The Prospect Park West bike lane lawsuit has arrived, inciting a modern-day Battle of Brooklyn on the same grounds that George Washington once fought for freedoms of a different kind.
Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety, two groups of residents opposing the two-way, parking-protected bike lane on Prospect Park West, have filed suit to have the bike lanes removed, according to court documents filed late this afternoon in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
In the suit, the groups refer to the bike lane as “experimental” and claim that the “configuration requires pedestrians to walk across inconsistent traffic patterns with limited visibility.”
The suit, which is grounded in the legal right to appeal government actions that are either arbitrary or unfair, goes on to claim that the Department of Transportation not only manipulated data on the lanes, but worked with cycling advocates in order to skew anti-lane campaigns.
The lane was controversially installed last June, and in January the DOT having effectively reduced speeding and accidents, among other things, according to a DOT study. Additionally, in a separate, independent last year, Councilmember Brad Lander found that the majority of Park Slope residents indeed support the bike lane.
"This project has clearly delivered the benefits the community asked for. Speeding is down dramatically, crashes are down, injuries are down and bike ridership has doubled on weekends and tripled on weekdays," said Department of Transportation spokesperson Seth Solomonow in a statement responding to the lawsuit.
NBBL and Seniors for Safety, however, have consistently argued that speeding cyclists on Prospect Park West have in fact decreased pedestrian safety on Prospect Park West. They have also argued that removing one lane of traffic to accommodate the bike lanes has increased traffic, honking and air pollution.
Last month, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety demanding that the bike lanes be either moved within the park or redesigned as a one-way bike lane without parking protection.
At the time, the groups’ pro-bono attorney, Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, expressed that they were seeking a meeting with the Department of Transportation within the next two weeks to discuss concerns about the lanes.
“Much has been said about a potential legal action; we hope not to be forced to bring one,” Walden said in the statement.
Group members include Iris Weinshall, the former city transportation commissioner and wife of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Norman Steisel, the former deputy mayor under Mayor Edward Koch, among others. Borough President Marty Markowitz, though not a member of NBBL, has also been an of the lane.
Though neither group nor their attorney responded to a call for comment, in an interview last week Louise Hainline, President of NBBL, urged that “a park-based route is both safer and more acceptable and more pleasant.”
“We’re not against bike lanes, we say that every time we start speaking,” said Hainline. “There has been very little discussion of what we have proposed as options. If this was a rational discussion, we would have discussed options.”
Hainline said that a one-way bike lane on Prospect Park West with a second one-way lane on Eighth Avenue would be a “marginally acceptable” alternative to ditching the Prospect Park West bike lane altogether. She attributed the idea to a 2007 Community Board 6 proposal, though no proposal with any mention of an Eighth Avenue bike lane exists.
If the DOT does eventually decide to remove the lane, the agency has said its removal would cost three times as much as its installation.
"It's a real shame that two groups that claim a total membership of 215 people would go to such extraordinary lengths to try to eradicate a bike path that's used by 10 times that many people on a nice day, that's contributed to a 75 percent reduction in speeding, and is supported by the vast majority of people in the neighborhood," said Eric McClure, a co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors and advocate of the lanes.
This Thursday, Community Board 6 will convene for yet another hearing on the Prospect Park West bike l ane. The meeting will discuss the modifications that the Department of Transportation proposed to the bike lanes back in January, as well as other modifications suggested by the community.
“It feels like a slap in the face to the vast majority of the neighborhood and to the many people who have yet to express their opinion at Thursday's meeting,” said Doug Gordon, a Slope resident who pens the cycling blog Brooklyn Spoke. “They have complained about not being a part of the public process, but the lawsuit, such as it comes just days before a public hearing most people knew was coming, reveals a lot to me about how they feel about the public process.”
Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokesperson for the New York City Law Department, said that the city is currently thoroughly reviewing the documents. The city will then issue a response to the complaint.