2009-01-04 – New Bike Lanes Touch Off Row – NY Times

New Bike Lanes Touch Off Row in Brooklyn
The New York Times
January 4, 2009


New York City has created more than 100 miles of bicycle lanes in recent years to encourage and accommodate the number of people who, compelled by a desire to preserve the environment or preserve their bank accounts, have taken to getting around on two wheels.

But the effort to turn the city into a place that embraces bicyclists has clashed with a long-entrenched reality — New York is a crowded, congested urban landscape where every patch of asphalt is coveted.

The latest illustration of this reality — and among the more contentious — is playing out on the Brooklyn waterfront, where bike lanes less than two miles long have set off a verbal battle among a growing cast of interested parties, including business owners, residents, bicyclists and their advocates, and politicians.

The city’s Department of Transportation painted 1.75 miles of bike lanes on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg last fall, the first step of an ambitious plan to create a 14-mile bicycle and pedestrian path stretching from Greenpoint to Sunset Park and separated from vehicles by medians filled with grass or shrubs.

The lanes follow the East River shoreline from the southern edge of Greenpoint to Division Avenue, a few blocks from the Williamsburg Bridge, passing construction sites, parking lots, a lumberyard, the Zafir Jewish Center for Special Education, and Schaefer Landing, a luxury residential development with a 26-story tower.

While the plan, called the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, has been praised by civic groups and transportation advocates, the bike lanes have been roundly panned by some residents who complain that they have eliminated hard-to-find parking spaces, forcing people to park farther from their homes and making it difficult for local businesses to get deliveries.

Leo Moskowitz, who lives in Schaefer Landing, said he has young children whom he frequently ferries around town by car. “Before, there were 100 parking spaces in front of our building, and now there are none,” he said. “I drop my children off three blocks away if I’m lucky enough to find a space.”

Other opponents question why the city carved out bike lanes along both the northbound and southbound sides of Kent Avenue when there are bike lanes on nearby streets.

Much of the debate over the Kent Avenue bike lanes has been carried out in public, pitting defenders of neighborhood self-determination against those who say the public interest must sometimes be more broadly defined. There have been heated meetings and fissures among community board members. Opinions have been expressed on blogs and in competing press releases using lofty rhetoric.

“The city sees green, the business owners see red, the parkers see orange, and the community is in code blue,” said Isaac Abraham, a critic of the bike lanes who lives in Williamsburg and plans to run for the City Council. “Whoever planned this should have an examination done.”

Times Up, an environmental group that promotes nonpolluting transportation, countered with a statement of solidarity with the bicyclists of Brooklyn: “An injury to one bike lane is an injury to all bike lanes.” The group also announced a promotional program called Love Your Bike Lane that is scheduled to begin on Valentine’s Day.

Both admirers and detractors of the lanes have spread their messages in unorthodox ways.

In December, several bicyclists, dressed as circus clowns rode, along Kent Avenue, handing out fake tickets to drivers parked in the bike lanes. And more recently, some Williamsburg residents erected a large plywood sign in a parking lot overlooking Kent Avenue that said “Detour Route” and recommended that drivers use Wythe Avenue — one block away — because of “the bike lane and parking problem.”

The sign also stated that school buses would intentionally block the street and bike lanes in the area while picking up and dropping off schoolchildren.

The grievances may be reaching receptive ears. Several officials, including City Council members David Yassky and Diana Reyna, who both represent parts of Williamsburg, and Marty Markowitz, the borough president, signed a letter in December asking the Department of Transportation to change the lanes.

“We respectfully ask that D.O.T. remove the newly installed ‘No Stopping’ signs from the east side of Kent Avenue and that you paint over the northbound bike lane until such time as an appropriate community-endorsed solution can be developed,” the letter stated.

Agency officials said that the lanes would remain, but that some No Stopping signs would be replaced with No Standing signs to allow cars to drop off and pick up passengers.

The agency also expects to soon create more than 70 parking spaces in the neighborhood, and it has already approved a pickup and drop-off zone in front of the Zafir Jewish Center and a loading zone in front of a local business.

Arguments over the lanes have also roiled Community Board 1, which represents the area. Last spring, board members voted 39 to 2 to endorse the Greenway project and the painted lanes. But that strong support appeared to fracture when one community board member, Evan Thies, signed the Yassky letter to the Transportation Department.

In a second letter to the agency, Vincent V. Abate, the chairman of the community board, and Gerald A. Esposito, the district manager, suggested that the city reconfigure Kent Avenue to allow both parking and a bike lane.

Teresa Toro, the chairwoman of the board’s transportation committee, said she had objected to board members writing letters using board titles or stationery while expressing personal opinions that had not been put to a vote. Afterward, she said, Mr. Abate told her she could no longer serve as committee chairwoman. Mr. Abate declined to discuss the issue with a reporter. “I just cannot divulge any information about that situation right now,” he said.

On a recent afternoon on Kent Avenue near South 11th Street, private school buses stopped in bike lanes to allow children to disembark. A driver, Martin Lax, said he did not like the lanes because he feared a rider whizzing by might hit a child.

But Megan Talley, an artist from Park Slope who was riding a white, single-speed bike north on Kent Avenue, said safety concerns made the bike lanes essential. “Watch how fast these drivers are going on this street,” she said. “They’re big and they have protection, and I don’t.”

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