Prospect Park West Bike Lane Opponents Knew Their Lawsuit Was Doomed But Sued Anyway

10/05/2011 11:19 AM |

The endlessly contested bike lane.

  • The endlessly contested bike lane.

This should hardly come as a surprise given how quickly their lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality before the meat of their beef could be chewed on, but the litigious opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane were perfectly aware of the dubiousness of their claims.

As Streetsblog reports, parsing through court documents, meeting minutes and official communications, the bike lane’s opponents were aware that their suit had very little chance of ever being successful on at least two counts.

In the first place, their claim that the Department of Transportation’s decision to install the lane after the local community board repeatedly asked it to merited a more thorough review process due to its proximity to landmarked structures and districts. As the lawsuit stated:

Because Prospect Park West touches not one but two sites that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, New York State and City law demands careful study of various environmental impacts.

The city’s lawyers pointed out that while both sides of PPW are landmarked, the roadway is not, a fact of which Louise Hainline, president of the group that filed the lawsuit, stated she was aware as early as August 2010—or about a year before the lawsuit was dismissed. That fact didn’t dissuade her cohort, former deputy mayor Norman Steisel, who wrote to Hainline at the time:

Doesn’t matter that landmarks has no jurisdiction they are kindered spirits along with art comm and cpc types. Bottom line need authorstive voice to say bloomberg legacy will be besmirched by altering this historic street.

Wait, when did this become a question of Bloomberg’s mayoral legacy?

The more practical problem of which the lane’s opponents were very aware, the one that eventually got their case thrown out, is that by waiting as long as they did to file their lawsuit they let expire the city’s deadline for protesting such permanent public works as bike lanes. As a result they had to make the dubious claim that the Department of Transportation was mistaken, that their concrete and paint re-design of Prospect Park West was just a pilot project. But they knew they’d missed the boat.

Jessica Schumer, the law student daughter of Iris Weinshall—one of the lane’s opponents—who worked on the case in the summer of 2010 wrote an email at the time to her mother and other members of the group filing the lawsuit, alerting them to their fast-closing window of opportunity to file:

The NY court’s are very strict in their applicaiton of statute of limitations in Article 78 proceedings. We need a lawyer to start drafting the motion ASAP.

Still the suit wasn’t filed until March of 2011. And all that despite Hainline’s doubts that the lane was ever referred to as a trial. In an August 2010 email to borough president Marty Markowitz’s chief of staff Carlo Scissura she wrote:

Can you fill me in on what was said or not said by DOT about the matter of this installation being a trial? I’ve look at everything I can find Sadik-Khan or her people have said about this bike lane and can’t find anything that indicates they publically said the installation was only a trial. [..] Do you or Marty know what if DOT has actually said anything publically about the trial, what it would consist of and/or when it would be over? At this point, all we have is second or third hand accounts of the existence of some kind of trial.

And that’s all there ever was, eventually leading to the lawsuit’s dismissal and further improvements to one of the best bike lanes in the city.

One Comment

  • I knew it. The Anti-Bike-Lane people were contradicting themselves from the start;
    First they said No One was using the Bike Lane, then they said they couldn’t cross the Bike Lane without getting nearly hit by a Bicycle. An utter contradiction.