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Finally, a real bike lane for Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
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For the first time in my years as an urban biker, I finally felt safe the other day.

I was on Sands Street between the Navy Yard and the Manhattan Bridge, where the city plunked down some real money — $5 million — to build the first truly protected bike path on a Brooklyn street.

For most of the route from the bridge, high cement barriers prevent cars from even accidentally crossing over into defenseless riders like me. And even when those barriers disappear further east, the lane itself is still raised above the car traffic, affording more protection than all those white lines with the cyclist silhouette that the city has been laying down for the past three years.

All it took was the near-death experience of a fellow pedal-pusher to make it happen.

Back in March, 2005, Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives was riding along the now-safe strip when he hit a pothole and fell head over handlebars.

He didn’t wake up for three days. When he did, he was in the ICU at Bellevue.

“I was near death, depending on whom you ask,” Budnick said after the ribbon cutting on Sands Street. “I fractured my skull — and I was wearing a helmet.”

Budnick isn’t so egotistical to believe that the city created the Sands Street lane just because he nearly died in the same spot, but clearly the crash played a role. The city issued its press release announcing the new protected lane one month after Budnick came out of his coma.

At a ceremony last Friday, Transportation Alternatives employees and supporters were calling the new path “the Budnick bikeway,” but the route’s namesake wasn’t having any of it.

“I’m just gratified that it was built,” he said.

I am, too. After visiting Amsterdam earlier this year in The Bruekelen Paper’s now-legendary fact-finding mission, I had become convinced that Brooklyn cyclists would forever be second-class citizens of the world, where riders, not drivers, enjoy strength in numbers. In Holland, all the lanes are like Sands Street, cars are limited to 18 miles per hour in the city, and no one wears helmets.

But in Brooklyn, the city’s painted bike lanes seem to have been conceived by a back-room bureaucrat named Wilbert Nillee (also known as Willy). Why, for example, is there a bike lane on narrow Fifth Avenue? Or on Jay Street in the heart of Downtown? Or on the left side of Bergen Street when the vast majority of bikers need to make a right turn onto Smith Street to get to one of the two bridges?

For too long, it appeared that very little of this had been truly thought out.

But with Sands Street as a model, the city has begun to get it right.

Too bad Noah Budnick almost had to die for someone to start the process.

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
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Reader Feedback

Gary from Park Slope says:
Left side bike lanes on one way street (like Bergen) keep the bikes on the more visible drivers side and away from bus stops. And while I wish all lanes were as good as the new Budnick bikeway, I am grateful for all the lanes you malign. We need bike lanes on busy streets.
Aug. 13, 2009, 10:39 am
Paco from Cobble Hill says:
thanks for recognizing the great new lane Brooklyn Paper, but i think you're still missing the point when you criticize Bergen streets' lane (which Gary points out the rationale for, above). Even more so when you talk about Jay st and 5th ave. yes, they're both busy but they're direct route that cyclists need to get from point A to B. and yes, 5th is narrow, but wide enough for the bike lane and a lane of cars,... if they drive safely. it's only a problem when they double park or speed through the busy intersection that cyclists' and pedestrians' lives are at risk. And its a main shopping district in a walkable neighborhood. More bike parking should be given rather than vehicle parking.
Aug. 13, 2009, 11:17 am
Mike from Ft Greene says:
The new Sands St lane is terrific, but it can't exist in a vacuum. We need a comprehensive bike network to help cyclists get around the whole city. Jay St and 5th Ave are vital pieces of that network, and it's disturbing to see your throwaway attacks on them.

Moreover, as Gary pointed out, left-side bike lanes are standard on one-way streets with bus routes, because they avoid conflicts with moving and stopped buses. They also provide better visibility between drivers and cyclists, and reduce the probability of getting doored in the bike lane.
Aug. 13, 2009, 11:35 am
Bill from Bay Ridge says:
The Sands Street Bike lane is a wonderful new addition, but like others I will have to disagree with your assessment that it is wrong to have bike lanes on the left hand side of one-way streets like Bergen Street. On a one-way street it is easier for drivers to see you and pass you on the left and as others have noted it minimizes conflicts with bus stops. These are all beneficial features whether you are on Bergen, Dean, DeKalb or other streets where the lane is so configured. On my morning commute, I usually am on Bergen from Bond to Smith Street and I never have an issue making the right hand turn. On the return trip I am usually on Dean from Hoyt to 3rd Avenue and again the right hand turn into 3rd is usually simple.

I will agree that Smith Street into Jay Street bike path is a bit chaotic. However, overall it helps tremendously, because it results in more cyclists using this path to/from both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, which means you have greater safety in numbers and somewhat greater awareness on the part of the drivers. The biggest problem on Jay Street comes from the double-parked vehicles.

In terms of making adjustments to the biking lanes, I would strongly suggest that for safety purposes what is really needed is a north bike lane on 3rd Avenue, especially from the Prospect Expressway to 3rd Street. There are two car lanes going north and drivers making some very dangerous moves in this area, which have become even more dangerous with the addition of the sidewalk extensions on a number of streets between 15th and 9th. There is virtually no room on the right by these extensions and I have seen a few idiots actually drive on the extensions as they try to pass on the right along 3rd Avenue. A north bound bike lane would provide greater safety for bikers, and also calm traffic making it safer for both the cars and pedestrians.
Aug. 13, 2009, 1:04 pm
Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
I heartily support the opinions expressed above, and want to add that Fifth Avenue is a wholly appropriate place for a bike lane. It's plenty wide enough for most of its length, and where it's not (north of Carroll Street), the Class III "lane" is indicated with "sharrows," which, as a reminder to motorists, are better than nothing at all.

Fifth Avenue is ripe for a bike lane precisely because it's a busy commercial strip. I frequently run errands on my bike on Fifth Avenue, and while I'd prefer a physically separated Class I lane, at least the striped Class II lane gives me a space to ride and reminds drivers that they need to leave that space to cyclists.

And here's a shout out for an 18 MPH speed limit (actually enforced).
Aug. 13, 2009, 1:49 pm
Noah from Greenwood Heights says:
I agree with you on the new new sands street Bike path, but especially in regards to Jay and Bergen I disagree with you emphatically. When I ride to work I take Bergen from 3rd Ave and then I take a right on smith as you said and continue onto Jay to go to the Manhattan Bridge. Both Bergen and Jay are highly traveled bicycle corridors, I've never done this ride regardless of hour without seeing multiple cyclists. Shame on you for making them out as being anything else.

Cheers
Aug. 13, 2009, 4:25 pm

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