Get rolling! Sunset Parkers demand city take bike lane request seriously

No easy ride: Raj Kottamasu perfers Sunset Park’s bike lane-less Fourth Avenue over Fifth or Third avenues, which he said are busier and harder to navigate by bike.
Community News Group / Caroline Spivack

Call it a re-cycled idea.

Sunset Parkers are renewing demands to put a protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue. Activists have pressed the city for years for such a path along Fourth Avenue without any movement, and now they’re furious that the Department of Transportation created a bike lane in Marine Park without that community even asking for one, an area leader said.

“We’ve wanted and needed this [bike path], and for another neighborhood to get one without even requesting it is a huge insult to Sunset Park,” said Rob Aguilar, a member of the preservationist group Sunset Park Restoration. “We’re willing to work with the Department of Transportation but they’re not open to what the community wants.”

For more than two years, the group has fought for a bike lane with a buffer separating cyclists from traffic on Fourth Avenue. Locals say the arterial roadway is the most convenient route Downtown, but it needs to be safer. An average of 40 cyclists an hour race along the avenue, according to a 2015 study conducted by Sunset Park Restoration. And 18 cyclists were injured in crashes along the avenue between 17th and 65th streets in the last five years, city data shows.

The city has been more attentive to other neighborhoods’ cycling-infrastructure needs, according to some Sunset Parkers. Recently, the transportation department even agreed to revise a controversial bike lane it had just laid down on E. 38th in Marine Park, and Sunset Parkers are frustrated with how responsive the city was to Marine Park while ignoring their own pleas, another activist said.

“This just shows that the Department of Transportation is out of touch with the community,” said Tony Giordano, executive director of Sunset Park Restoration. “I’m still hopeful, but it seems like it’s turned into a beating-a-dead-horse kind of thing.”

The Department of Transportation told advocates that Fourth Avenue isn’t wide enough to accommodate a “protected” bike lane, locals said. And yet the agency is moving on a controversial plan to widen the avenue’s medians by four feet — roughly the width of a bike lane — on either side.

Cyclists remain geared up to push for the long-awaited lane, because Fourth Avenue is a safer option compared to nearby Third and Fifth avenues, which are either too narrow or full of speeding cars, one rider said.

“Fourth Avenue makes the most sense to me — Fifth Avenue is narrow, and you’re going uphill at a certain point, and Third Avenue has the expressway, which is hectic,” said Raj Kottamasu, who commutes along the boulevard from Clinton Hill up to five times a week and injured his shoulder last winter after a truck stopped short and he swerved on a patch on ice. “I would like a bike lane here. It’s definitely a lot safer than nothing.”

The Department of Transportation is open to discussing future community requests for bike lanes in Sunset Park, an agency spokeswoman said.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.