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Road rage! Lookout, cyclists — there’s an ambulance in the bike lane!

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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.

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Reader Feedback

Other Michael from Park Slope says:
As a user of the PPW bike lane I would be honored to get out out the way for an emergency vehicle. Unlike the owner of the double parker that is probably causing the back up.
Feb. 23, 2011, 4:22 am
Resident from PPW says:
“Using the lane is better than losing a life,”
Feb. 23, 2011, 4:27 am
Other Michael from Park Slope says:
Do you really want to go back to this...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZt9dF-X4ec&feature=player_embedded#at=160
Feb. 23, 2011, 6:47 am
Ride2Wk from Australia says:
I'm a commuter cyclist and cycleway designer and I'd make it legal for emergency vehicles to use the cycle lane provided they are careful as 99.9% of them would be. It's more important for emergency vehicles to get through than anyone - bus, bike, car or truck. At least bikes can get off the road and out of the way unlike all the cars that completely block the road and can't off it.

This is another reason why your city SHOULD install bike lanes - for emergency vehicles to get past all the cars!

It certainly look safer than Other Michael's YouTube footage of cars speeding & blocking intersections! I don't know how you could put up with driving a car in such "CARgestion" ! Bikes don't cause traffic congestion, are far safer for everyone and are a far freer way to get around crowded cities.
Feb. 23, 2011, 7:16 am
frank from furter says:
its better than driving on the Sidewalk....
Feb. 23, 2011, 7:47 am
aaron from PLG says:
CBS did this story weeks ago. This is old news
Feb. 23, 2011, 7:53 am
Dave from Park Slope says:
I guess ambulance drivers don't use any of the other avenues in the neighborhood, either, since those are all two lanes, too.

Yesterday, a fire engine responding to a call waited for more than two minutes on 6th Street, just east of 8th Avenue, blowing it's horn, until a plumber came out and moved his double-parked truck (we have witnesses, and you can ask the FDNY). Are the so-called "Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes" advocating for removing one row of parking on each side street?

One incident per month hardly seems worrisome, let alone worthy of news coverage. As Other Michael said above, we users of the bike path would gladly get out of the way to possibly save someone's life -- something the selfish drivers in the video (why didn't they pull to the open curb space clearly visible) couldn't be bothered to do.
Feb. 23, 2011, 9:22 am
Mike says:
This is a ridiculously one-sided hit job.

If the ambulances can't get through, the problem is that the car drivers aren't yielding. It wouldn't matter if there were six lanes if the drivers won't yield.

Sounds like the ability of the bike lane to be used in an emergency is an advantage of the new configuration, not a drawback.
Feb. 23, 2011, 9:29 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
All vehicles should be banned from the streets - we need bicycle ambulances to save the earth from melting glaciers and global warming.

There are no glaciers anymore on the Hudson River - I blame the cars.
Feb. 23, 2011, 9:40 am
Jabir from Park Slope says:
That isn't a "traffic backup".

The cars are stopped by the red light at PPW & Carroll Street, just out of view to the right. You can see them start to move when the light turns green.
Feb. 23, 2011, 10:10 am
Jacob from Prospect Heights says:
As a cyclist, I would gladly move out of the way for an ambulance, if it were coming down the bike path. This is more than I can say for the cars in the video. Thank god the bike lane is there.
Feb. 23, 2011, 10:18 am
Andrew from Williamsburg says:
I agree with Jabir. This is idiotic. Traffic starts moving at the end of the clip. Those cars were stopped at a red light, and if the bike lane weren't there, then there would be three lanes of stopped cars instead of two and that ambulance wouldn't have been able to break through traffic.
Feb. 23, 2011, 10:37 am
Danny G from Queens says:
Glad to see that people with good problem solving skills are driving this city's ambulances. EMS workers FTW!
Feb. 23, 2011, 10:44 am
ilovebrooklyn from PPW says:
Here's one thing I think may be going on with this ambulance-in-the-bike-lane fake story: I often see ambulance crews taking their breaks (or maybe just waiting around) in the area by the Prospect Park gates where the farmers' market is on Saturdays. You can't get onto PPW there very easily without pulling out and going around Grand Army Plaza again. Solution: Head out into the bike lane instead!
Feb. 23, 2011, 11:07 am
Steve from PPW says:
Natalie, this is crap journalism and you know it. Plus, Marcia Kramer at CBS2 beat you to the punch by about two weeks.

A journalist might have tried to find out what was causing the backup that day. Was it an accident? The lights? A double-parked vehicle? Louise Hainline throwing herself in front of cars on PPW? Anything is possible. Instead, how convenient to run a story that repeats the NBBL party line.

