Late last year, Twitter user @NYCBikeLanes issued the “Schermerhorn Challenge” — throwing down the gauntlet and daring cyclists to ride the entirety of the Schermerhorn Street bike lane without ever leaving the lane, with a $100 prize to any victorious pedal-pusher.
On Jan. 31, northern Brooklyn’s new councilmember, Lincoln Restler, decided to give the challenge a try — suiting up in winter attire and boarding a Citi Bike for the seven-block ride between Third Avenue and Clinton Street.
The challenge isn’t an easy play for money, or to increase the number of people using the lane, but rather it’s an attempt to draw attention to the span that’s frequently clogged with police cars, double parkers, and mounds of the city’s infamously gray snow and ice during the winter months.
It took the determined lawmaker 41 minutes to travel just half a mile between Third Avenue and Smith Street, not because he was riding slowly, but because, in an attempt to follow the rules to a T and stay within the confines of the bike lane, he made several minutes-long stops behind obstacles, waiting for them to clear.
Unfortunately for Restler’s chances at snagging a Benjamin, he found himself stuck for too long behind illegally parked cars several times, often with city employee placards, which forced him to ride in the street to get around the scafflaw drivers’ vehicles — and causing him to fail the challenge.
Restler specifically singled out the five-block Third Avenue-to-Smith Street corridor as in desperate need of repair, and called for the addition of protected bike lanes.
“No one should have to bike into traffic because of a row of illegally parked cars,” Restler said. “There’s a crisis on Schermerhorn Street and we need to do everything in our power to redesign the street with protected bike lanes.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Restler said his daily biking really took off once CitiBike launched in New York City, and has since accumulated nearly 2,5000 rides using the service. Riding from 3rd Avenue to Smith Street within the Schermerhorn Street lane was the longest it’s ever taken him to ride just five blocks, he said.
The Schermerhorn cycling path is currently considered a “conventional” bike lane, delineated from traffic lanes just with paint, rather than a physical barrier.
“Am I covered in snow?” Restler asked his cycling companion, after scaling a mound of days-old snow as he attempted to stay out of the roadway in a video of the journey provided to Brooklyn Paper.
“I’d say covered in dirt,” she corrects.
If he’d successfully completed the challenge and collected his $100, Restler said he’d have hired a team of mimes to make use of their skills directing traffic on Schermerhorn Street and keeping the bike lane clear of vehicles.
The Schermerhorn Street lane is only one in a well-traveled network of cycling infrastructure in northern Brooklyn, providing some measure of safety to commuters traversing Downtown en route to work, or to one of the many surrounding residential neighborhoods.
But despite the lane’s popularity, complaints about blocked lanes and illegal parking have gone without significant action by the city for years, which is a routine occurrence in non-protected bike lanes.
Dozens of bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers have been hurt along Schermerhorn Street since 2016, with nine cyclists injured at one intersection, near the corner of Schermerhorn and Smith streets.
Two years ago, the city announced a slate of new bike lanes for Brooklyn after drivers fatally struck 18 cyclists in the borough in 2019. DOT later announced plans to install new lanes on Smith and Johnson streets to improve cyclist connections to the Brooklyn Bridge, and to protect the Jay Street lane by shifting it closer to the curb so it would be shielded from the traffic lanes by a row of parked cars. The new Brooklyn Bridge bike lane opened to fanfare in September, providing cycling commuters with a safer, easier way to cross the East River.
Despite the fairly expansive network of bike lanes in Downtown Brooklyn, most are unprotected and are easily breached by parked or moving vehicles. Even among protected lanes, not all physical protections are created equal — the protected lane on Jay Street is separated from the roadway with the city’s iconic green paint and a few stripes meant to keep cars at a distance, while the nearby Tillary Street lane is kept completely separate from cars with a raised sidewalk.
Even the oft-used plastic “flex posts” don’t always do much to keep trespassers out of protected bike lanes, as noted by riders who frequent the Northern Boulevard lanes in Queens. Restler said he’d like to see a “truly protected” bike lane on Schermerhorn Street, one that would prevent vehicles from interfering with bicyclist safety.
A DOT representative told Brooklyn Paper the department is “working on a proposal” on the bike lane to share with Restler and Community Board 2 in coming months.
“Schermerhorn Street has one of the worst bike lanes in New York City. This is the only way to bike through Downtown Brooklyn and it’s a disaster,” Restler said. “We urgently need a comprehensive redesign by the Department of Transportation of the Schermerhorn bike lane yesterday.”