Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bay Ridge Parkway Bike Lane Shot Down by Community Board. Again.

Posted By on Tue, May 17, 2011 at 10:41 AM

Transportation Alternatives Representative with Chairperson Joanne Seminara
  • Transportation Alternatives Representative with Chairperson Joanne Seminara
A motion effectively to reconsider a bike lane on Bay Ridge Parkway was shot down by Community Board 10 at its general meeting last night. The board, whose position is only advisory, voted by a wide margin not to reconsider its original lack of support for such a lane, which it'd voiced in June of 2010.

Fifteen cyclist advocates came to address the board (including my girlfriend and I), the vast majority of them members of the community; several more offered support from the crowd. No one came to speak against the bike lane. Because of the large number of public speakers, their remarks were limited to one minute each. When the board's chair, Joanne Seminara, announced the unusually high number of speakers, a board member in the crowd groaned, "Get rid of 'em! They're trouble."

Instead of making trouble, the fifteen spoke politely and reasonably about the health and safety benefits that bike lanes bring to everyone in the commmunity. They were met with measured applause from the rear, where cyclist advocates, wearing neon stickers supplied by Transporation Alternatives representatives, congregated, as well as snide mutterings from those in front, where the members of the community board sat.

"I'm embarrassed," one community board member later told his colleagues, "that we rejoice—some communities rejoice when they get a bike lane."

The chair of the traffic and transportation committee, Doris Cruz, recapped the board's history with this bike lane: in Spring 2010, the Department of Transportation told the community board it would install a bike lane on Bay Ridge Parkway, as well as add to and widen existing lanes on Colonial and Shore roads. DOT told the board this was happening and it had no input. (The board's input technically came during the creation of a "Master Plan" back in the 1990s.) The board took a vote, anyway, to express its opposition to such a plan over safety concerns. It also sent a letter to DOT asking for more information, as well as the opportunity to discuss alternatives. DOT never responded to this letter.

After inclement winter weather delayed the installation of the lane, several elected officials—Councilmen Vincent Gentile and Dominic Recchia, Assemblymen Peter Abbate and Alex Brook-Krasny—met with the DOT, which then took the Bay Ridge Parkway bike lane off the table. (A representative of Abbate's at the meeting said that the assemblyman was not pro-car, as he felt the Brooklyn Paper had portrayed him, and was open to considering the opinions of everyone in his community.)

Cruz added that the neighborhoods represented by Community Board 10—Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights—do not have strong bicycle cultures like other bike-lane neighborhoods, such as Cobble Hill. She said the DOT needs to campaign aggressively to teach drivers about "dooring" and cyclists "that red means stop and green means go." She also said the board was not opposed to all bike lanes, just this particular one, and that they were willing to listen to ideas for alternate routes, such as perhaps on 71st Street (which, like Bay Ridge Parkway, cuts across the highway). As a courtesy, the transportation committee met earlier this month with Transportation Alternatives, which Cruz characterized as a great and friendly exchange of ideas.

Bob Cassara, a member of the transportation committee recently featured in the Brooklyn Paper article that started this stink, used Cruz's recap of the meeting to raise a motion to reconsider the Bay Ridge Parkway bike lane. A long debate ensued, about bicycles but primarily about parliamentary procedure—whether such a motion could even be voted upon since they already had voted on it in June. (Board member Allen Bortnick thought this was "crazy". "Times change," he said. "People change.")

It was finally decided that, according to the laws that govern community board operations, a motion to rescind the motion passed in June 2010 could be brought before the full board. Cassarra made the motion, which Jeannie May seconded; eight members voted in favor, including Steve Harrison and Robert Hudock; it was voted against by too many hands to count.

During the unusually long and spirited debate, Hudock spoke eloquently about the benefits of bike lanes—about how cities with more bike lanes have less obesity and diabetes, how American cities have the highest rates of bike fatalities in the world. He said he felt many members of the board felt like the issue was about the government imposing a way of life on them, "political correctness run amok," but that that wasn't true.

Among opponents, one suggested bicyclists be licensed and pay insurance; another asked if anyone had statistics on how many accidents cyclists cause to pedestrians, because once a bicyclist rode by her very fast, and it was scary. ("You were jaywalking!" someone shouted.)

"Clearly this motion's not going to pass," Hudock said, and asked if they could ask DOT to come and discuss alternatives. Board chair Seminara said that letter had already been sent. And DOT had ignored it.

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