Bike lanes — the third rail of New York City politics

Bike lanes — the third rail of New York City politics

City officials scrubbed a scheduled meeting set for this week on a new pair of bike lanes in Park Slope — which some see as evidence that a backlash against cycle paths is having an impact.

Community Board 6’s Transportation Committee said last week that its Feb. 17 meeting would include a discussion of new bike lanes on 14th and 15th streets between Third Avenue and Prospect Park West, near the controversial Prospect Park West lane.

But when this newspaper called the Department of Transportation with questions about the proposal, the item was abruptly removed from the agenda (but not before we took a photo of the original, right).

“There are no plans for a bike lane at this location at this time,” spokeswoman Nicole Garcia said.

Garcia declined to discuss why the item was on the agenda, then off — but CB6 District Manager Craig Hammerman said that he was told that the city was simply not yet prepared to discuss the issue or allow a “premature review of the proposal.”

Hammerman, who has been around the block plenty of times, agreed that the “heightened sensitivity” over bike lanes in general could have played a role, but added that the meeting cancelation was “no more than a misunderstanding.”

The lane request originated with Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), who strongly rejected this newspaper’s “thesis” that bike lanes have become the third rail of New York City politics, forcing local officials to reconsider even non-controversial schemes to benefit two-wheelers.

“I don’t think there’s anything to it,” he said.

But one high-profile opponent thinks there is.

“Lander realized he didn’t have his ducks lined up and is trying to think of a way to manipulate this to his advantage,” said former deputy mayor Norman Steisel, a strident opponent of the Prospect Park West lane.

“We have opened up a debate [and] a lot of people are questioning the process by which lanes are put in,” he said.

Pressed by this “thesis”-issuing newspaper to respond to Steisel, Lander added: “I’ll leave the accusations of manipulation to the former deputy mayor, and the fabrication of conflict to your newspaper, since they seem better at it than I am. I plan to keep working with residents … to help achieve safer streets and a more livable community. We look forward to having a dialogue later this spring with residents of 14th and 15th streets about a range of possibilities, including bike lanes and other approaches, to address the goals they’ve expressed — which is what we had planned all along.”

But having a “dialogue” with residents is exactly what many residents say has been lacking from the city’s rapid expansion of the bike lane network.

In fact, in southern Brooklyn, residents were so fed up with installation without representation that Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Mill Basin) drafted a bill mandating the city better inform communities about where the lanes would go. Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) drew a line in the sand of Brownstone Brooklyn when she said last year that she supported that bill.

But one thing often gets lost in the debate over new lanes — the city’s stated goal of improving safety. Eric McClure, co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors, which is working with Lander on traffic-calming issues, pointed out in an interview on Saturday that hours after Borough President Markowitz mocked bike lanes in his State of the Borough speech on Feb. 3, a cyclist was nearly killed in a collision in Williamsburg.