Lots of yelling, little decided at Prospect Park West bike lane hearing

The Prospect Park West Bike Lane is a miracle solution and a horrific danger, bike lane friends and foes trumpeted at packed hearing last night.

More than 300 people — politicians, second graders, New York Times writers among them — gathered to praise, slam and critique the controversial bike lane that this week spawned a lawsuit, international coverage and more than a few rifts between neighbors.

The hearing amounted to a lane-themed “open-mic night” to vent about everything from a neighborhood culture war (“You people see biking as a religion”) to tiny bike lane improvements (“Let’s consider rumble strips”), with plenty of anecdotal evidence on both sides (“I’ve personally seen five fender benders on this street.”)

Bike lane advocates — who wore florescent stickers — outnumbered lane opponents by about four to one, with many calling the 19-block strip of cement a Godsend. It makes morning commutes easier, traffic safer and cycling with kids more enjoyable, they said.

“The lane encourages us to use our bikes more often and our cars less often,” said Alan Esner, who lives on 12th Street. “We get better air quality and exercise.”

But opponents suggested the lane was not only unsafe to pedestrians — who risk getting run over by cyclists — but also rarely used.

“It’s underutilized,” said Roz Kochman, who lives on the 15th floor of a building on Prospect Park West. “If you don’t believe me, come to my apartment and look out my window.”

To that, a cyclist named Johanna Clearfield responded, “I practically live on that bike lane; so you should know my face then.”

Both sides weren’t shy about clapping, booing and shouting, as when Lois Carswell, president of Seniors for Safety — one of the groups that this week sued the city for installing the lane — got up to speak.

She outlined some potential “improvements,” noting “we would be happy if the lane were moved into the park” — but the audience began to grumble loudly, at which point she stopped, frowned and said, “I didn’t ‘boo’ you. I think civility should return to Park Slope.”

On Monday, Carswell’s group and Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes sued the city for installing the lane, claiming the Department of Transportation fudged data and colluded with lane-lovers to squash opposition, ultimately putting pedestrians in harms way.

The suit came after more than a year of debate and tension surrounding the lane, which the city pitched as a traffic-calming measure that would reduce speeding on the hectic throughway. But backers pointed out that as far back as 2007, CB6 petitioned the city to install the protected path as a way to retard speeding car traffic.

Opponents say that the road has become clogged, that parking is more difficult and that the bright green lane has taken away from park aesthetics since it was painted last spring.

But the Department of Transportation has consistently trumpeted it as a success, presenting data that shows that fewer cars exceed the speed limit, fewer bicyclists ride on the sidewalk and fewer cyclists get into accidents.

Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) echoed that view at the meeting, which was held at John Jay HS, saying, “I believe that the prospect Park West Bike Lane is working. … Fears that it would become constantly gridlocked are simply not true.”