Bikers win a battle Downtown

Bikers and cars seem to be getting along on Smith Street now that a new bike lane has been painted from Bergen Street all the way to the Manhattan Bridge — a key pipeline for bike commuters.
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

Bike riders won a huge victory in their ongoing battle with drivers for control of the roadways as the city painted a new bike lane on busy Smith and Jay streets.

The route is a main feeder for bike commuters heading to the Manhattan Bridge, yet its narrow proportions, heavy car and bike traffic and frequent congestion from double-parked trucks make it the scene of frequent near-misses.

“It’s kind of crazy on this street,” said Quynh, a cyclist who declined to give his last name. As he gestured to a street crowded with honking cars, one rider stopped to catch her breath after a close call with a cab that had nearly hit her as he made a legal right turn across the freshly painted divider.

The new bike lane is coming in the middle of a street fight pitting bike and car commuters — and pedestrians — in a turf war that has not been without casualties. Last month, two riders were hit and killed by vehicles on Brooklyn streets, and a Kensington woman who was crossing 12th Avenue at Dahill Road was killed after being struck by a biker who had the green light, cops said.

In 2007, 136 pedestrians and 23 bikers were killed in the city’s streets — down from historic highs, but 159 too many, virtually everyone agrees.

The roadway from Dean Street to Tillary Street had technically been a “bike route,” meaning that bicycles theoretically had as much right to the street as cars, with both having to share one lane of traffic. To both drivers and bikers, the city’s rule amounted to little more than a suggestion.

The promotion to full “bike lane” status means that markings will now be physically painted on the street to indicate, according to state law, that the lane is intended for the “preferential or exclusive use of bicycles.”

“I think it’s excellent,” said Quynh, who bikes to work on Smith Street every day.

Not that he’s optimistic that it’ll work, of course.

“Cars don’t respect the lanes, and they park wherever they want. The traffic cops don’t care.”

Gary Wenger, who has been biking in Brooklyn for 17 years, sees greater hostility between bikes and cars than ever before. “I’m glad to see this new bike lane. … I’ve had too many close calls with cars,” he said. “I think it’s horrible about the people who were killed in the past few weeks.”

Most bikers seem to appreciate the new lane, but the support was far from universal.

“This street is too narrow,” said one two-wheeler. “It just seems insane to put a bike lane here. There’s barely enough room for trucks to pass as it is.”

The bike lanes on Smith and Jay streets are part of a larger project that includes Schermerhorn and Hoyt streets, and whose goal would be to connect the main thoroughfares of Tillary and Jay streets to the existing bike lanes on Dean and Bergen streets, said a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

Another projected route on Myrtle Avenue would bring a total of 1.7 miles of new bike lanes to Downtown between Sept. 29 and the second week of October, the latest pieces of a multi-year city push to paint more bike lanes.

Community leaders said the new bike paths are an improvement over the existing, and frequently blocked, bike lane on Adams Street.

“Police [don’t] prevent cars from parking in the bike lane on Adams Street, [so] the lane essentially does not exist,” said Community Board 2 District Manager Rob Perris. “As we have seen in the last few weeks, biking can be a very dangerous proposition. This is one of the most popular bike routes in all of Brooklyn, so the new lane is a big improvement.”

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