It’s southern Brooklyn’s bicycle lane in the sand.
Infuriated by the city’s history of plotting out bicycle lanes without any community checks and balances, a southern Brooklyn councilman is threatening to bring legislation that would require the city to hold community board hearings in every neighborhood they plan to put them in.
Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Canarsie) has yet to draft the bill, but said he will if the city’s Department of Transportation doesn’t begin listening to communities the bicycle lanes would affect.
“I hope it wouldn’t be necessary to compel them to [hold public hearings],” Fidler said. “They should be doing this on their own volition.”
Considered a necessity in Downtown where many residents pedal back and forth to work, Fidler says bicycling in southern Brooklyn is more of a recreational pastime.
“People here don’t bike to work and most bike riders here want to bicycle along Marine Park rather than a four-lane road,” he said, adding that he isn’t anti-bicycle. “Everyone acknowledges that there are many different ways for people to transport themselves around this city and they all need to be accommodated, but there has to be a balance.”
Over the last few months, at least three southern Brooklyn communities have demanded that the city put the brakes on their ambitious plan to create an inter-borough network of bicycle lanes, including:
• Manhattan Beach: Residents cried foul when the city painted a bicycle lane down Oriental Boulevard last year, claiming it only added to the already confusing traffic patterns on the strip. In a rarely seen accord, the famously fractious Manhattan Beach Community Group and the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association both said they want the city to have the bike lanes moved to the Shore Boulevard sidewalk, where the lane used to be. The city has yet to acknowledge their request.
• Gerritsen Beach: The city was planning to put bicycle lanes along Gerritsen Avenue in October, 2009, but residents blocked the plan. The city relented after Fidler threatened to put in legislation that would have the bicycle lane removed once it was put in.
• Canarsie: Community Board 18 has shot down the city’s plan to put bicycle lanes on both E. 94th and E. 95th streets which would connect East Flatbush and the Canarsie Pier. This past spring, a room full of board members agreed with District Manager Dorothy Turano when she said, “Canarsie is not Park Slope or Carroll Gardens.”
The route is already on the city bicycling map, but that could change. Fidler complained to Brooklyn Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Palmieri about the bike lanes and now the city’s Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs was taking a second look at their plans.
Fidler said he won’t make his decision on his legislation until the city releases their findings, even though he said he already has the support of several council members.
“[The legislation] wouldn’t be for or against bike lanes,” he said. “It’s just that the community should be asked before they’re put in. Maybe they’ll get 30 people at a hearing who will want [bike lanes].”
But community boards have always been able to relay their pleasure or displeasure about bike lanes through resolutions. In downtown Brooklyn and Park Slope, Community Boards 2 and 6 have passed plenty of resolutions over the years — without being asked to do so — about bike lanes and where they did and didn’t want them placed.
Fidler may also be overselling the Community Board’s clout in these matters as well. The board’s role is only advisory in nature and the city could ignore its claims if they see fit.
Yet the city seemed pretty eager to accommodate Fidler when contacted.
“We value the community’s input on our programs, which is why we are currently reviewing [the Canarsie] project based on their feedback,” explained Department of Transportation spokesman Montgomery Dean. “We are happy to work with Councilman Fidler to address his concerns.”