Construction on the long-awaited Emmons Avenue bike lane is officially underway in Sheepshead Bay, where it will connect a gap in the planned 26.2-mile Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway — and it’s slated for completion as soon as this fall.
“I am happy about it, our group is happy about it,” said John Tomac, president of Bike South Brooklyn, which advocates for expanded bike lane access in the borough’s southern neighborhoods. “The city has this vision for a waterfront greenway that stretches from Greenpoint to Jamaica Bay all the way around the edge of Brooklyn for quite some time and most of that is in place now.”
Cyclists welcome the new bike lane, though the community board is not convinced
A two-way protected bike lane is currently being installed on the south side of Emmons Avenue. The lane will run from Shore Boulevard to Brigham Street in Sheepshead Bay, and its opening will come with the implementation of a number of other traffic calming measures along the busy thoroughfare — like signal timing updates, new pedestrian islands, curb extensions, and upgraded pedestrian and bike ramps.
“This transformative redesign of Emmons Avenue brings major safety upgrades for all road users while providing cyclists a critical link to the Jamaica Bay Greenway, connecting to green space and waterfront access further east,” said Vin Barone, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Transportation. “This project also delivers numerous improved intersections to reduce conflicts between cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers while also shortening crossing distances for those accessing the schools, businesses, and parks along the avenue.”
The new bike lane will also serve as a direct link to the entrance of the Jamaica Bay Greenway at Brigham Street and Emmons Avenue, giving bicyclists undeterred access to Queens, Gateway National Recreation Area, and the Rockaways.
“I’ve lived here my whole life so to see a bike lane on Emmons Avenue, it’s a miracle,” said Bike South Brooklyn member and Sheepshead Bay native Will Kitcher. “You can get anywhere from Sheepshead Bay Road to Queens, or to Breezy Point or to Jacob Riis without being on a road without having to worry about getting into an accident at all.”
DOT initially said construction on the Emmons Avenue bike lane would begin in August, after the project had been in limbo for a number of years due to local pushback. A renewed push for the lane launched last October, when DOT first presented the plan to Community Board 15’s transportation committee, whose members voted the measure down.
Once the proposal was voted down by CB15’s transportation committee, it was not required to go to vote before the full panel — but, since the votes were advisory-only, the city did not need the community board’s approval to move forward with the lane’s construction.
With work underway, the board’s chair maintains that the lane will only increase congestion on the already traffic-ridden Emmons Avenue.
“DOT knows how we in Southern Brooklyn feel about bike lanes, this is not the location for a bike lane,” CB15 chair Theresa Scavo told Brooklyn Paper via email. “With traffic at a standstill on Emmons Avenue constantly and narrowing the roadway it will cause major issues and delays.”
This isn’t the first time a southern Brooklyn community board has pushed back against a coming bike lane. Bike lanes have long been a point of contention to many in car-heavy neighborhoods like Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park and Bay Ridge, as they’re often perceived to impede vehicular traffic due to the removal of parking spaces or widening of lanes to accommodate new infrastructure.
However, the Emmons Avenue bike lane did not require the removal of a travel lane or of any parking to make room. Instead, transportation honchos were able to reconfigure the current roadway to accommodate the bicycle infrastructure without making any major changes.
“I mean, for one thing, this was sort of a unique opportunity, from the standpoint that the roadway was wide enough and being used in an inefficient way that they were actually able to put in this bike path without taking away any of the lanes used by cars and trucks and without reducing the amount of parking that’s available,” Brian Hedden, advocacy and Greenway projects coordinator at the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, a nonprofit advocating for a fully cohesive Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. “That’s like a unicorn. It’s hard to find another protected bike lane project in the city where that’s able to take place.”
‘Filling the gaps’ in southern Brooklyn’s bike lane network
Bicycle advocates have applauded the city’s transportation department for the Emmons Avenue bike lane, which will give bicyclists a safer route on the roadway where they usually have to contend with drivers looking for parking and speeding onto the Belt Parkway ramp.
“It was not great riding down there before. Emmons Avenue was not a great place to ride because you had to deal with the parking situation,” Tomac said. “You had people coming down looking for parking and you also had people racing to get on the Belt Parkway. So if you add those two things, it wasn’t really a great place to ride.”
Statistics show streets with protected bike lanes have a decrease in all crashes with injuries by 15 percent and pedestrian crash injuries by 21 percent.
Protected bike paths in southern Brooklyn have only been installed few and far between, the bike advocates told Brooklyn Paper, despite the area being home to some of the earliest bike infrastructures in New York City with the Ocean Parkway bike lane in Marine Park dating back to the 1890s and another that runs from the 69th Street Pier in Bay Ridge to Caesar’s Bay was installed in the 1930s as part of Robert Moses’ plan to build the Belt Parkway.
