By now, the facts and benefits of the Prospect Park West bike lane are so evident that even those who have never been to Brooklyn can list them by heart: on a street where three out of four drivers were speeding, only one in five does today; cars traveling at slower speeds will mean fewer and less severe accidents; and a protected, two-way bike lane has caused ridership on Prospect Park West to surge. With car speeds lower, crossing distances shorter and cyclists no longer riding on the sidewalk, pedestrians are safer.
Over 70 percent of the community supports the project – about as high an approval one could expect to get on any issue in Brooklyn. It’s an amazing endorsement for something that, on its surface, involves little more than green paint and a row of parked cars, but in fact took four years of hard work from local civic groups, Brooklyn’s Community Board 6, Councilmembers Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, and many others.
So while it may sell newspapers to depict Park Slope as a neighborhood torn asunder by a battle between bikers and drivers, the truth is that the controversy has been needlessly and endlessly trumped up by a tiny group with tony addresses and political connections as deep as their wallets. Unhappy with what they saw from their windows last spring they banded together to get rid of the new bike lane. With a cynicism and media savvy that would have made George Orwell proud, they called themselves Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.
Then they decided to sue.
Nominally, the target of NBBL’s Article 78 lawsuit is the Department of Transportation, but it might as well be neighborhood itself. If a judge rules in NBBL’s favor, years of work by local civic groups and the will of the community will have been overturned. Prospect Park West would revert to its previous status as a three-lane speedway, exposing the community to the very dangers that necessitated the reconfiguration in the first place.
Not only that, a victory for NBBL would set a dangerous precedent, enabling tiny, wealthy, politically powerful special interest groups to flood City Hall with lawsuits over the most miniscule of issues. Don’t like the new speed bump on your block? Form Neighbors for Better Speed Bumps and sue. Wish there weren’t so many kids at the playground down the street? Join Neighbors for Better Playgrounds and accuse the Parks Department of fudging its data on swing set accidents. It won’t matter if your case has merit – the mere fact that you sued will be enough to get you news coverage.
Despite NBBL’s legal machinations, the overwhelming community appreciation for this vital traffic-calming project continues to grow. Over 350 supporters packed last week’s CB6 hearing, and 86 of them, from seven-year-olds to senior citizens, signed up to extol the positive effects the current Prospect Park West has had on the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes could only muster eleven people to speak against it. One of those eleven, NBBL president Louise Hainline, warned, “This is going to get enormously tiring, these meetings and lawsuits and complaints.” But many believe their arguments grew tired a long time ago.
NBBL has thrown everything against the wall to make its case, from a video of an ambulance using the bike lane as a traffic-free express route to vague claims of increased pollution and poor aesthetics. Nothing has stuck. Channeling Yogi Berra, they claim the bike lane is unnecessary because no one uses it, but that people are afraid of crossing it for fear that they will be run over by the many cyclists using the bike lane. They argue that the new configuration has made parking difficult and dangerous, as if it was abundant and easy in the era BBL – Before Bike Lanes. Some members have even bemoaned having to look both ways before crossing the street.
NBBL’s latest attempt to remove the bike lane is labeled a “compromise,” but it’s anything but, unless you define compromise as turning back the clock and putting a third lane of traffic on Prospect Park West. Additionally, they have called for a Class II bike lane, which is little more than two lines painted on the pavement between parked cars and traffic. Nevertheless, the community should thank Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, since this proposal at last reveals what they consider to be a better bike lane: a place where drivers can conveniently double park.
When my wife and I take our 16-month-old daughter to the farmer’s market or to the library, we know we’re safer than ever before as we cross to Grand Army Plaza. We, along with countless other families who drive, walk, ride the bus and bike in the neighborhood, believe there is no better bike lane than the one on Prospect Park West. And we have the facts and immense community support to back us up.
Whatever may happen in Kings County Supreme Court, what’s happening on Prospect Park West represents the full potential of city life, where a safe and more pleasant boulevard has given people another reason to love the neighborhood. Taking a cue from that kind of community spirit, I only hope that Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes will learn to be better neighbors.
Doug Gordon is a member of Park Slope Neighbors.