last year, there were 192 reported crashes on Bedford between Dean and Flushing, injuring 20 cyclists, an increase from the 15 cyclists who were injured on that same stretch in 2022. The design of the bike lane puts cars at the curb and the bike lane next to the left lane of traffic on a three-lane street, which often forces cyclists to pull into the fastest lane of traffic when drivers double park in the bike lane.

"I avoid biking on Bedford, given how unsafe and how problematic the double-parking is," said Terrell Mwetta.

Other rally attendees who brave biking Bedford were baffled as to why the DOT hadn't kept its word about installing the bike lane last year.

"I live right off Bedford and I bike up it a lot, and the bike lane functionally doesn't exist because you have parked cars in it so often," said Ricky Parker. "DOT said they were going to do this last year. [They] just need to get it done."

It's unclear why DOT feels it needs more outreach, given that Ossé won election in part because of his campaign to bring a protected bike lane on Bedford Avenue — and that fellow pols state Sen. Jabari Brisport, Assembly Member Phara Souffrant Forest, Council Member Lincoln Restler, plus community organizations like Good Co. Bike Club, a Black-led bicycling organization, also support the project.

It's ironic that DOT has delayed the project when it has so much community support, given that the agency is often under fire for doing life-saving work in neighborhoods where local electeds are not as helpful politically, which Streetsblog noted after a recent Council hearing.

And older Bedford-Stuyvesant institutions have come out to support the protected bike lane as well. Three local schools and 41 businesses, including the Bed-Stuy Gateway BID, support the project.

"The city is no longer what it used to be," said Dale Charles, the executive director of the BID. "You have to change with the city. You can't leave it to what was back in the '60s, '70s and '80s."

City Hall's call for more "community engagement" is part of an emerging pattern that has delayed or outright killed bus- and bike-lane projects during the Adams administration.

How Streetsblog covered the rogue chain of command.

The mayor had the DOT water down its proposal to put a protected bike lane on McGuinness Boulevard last year after a well-connected Greenpoint business and the Brooklyn Democratic Party chair got the ear of City Hall. And City Hall gave no cover to the DOT as deep-pocketed Bronx businesses wrecked a proposed bus lane on Fordham Road even as the outreach process stretched out over literal years. And the administration allowed opposition from real estate giant Two Trees to remove a key piece of the Ashland Place protected bike lane.

Even basically finished projects have been prone to baffling delays while City Hall sought more outreach as an apparent pretense to undo them. On Underhill Avenue, the mayor's office halted construction on the safety project for six months and ordered the DOT to do more outreach on top of its two years of community engagement. The result of the final round of discussions has never been made public, but the project was finally completed.

An activist pushing for the Bedford Avenue bike lane said the mess on Underhill is an example of City Hall wasting DOT time and resources on a process it had already conducted — all to find out for a second time that people wanted the bike boulevard.

"The organizations that we had represented here [at the rally] show community engagement, from the schools involved to the BID to parents to everyday neighbors to elected officials," said Transportation Alternatives Brooklyn Organizer Kathy Park-Price. "This is a cross section of the community along the whole stretch of Bedford, so let's not delay and imply that there hasn't been community engagement. As we saw on Underhill the door-to-door survey showed exactly what the community engagement had shown before."

Empowering anti-bus and anti-bike NIMBYs has been a central feature of the Adams administration since the mayor took office. That policy has only become more entrenched as veteran bureaucrat Richard Bearak, who doesn't even work at the DOT, has been assigned to oversee street safety projects by Adams's longtime adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin. Adams's critics say he's putting bikelash voting interests ahead of common sense safety projects.

"The DOT has been sidelined by Mayor Adams and Ingrid Lewis-Martin," said Restler (D-Downtown Brooklyn). "Politics are determining our safety. Mayor Adams has decided that he cares more about who he thinks is going to vote for him in 2025 than our lives. That is shameful."

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