“In southern Brooklyn particularly there’s some really old bike infrastructure. You have the bike path that goes all the way down Ocean Parkway, that’s from the 1890s. You’ve got that section along the waterfront in Bay Ridge from the 69th Street Pier that goes all the way to Caesar’s Bay. That was built in the 1930s by Robert Moses when they built the Belt Parkway,” Tomac said, “And then outside of that, there hasn’t really been a ton of other investment in bike infrastructure down here. I mean, if you look at the city’s map of bike lanes, there’s still really not a ton of stuff in southern Brooklyn.”
Despite this ambitious bike infrastructure, it took a long time for the city to construct bike paths to connect the existing network of lanes — the Ocean Parkway bike lane still has no connection from southern Brooklyn.
“Marine Park has one of the oldest bike lanes in Brooklyn and there’s no bike lane that leads to Marine Park,” Kitcher told Brooklyn Paper.
A row of parked cars will work as the buffer for bicyclists on the future Emmons Avenue bike path, which the bicyclists said is common for many of the city’s bike paths, but still requires bicyclists to rely on car drivers to not block the bike lane.
“The design that’s there is fairly common. It’s definitely a big upgrade over what’s there now, which has nothing,” Tomac said. “I think when you start to park cars you’re still relying on people with their cars and while the majority of them will certainly try their best, you still have people who will ignore the lines on the ground and pull all the way to the curb or pull halfway into the bike lane.”
Tomac said the city has been part of a pilot program to try out different barriers for bike paths and he would have liked to see one of those treatments applied to the incoming Emmons Avenue path.
“The city DOT has this ‘Better Barriers‘ pilot where they are testing out different treatments to keep cars out of different bike lanes,” he said. “It would have been nice to see something like that deployed in the buffer zone between the row of parked cars and the bike lane.”
Hedden said that there is still hope for something different however, parking-protected bike lanes have led to more extensively protected bike lanes in other parts of the city, citing Kent Avenue in front of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“It’s a good start. This is the way that a number of the components of the Greenway got their start. Especially thinking about Kent Avenue on the eastern edge of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. A couple of years ago, they finished that as a great separated path,” he said. “Bikes and sidewalks up on the same grade, up on the curb above parked cars, new landscaping and things like that, but that segment began its life, if you will, as a protected bike lane very similar to the one on Emmons Avenue.”
A conventional unprotected bike lane will also be constructed on Neptune Avenue between E. 12th Street and Shore Boulevard, which are the few blocks leading up to the future Emmons Avenue bike lane.
The new construction will greatly shrink the longtime “Greenway Gap,” a void in the bike network of protected bike lanes.
Terri Carta, executive director of the Jamaica Bay Rockaway-Parks Conservancy and former director of Brooklyn Greenways, voiced her support for the Emmons Avenue bike lane as it will provide direct access for southern Brooklynites to the many beauties of Jamaica Bay and Gateway National Area.
“The Emmons Avenue greenway connector is the only way for people who are not in a car to access Gateway National Recreation Area from southern Brooklyn,” Carta said. “So that connector along Emmons Avenue takes people on foot and on bike past Lew Fidler Park to Plumb Beach and then continues on to the rest of Jamaica Bay.”
From the entrance to the Jamaica Bay Greenway on Brigham Street, bicyclists journey all around Jamaica Bay starting with Lew Fidler Park and Plumb Beach, to Floyd Bennett Field and the Aviator Sports Complex in Marine Park, to the Rockaways and Jacob Riis Park on the western end as well as Shirley Chisholm Park in Canarsie.
“The Jamaica Bay Greenway is planned to be 28 miles all the way around Jamaica Bay,” Carta said. “This is Emmons Avenue connector is a vital, critical, very important, need to have way for people to get to Jamaica Bay and particularly Plumb Beach which is a popular area for going to the beach and accessing the water.”
Community support – and anonymous opposition
An unnamed group opposing the Emmons Avenue bike lane is posting signs around Sheepshead Bay telling others to support Option B, which they say is instead installing a bike lane on Avenue X. However, there hasn’t been any discussion of such plans by the Department of Transportation and the Emmons Avenue bike lane is already under construction.
“There are some signs going up on Emmons Avenue to stop supporting the bike lane,” Kitcher said. “Support Option B on Avenue X which I can’t find out anything about this option existing. I’ve biked up and down Avenue X and it’s all residential the whole way and it stops the train station and doesn’t go through so it doesn’t really take you from anywhere to anywhere.”
Tomac told Brooklyn Paper that they will happily take a bike lane on Avenue X too.
“I think at this point in time we shouldn’t be trying to find an alternate route for a bike route. If they want to throw a bike lane on Avenue X and Knapp Street in addition to whats already done on Emmons Avenue, that would be fantastic,” he said. “The more clearly marked bike paths that feed into the Jamaica Bay Greenway, which is probably one of the best places to ride a bike in the city, I think the better off we are.”
The three bicycle advocates hope the Emmons Avenue bike lane will spur the creation of more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in southern Brooklyn, which is largely designed for vehicular traffic.
“I think that this will put a lot of pressure here and I’m really hoping the Emmons Avenue bike lane like spurs a bit of a southern Brooklyn reach with the bike lanes and things like that because right now we have bike lanes here except they seem to all be separated,” Kitcher said.