I hate being on the same side of any issue as Borough President Marty Markowitz, who is derisively known as the "Clown Prince" of Brooklyn, and Senator Charles Schumer, but in the ongoing Great Brooklyn Bike War, the enemy of my enemy, an arrogant Mayor Michael Bloomberg, becomes my ally (at least temporarily).
In June 2010, the New York City Department of Transportation opened a two-way, 19-block, approximately one mile long, reserved bike lane along side the western border of Brooklyn's Prospect Park. To do this, it narrowed Prospect Park West from three lanes to two. Bloomberg's DOT claims it created the bike lane to cut down on speeding motorists and to reduce the number of collisions involving bikes and cars. But if the DOT actually cared about the cyclists, it would not end the path abruptly and dump them into the middle of auto traffic at the highly congested Grand Army Plaza traffic circle.
Rival sides have faced off in a series of protests. Senator Schumer, who lives alongside the park and likes to cycle himself, has challenged the reserved bike lane. Schumer's wife, Iris Weinshall, a former head of Bloomberg's DOT, is part of a group, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, threatening to sue the city to force adjustments. Borough President Markowitz spoke out against the bike lane at a public hearing. Two other proposed bike lanes in the Park Slope neighborhood that abuts Prospect Park are now on hold because of the controversy.
Unfortunately, Bloomberg's highhandedness and an ideologically driven DOT have contributed to increased opposition to bike lanes in the other boroughs. In Staten Island, Republican Councilmembers James Oddo and Vincent Ignizio have proposed that all bike lane projects in New York City be subject to lengthy environmental impact review.
Up until now, public hearings over proposed bike lanes have ignored speakers and rubber-stamped decisions that were already made. A DOT report on the success of the Prospect Park bike path lauded the fact that cars were now traveling slower on the block, but sidestepped complaints that this actually reflected mega-traffic jams. There is a senior residence, a school, a bandstand, a movie theater, and church on Prospect Park West, which means there is a lot of drop-off and pick-up going on that blocks traffic. School buses also double-park when they drop school trips off to use the park.
I am an avid cyclist, both for recreation and transportation. I bike in Prospect Park and the surrounding neighborhoods as much as possible. I bike to stores to shop and to the green market. When I visit local schools I travel by bike. I have ridden in the Five Borough Bike Tour every year since 1990 and I have completed the September New York Century three times, although I have participated many more times than that. I bike to end the war, to stop disease, and to save the environment. I like to bike. I am a member of Transportation Alternatives, the group lobbying for more bike lanes and closed bikeways in New York City, and I support the idea. But I do not support the new bike lane along Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. It does not make sense, and it is not safe.
Let me confess I also drive a car and walk on the streets. The Bloomberg DOT Department of Transportation claims it built the bikeway and narrowed Prospect Park West from three lanes to two to promote cycling and calm driving. But whenever I have used the bikeway, at least two or three times a week, I am one of the few cyclists on the path. For most of December, January, and February, I was the only one.
Meanwhile cars are backing up, drivers are getting edgy, and tempers are flaring. They may drive slower on Prospect Park West, they have no other choice, but drivers will take out their heightened craziness as soon as they see clear space, I know that I do. And while there are not that many bikes on the roadway, it is a long straight stretch, the few riders are picking up speed, and it is only a matter of time until a pedestrian, possibly a kid, gets run down while trying to cross the street.
What I really don't understand is why the bike lane does not run through Prospect Park where it would not interfere with traffic or on a fenced-off part of the sidewalk such as it does along Eastern and Ocean Parkways in Brooklyn. If there was some kind of public plan for the park, bike use, and car travel, rather than just pitting people against each other over crowded space, we would all be better off. If Bloomberg and his DOT want to reduce traffic congestion in the neighborhoods surrounding Prospect Park and raise revenue for maintaining the park at the same time, they could build parking garages in the park so drivers would not circulate endlessly looking for spaces and people could leave their cars behind more easily and take the subway to work.
The first Battle for Brooklyn was fought in 1776 between colonial forces and the British. It was fought in the same area that is now Prospect Park. In fact, the American troops may have fled toward the East River along the path of one of the bike lanes. The second Battle for Brooklyn was fought to try to stop the Ratner arena on Flatbush and Atlantic and his attempt to gobble up all of downtown Brooklyn's real estate. The housing bubble burst ultimately halted the real estate grab although the new home for the Brooklyn Nets is now under construction. The third Battle for Brooklyn, the Great Brooklyn Bike War, is still picking up steam.