‘Fifth’ dimension: Slope merchants want to eliminate bike lane

Lane hugging on Willoughby
The Brooklyn Paper / Dana Rubinstein

Fifth Avenue ain’t wide enough for the both of us.

That’s the message merchants gave cyclists this week after calling on the city to change the busy commercial strip’s bike-only paths into less-protective shared lanes.

Neighborhood shopkeepers claim that the delineated cycling lanes that run on both sides of Fifth Avenue between Carroll and 24th streets leave drivers and deliverymen with little room to double-park — causing traffic back-ups and making deliveries a daily debacle.

“When people double-park, they have to park outside the bike lane and that brings traffic to a dead stop,” said Irene LoRe, director of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District and the owner of Aunt Suzie’s restaurant.

LoRe is calling for shared lanes, which are typically implemented on roadways too narrow for traditional bike lanes, like Fifth Avenue north of Carroll Street. Marked with chevrons instead of painted lane barriers, the shared lanes require cyclists to ride amidst automotive traffic.

LoRe’s proposal gained traction with Community 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman.

“The bike lane enhances safety and security for the bicyclists, but right now, businesses are unable to conduct their business,” said Hammerman, who sent a memo to the Department of Transportation encouraging the agency to consider converting the lanes into shared paths.

The proposal — which was first reported on the transit tracking Web site Streetsblog — has earned the ire of bikers, who say it would actually encourage double parking, which is illegal whether it’s in a bike lane or a moving lane.

“The problems on Fifth Avenue have nothing to do with the bike lane,” said Wiley Norvell, the spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, a pro-biking group. “Double-parking is illegal because it is dangerous and it impedes traffic flow. Now people are looking for a scenario that makes it easier to double-park?”

For its part, the city has expressed no interest in installing the shared cycling and driving lanes in place of the current the bike paths — which hosted 865 cyclists in a single 12-hour sample last fall, according Department of Transportation spokesman Seth Solomonow.

“Changing it from the lane to a shared bike route would diminish the effectiveness,” he said.

But Solomonow noted that his agency — which is in the midst of a parking study on congestion in Park Slope — isn’t unsympathetic to drivers and merchants.

“We have a working group looking at that and we are going to come up with some options,” he said.

— with Jacob Kleinman