An ambulance driver who abandoned traffic-choked Prospect Park West to use the controversial bike lane as a shortcut was hardly a lone rogue.
Drivers told this paper that traffic backups on the boulevard — which was narrowed from three lanes to two last summer to accommodate the two-way cycle path — occasionally force them to maneuver around cars into the bike lane during rush hour.
“Using the lane is better than losing a life,” said one driver, who requested anonymity because such driving is not sanctioned.
The desire to get patients to New York Methodist Hospital no doubt motivated the paramedic who was captured on video driving in the bike lane — a piece of YouTube footage that has inflamed an already heated debate the bike lane.
“It’s really, really scary,” said James Bernard, a member of Community Board 6 and an opponent of the bike lane.
Lane critics, who snagged the black-and-white video at 4:15 pm on Dec. 21, have used the footage to make the case that the two-way path is at best a traffic bottleneck and at worst, a ticking time bomb.
At the top of Prospect Park West, near the park’s towering arches, drivers must watch for quick-moving cyclists, joggers and merchants hauling crates to the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market. Add a stray ambulance into the mix and it’s the recipe for chaos, critics say.
But footage of the ambulance in the bike lane is just anecdotal baloney, said Department of Transportation officials. Ambulances all over the city break traffic laws — and take calculated risks in emergency situations — and this is nothing groundbreaking.
Even after seeing the video, Department spokesman Seth Solomonow defended the new lane by reciting data points that the agency has been putting out all year: “Speeding is down, cycling is up and dangerous sidewalk cycling has been all but eliminated,” he said.
Overall, the department reported, injuries to all street users decreased by 21 percent after lane was installed in July. And fewer drivers are now treating Prospect Park West like a speedway. Before the lane was built, 75 percent of cars would exceed the speed limit; now only 20 percent do. Crashes, too, are down from an average of 30 to 25 in pre-lane years.
Indeed, supporters of the bike lane were again wildly e-mailing links to their own video, taken before the lane was installed, that showed rampant speeding.
Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, which opposes the Prospect Park West route, remains unimpressed. After the report went out, the group slammed the city for fudging numbers. Plus, many members of the group oppose the lane because it has ruined the grand look of Prospect Park West.
The group’s president, Louise Hainline, has been recording video footage of the bike lane in hopes of documenting its danger, which explains how she captured the rouge (or hero, depending on your perspective) ambulance driver.
She claims that the incident on camera is just one of three cases in which a motor vehicles used the lane in the past three months. (She did not provide The Brooklyn Paper with documentation.)
In another incident, a truck driver “wasn’t able get around an area that police had blocked off,” so he used the bike lane.
“We have witnesses,” she said.
That trucker was less justified than ambulance drivers in Park Slope, but are obviously feeling the same stress.
“You just can’t go on Prospect Park West” during rush hour, said one driver for Midwood Ambulance Service. “I take other streets.”
Another driver admitted that she’d made that mistake and was once forced to use the bike lane.
“What are you going to do?” she said with a creased brow. “There was no other choice.”
Representatives at the fire department and New York Methodist Hospital could not be reached immediately for comment Tuesday evening.
©2011 Community News Group
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