NBBL has lied - actually lied - about the official positions of Christine Quinn and James Vacca of the City Council. They probably sent you or someone at the Brooklyn Paper a press release with the lie right in it. That you continue to quote them or take anything they say without an entire shaker of salt suggests that the Brooklyn Paper, which could be a respectable source of local news, is only interested in page views.

The same group that asked for the bike lane to remain unplowed after the blizzard - do some journalism to find out about it, there's a good story there - now is upset that an ambulance was in the bike lane. Thank god someone at Sanitation didn't listen to the concerned people at NBBL or it wouldn't have been able to get down PPW at all.

Hainline has completely discredited herself with her lies about Quinn and Vacca. Stop quoting her and find out when she plans to resign from Brooklyn College.
Feb. 23, 2011, 11:12 am
common sense from bay ridge says:
Just wait until the asthma rates shoot up along PPW, due to all the idling traffic stuck in gridlock. Then you will see NIMBYism like no one has before. That's what Senator Windbag's wife, and the clown show that is the Borough President are so up in arms about.
Feb. 23, 2011, 11:19 am
Andy from Cobble Hill says:
If other motorists actually obeyed the NYS law that states "the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right of way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway, or to either edge of a one-way roadway three or more lanes in width, clear of any intersection, and shall stop and remain in such position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, unless otherwise directed by a police officer" the roadway would be clear and this wouldn't be an issue.
Feb. 23, 2011, 12:38 pm
Steve from Brooklyn says:
"Prospect Park West residents say that traffic caused by the controversial bike lane has encouraged ambulance drivers to drive in the cycle path, putting pedestrians and two-wheelers at risk — and they have a video to prove it."

No. They have one video that shows one ambulance, not ambulances, taking the bike lane. The Brooklyn Paper should demand that NBBL release the entire video before it prints stories such as this.

Plus, correlation is not causation. Don't they teach that at Brooklyn College?

Bad journalist! Bad!
Feb. 23, 2011, 12:58 pm
Backstroker from Gowanus says:
Scanning the comments, it looks like the Paper's readers are quite a bit more savvy than the Paper's reporter. Time to hang up the softshoes and go HuffPo?
Feb. 23, 2011, 1:16 pm
Walker from Brooklyn says:
Natalie, can you call Brooklyn College and find out how they feel about one of their deans lying about two city council members?
Feb. 23, 2011, 2:21 pm
judahSpechal from Bed-Stuy says:
Not saying am pro/anti bike lane. But anyone who says driving on PPW since the bike lane were installed
isn't like driving during rush hr all day isn't being completely honest. I have tried to not drive on PPW since lanes were installed. One double parked car/truck makes it impossible at anytime of the day. They have got to get rid of one side of parking period.
Feb. 23, 2011, 2:46 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
If the motorists were able to move for the ambulance to move, they would have already done that. That video shows that the bike lane does make it difficult for vehicular traffic. It's not just bike lanes such as this one causing trouble for ambulances and other emergency vehicles, it's also the pedestrian islands that have raised concerns like the one on Ft Hamilton Pkwy. As for the quotes at the end, they are taken from those who have either been on it themselves or have witnessed it when they occurred, so this was not something that NBBL made arbitrairly.
Feb. 23, 2011, 6:07 pm
Mike says:
Tal, if I showed you a 15-second video of PPW when there were no cars on it, or free-flowing traffic, would you say that the video shows that the bike lane makes it easy for vehicular traffic?

If not, how can you justify your assertion above based on this video, other than pure ideological bias?
Feb. 23, 2011, 6:13 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Mike, how about meeting the people who live in the apartments that over look PPW and see this stuff on a daily basis, because they claim that it is congested with their own two eyes right outside their windows everyday.
Feb. 23, 2011, 7:15 pm
Mike says:
Some do say that. Plenty don't. Statistics (and my own observations) say it's not meaningfully more congested than before. See the FIPS thread from today, where lots of people who live there are saying they love the new PPW. The survey found most people in the neighborhood like it. You're not very credible if you only listen to the people who complain about it and you ignore the preponderance of people who don't complain about it.

