Grinding gears: City closes bike path to make way for international electric-car race

Grinding gears: City closes bike path to make way for international electric-car race
Community News Group / Lauren Gill

Talk about picking a lane!

The city closed a section of the dedicated Greenway bike path along the Red Hook waterfront for nearly three weeks as the nabe gears up to host a leg of the allegedly environmentally-friendly, international electric-car racing series Formula E, leaving area cyclists with nowhere safe to pedal during peak riding season, according to local leaders.

“The Greenway is heavily used — especially at this time of year,” said Eric McClure, Chairman of the Community Board 6 Transportation Committee. “Not having accommodation for Greenway users while they’re taking up the space seems like an error in judgment.”

The landscaped, green-colored path that runs along Bowne Street between Commerce and Verona streets is closed from July 3 to 21 so crews can set up the race’s fan village, where spectators can buy items such as food and merchandise during the two-day competition on July 15 and 16, according to a Formula E spokesman.

Access to a portion of the stretch — some of which has been covered by concrete slabs — is blocked by fences, and planters that normally sit beside it were exiled to nearby sidewalks, where signs announcing the lane’s closure have been posted.

The city recommended on Twitter that riders cycle along nearby Van Brunt Street instead, but they must share that road with drivers, making it far less safe than the Greenway, according to McClure.

“Van Brunt doesn’t offer any protected space the way the Greenway does for bike riders and runners,” he said.

Drivers in the massive race — who have taken their battery-powered cars to the streets of such exotic locales as Hong Kong, Marrakesh, and Paris — will zoom along a route that runs past the Cruise Terminal and hooks around Atlantic Basin, going to the edge of Pioneer and Conover streets, then running parallel to Imlay Street.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation — the agency working on the event with Formula E — claimed it would include locals in the process when it announced the race last year, but McClure said he had not heard of the Greenway closure until reached by this paper.

And some locals said blocking off a key access point for cyclists in the subway-starved nabe made them question just how much city and Formula E honchos have engaged residents.

“How are you involving the neighborhood when you close the bike lane?” said a Van Brunt Street business owner who asked not to be named.

City Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook) said he also never received advance notice about the plan to close the Greenway, and that he asked city and Formula E officials to host community meetings this week, in order to address locals’ concerns before the race weekend.

“Event operators failed to offer advance notice to nearby residents and cyclists — including myself — who rely on that section of bike path,” he said. “At a site visit last week, I called on the Formula E team and the EDC to demonstrate their commitment to community relations by conducting a pair of open meetings this week to address this and any other concerns.”

The Formula E rep acknowledged it dropped the ball by closing the bike lane, but said it was an inevitable consequence of setting up the fan village planned for the site, and that the organization did all it could to not put locals out by hosting the event.

“I completely understand these comments,” said Sam Mallinson. “We want to minimize the disruption in our host cities. The stretch is unfortunate but we feel that having worked closely with local authorities, we’ve limited the impact on the neighborhood.”

The Department of Transportation did not return requests for comment.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill