City renews push for Emmons Avenue bike lane

emmons avenue
City officials want to install a protected bike lane on Emmons Avenue.
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The city is renewing a push to build a bike lane on Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, which the city and advocates say is a crucial section needed to connect the Jamaica Bay Greenway with the neighborhood and the rest of the borough’s bike lane network, but the path will likely still face friction in the community input process.

The Department of Transportation presented its current proposal for the bike lane, which runs along the waterfront thoroughfare between Shore Boulevard and Brigham Street, to Community Board 15’s Transportation Committee Monday night.

The committee voted it down, according to board chair Theresa Scavo, who was present at the meeting; the full board did not take up the measure at its meeting Tuesday night, and likely won’t until next month, Scavo said. Even in the unlikely event the proposal sweeps through the community board, final approval and implementation likely wouldn’t go through until the arrival of the new administration next year.

The new proposal is largely the same as the old proposal, and includes three separate components: from Shore Boulevard to Ocean Avenue, the DOT would shift the central painted median on Emmons to allow for a two-way, parking-protected bike lane on the waterfront side. For the bulk of the path, from Ocean Avenue to Coyle Street, the plan would convert angled parking on the eastbound side of Emmons to parallel parking, establish a parking lane opposite the roadway, and build a protected bike lane adjacent to the parking lane. For the final two blocks before hitting the greenway, from Coyle Street to Brigham Street, the lane would take over an existing parking lane.

The proposal for most of the bike path on Emmons Ave, between Ocean Ave and Coyle StDepartment of Transportation

DOT says that the new proposal would not reduce the number of automobile travel lanes nor the amount of parking on Emmons, noting that converting angled parking on one side of the street to parallel parking on both sides would both protect cyclists and maintain the current number of spots.

Scavo and other board members, however, were not convinced, and the proposal was rejected 7-1 by the committee.

“They claim we’re getting 14 parking spots,” Scavo said. “Personally, I’m not believing it, but this is what they’re saying.”

The DOT says the design would not reduce parking along the thoroughfare.Department of Transportation

Scavo, who couldn’t identify any appreciable differences in Monday’s presentation from previous ones, also said that she and fellow committee members believe Emmons is too busy and dangerous to install a bike lane.

“Most on the committee feel as though this will be extremely dangerous down such a busy avenue as Emmons,” said Scavo. “With all the restaurants, with people being picked up, dropped off, that this will be causing a lot of traffic problems.”

In contrast, Brian Hedden, co-founder of Bike South Brooklyn, said the DOT’s data has settled the question of whether protected bike lanes make the streets safer.

“I appreciate the concern,” Hedden said. “But the DOT has studied this and they’ve been able to demonstrate that this makes the street safer, and that any gut feeling that says otherwise is not grounded in reality.”

The city’s presentation cites data from 2007 to 2017, showing that on streets where protected bike lanes were installed, crashes with injuries dropped 15 percent, and pedestrian injuries dropped 21 percent. Injuries to cyclists actually went up by 3 percent, but that was in conjunction with a 61 percent increase in bike volume along those stretches.

In 2017, Community District 15 was declared a “priority bicycle district” by DOT for having a “low density bicycle network coverage” and a corresponding high number of cyclist deaths and injuries. Since 2011, three cyclists have died and 716 have been injured in the community district’s boundaries, according to NYC Crash Mapper. That includes 33 injuries on the section of Emmons where the bike lane would be. DOT surveys suggest bike traffic has more than doubled on Emmons since 2015.

Hedden, who lives in Bay Ridge, said that he is a regular cyclist on Emmons, especially during the summer, but that there’s a clear dip in bike traffic on Emmons compared to the adjacent Jamaica Greenway. He said he doesn’t blame those who wish to avoid it, either.

“It’s a high-stress experience,” Hedden said. “Everyone has their own risk tolerance, and for most people biking on Emmons exceeds that risk tolerance.”

An Emmons Avenue bike lane has been proposed numerous times and has brewed for years; DOT’s presentation included a City Planning Department schematic from 1993 with a bike lane on Emmons proposed as a means to connect Brooklyn’s waterfront greenway.

Most recently, the path was proposed by DOT and the Regional Plan Association in 2017, again as part of a larger, connected greenway. The city declared to CB15 its intentions to move forward on the path in 2019, part of the mayor’s “Green Wave” program released amid a rash of cyclist deaths that year. But it ran into opposition from the local councilmember, Chaim Deutsch, who felt the lane would increase congestion on Emmons and cause hazards for parents dropping off their kids at school, according to The City.

After the thoroughfare was left off of a list of streets where the city intended to install bike lanes, Deutsch did something of an about-face in early 2020, declaring to then-DOT head honcho Polly Trottenberg that he wants to see the Emmons lane completed, and that protected bike lanes are the “way to go.” Trottenberg said that she intended to get the lane completed in 2020, but as with many things the work was scuttled by the pandemic.

Deutsch was expelled from the Council earlier this year, after pleading guilty to tax fraud. He was sentenced to three months in prison, a year of supervised release, and over $100,000 in fines; he is due to report to prison later this week.

The mayor’s Green Wave plan called for building 75 miles of bike infrastructure in Community District 15 and nine other priority bicycle districts by 2022.

Installing the Emmons lane would go a long way towards finishing the fully-connected greenway cyclists have long dreamt of. The final stages would most likely include protected paths on Neptune and Cropsey avenues, Hedden said; both already have unprotected bike lanes along much of their length, home to many a double-parked car.