Tal, you haven't even been to this site and seen the results of this project. Your opinions are not relevant.
Feb. 23, 2011, 10:28 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Mike, those people have as much of a right to complain about the bike lane as you do to support it. This is what is called freedom of choice. I can equally call you biased for only listening to the supporters while ignoring those with the concerns of what they see on the streets. As for Marica Kramer, I don't know why people like you attack her for interviewing NBBL and other opponents of the PPW bike lane when she has that right to do so by the first amendment, which implies freedom of the press. Does the news always have to agree with you? This sort of reminds me of Ben York, who writes for SLAM Magazine, on getting attacked a lot just for covering the WNBA when so many sexists and homophobic don't want him covering just because they personally don't like it. Seriously, she doesn't deserved to be given personal attacks just because she choses to interview the people you don't like. There are a lot of other people who get interviewed that I don't like, but you don't hear me making personal attacks at whoever is interviewing them.
Feb. 23, 2011, 10:55 pm
Mike says:
Amazing how you twisted the topic of discussion away from your logical inconsistencies, and away from the topic at hand, and onto lumping me in with a bunch of people i haven't met and assuming I've said things I haven't said. How can you write these things with a straight face? I'm done arguing with this lunatic.
Feb. 24, 2011, 12:40 am
Other Michael from Park Slope says:
Tal, yes you have a right to complain about the bike lane. And I have a right to complain about how they grow rice in China.

But then we would have two things in common. We would both be complaining about things we know nothing about and are really not our problem.
Feb. 24, 2011, 7:15 am
Steve from PPW says:
People, stop commenting on what Tal writes. She is not of sound mind and anything you write will be ignored or misunderstood. She clearly wants attention, so don't engage.
Feb. 24, 2011, 8:14 am
Other Michael from Park Slope says:
I have been assuming Tal was a dude.
Feb. 24, 2011, 8:31 am
Mike says:
Tal is a dude.
Feb. 24, 2011, 9:29 am
boof from brooklyn says:
common sense wrote: "Just wait until the asthma rates shoot up along PPW, due to all the idling traffic stuck in gridlock."

Since travel times are slightly faster for motorists while maximum speeds are down, it follows that emissions are also lower. I would guess that this is because the new configuration has reduced the phenomenon of pointlessly gunning it to the next red light.

Also, since there are more commuters than before (bicycles cars), and bikes have no emissions, asthma-causing pollution per commuter must be down further still.
Feb. 24, 2011, 11:13 am
PPW resident from Park Slope says:
Does anyone here remember what PPW was like during the big snow storm? Two lanes were brought down to one usable after the plows came through. What happens then if someone needs an ambulance? If a bicyclist can jump out of the way so easily, why wasn't a lane marked on the extra wide sidewalk that runs along PPW. Why was it required to give up a lane. I believe in allowing both cyclists and cars to use the street, but the only thing that has been accomplished is increased congestion. Had the city just installed red light cameras and even speed trap cameras, all the speeding would have been reduced, and the city could have even made money while making the street safer. Bicyclists would have ridden on the sidewalk as they had already been doing for years.
Feb. 24, 2011, 3:41 pm
Mike says:
After the snowstorm, most streets were down a lane. That's hardly unique to PPW. It's life in the city.

"Had the city just installed red light cameras and even speed trap cameras"

Unfortunately not allowed by state law.

"Bicyclists would have ridden on the sidewalk as they had already been doing for years."

That's a bad thing, not a good thing.
Feb. 24, 2011, 3:50 pm
LOLcat from Park Slope says:
Forgot these stupid haters. I just want more cops on bikes to police the streets/feel cyclists pain. They are the only cops that should be giving cyclists tickets.

As a bonus side effect, I guarantee there will be a huge increase in tickets for changing lanes without signaling, running red lights, unsafe opening of doors, talking on cellphones, etc. Oh also, more fit cops!
Feb. 24, 2011, 5:41 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Steve, I am a man, not a woman.

Boof, the issue is about who is following the rules, and not producing emmisions is not an excuse for cyclists to flout the traffic laws.

Other Michael, what you said about me wasn't funny, and I call you for slander on that.

Mike, all I was saying was that NBBL doesn't deserve to have personal attacks just because they don't see things the way you do.
Feb. 24, 2011, 8:18 pm
Mikes Mom from PPW Park Bench says:
Both Mikes are always on here blasting all opinions they don't agree with. I've walked, jogged,and used to cycle around the park for over 20 years and the only time I've ever had a problem it was caused by some cyclist acting like an idiot! Also if you noticed the story Marcia Cramer did on CBS 2 did on this same story everytime they showed the bike lane on that beautiful sunny day, It was completelty empty!
Real Brooklynites don't need Bike lanes!
Feb. 25, 2011, 1:47 am
boof from brooklyn says:
Tal,

You're wrong, an usual. The issue is how can we make PPW safer and more convenient for everyone. The current configuration is working.
Feb. 25, 2011, 11:25 am
Ann from Park Slope says:
I hope that all the bike lane advocates---many of whom seem to spend a great deal of time either lecturing us on what's good for our neighborhood or demonizing people who disagree with them--will now start contributing to the neighborhood that they claim to care so much about. Prospect Park Alliance, the library, the museum, the botanic garden----all await your contributions.
Feb. 25, 2011, 3:21 pm
Other Michael from Park Slope says:
Tal chill

"Dude" is not an insult. But I am sure I will slander you eventually.
Feb. 25, 2011, 9:57 pm
Mike says:
Ann, what's with the ridiculous and condescending assumption that bike lane advocates don't already contribute in other ways to our neighborhood? Do you really think that contributes to the discourse? Sad.
Feb. 25, 2011, 11:20 pm
Other Michael from Park Slope says:
I am not going to list my volunteer activities on this forum. However, posting on blogs in support of the PPW bike lane is one of them.
Feb. 26, 2011, 6:47 am
Mike,Mike,Mike,steve,and other Mike from Starbucks says:
OMG, You mean there were two cameras on PPW and the hipster bike freaks didn't come out to ride back and forth in front of them to make it look like they're actually being used? Amazing! Must be they day they bathe in mud and wash their hair with baby oil? Could they all be in Starbucks at the same time pretending to be writers?
Feb. 27, 2011, 1:19 am
boof from brooklyn says:
Ann --

I'm not demonizing people who disagree with me. Just people who want to undo safety enhancements which have been shown to reduce the number of crashes and injuries on PPW.

Instead of fighting against the bike lane, why don't you go out and hit some people with a baseball bat. It's more honest.

P.S. I contribute to all of the institutions you mentioned, jerk.
Feb. 28, 2011, 9:22 am
ann from park slope says:
Well, on that extremely civilized and enlightened note, let me thank you gentleman for a spirited if somewhat overwrought discussion. (it is just a bike lane, after all). I am glad you contribute, Boofster, my excitable friend---and Mikes, you should, too. We need it.
Toodles.
Feb. 28, 2011, 4:10 pm
boof from brooklyn says:
So, you admit you would like to cause more injuries to all of PPW's motorists, cyclists and pedestrians? You must have to give a lot of money to the library to assuage that guilt.
Feb. 28, 2011, 4:56 pm
Ann from Park slope says:
Um, no, boofie, that is not what i said. I am a person of peace. I just dont agree with you. Sometimes in life that will happen-- it doesnt make the disagreer a bad person. But your logic is extremely persuasive. Im sure your reasoned style of argument will change many minds.
The library rocks.
Let's change topics-- how do you feel about milky way vs snickers?
Feb. 28, 2011, 10:09 pm
Mike says:
Anyone who doesn't like Snickers must be a Tea Partier.
Feb. 28, 2011, 10:12 pm
Ann from Park slope says:
And a bat wielding assaulter who wishes death and grievous bodily harm to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
March 1, 2011, 12:07 am
Mike says:
Exactly! :)
March 1, 2011, 12:11 am
boof from brooklyn says:
I'm sorry, Ann, but you are wrong. Trying to remove this bike lane would make taking my child to school more dangerous. It is self-evident from using the street and it has been verified by the DOT analysis of accident data: PPW is now safer. Your disagreement doesn't change that. And saying you are peaceful while working to increase crashes and injuries doesn't make it true.

So, let's not talk about candy. Let's talk about what you think is more important than the safety of all of the users of PPW, including me, my family, and, presumably, yourself.
March 1, 2011, 9:59 am
Ann from Park Slope says:
Mwahahahahahahahaha
March 1, 2011, 11:29 am
Tracie from ALABAMA says:
For goodness sake the ambulances are saving lives. Just reading this articles make me want to throw up, New Yorkers are a bunch of babies. Whine, Whine, I can't ride my bike b/c the big bad ambulance is riding in my lane b/c he has a person in the back whom having a massive heart attack...i mean come on, you guys sound so silly. Last time I checked when emgencey vehicles are in active route, traffic is suppose to come to a complete stop and create a clear path. I guess your behavior is the "New York" way, I pray im never in an emergency situation and need an ambulance there.

OAN: Shopping is AWESOME there!

*I can't wait for all the hillbillie comments to follow...take your best shot, probably will never visit this site again away...
March 2, 2011, 5:06 pm
Other Michael from Park Slope says:
Tracie

Us bikers are not complaining that the ambulances is in the bike lane. It is the Brooklyn branch of the Tea Party just trying to make progress look bad. They are defending their right to double park.

But, lumping us all up as babies and whiners is what makes you a hillbillie. Why are you here anyway?
March 3, 2011, 7:43 am

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