Not everyone in Bay Ridge hates bike lanes

Bay Ridge pressures city to kill bike lane
Photo by Bob Hacken

A key member of a community board panel is demanding that the city strap on a helmet and revive its own abandoned proposal for a bike lane on Bay Ridge Parkway — but he’s facing an uphill battle.

Community Board 10’s Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday night broke down along the usual battle lines in the latest bike lane flare-up as pro-cycling committee member Bob Cassara put forward a motion to call on the Department of Transportation to paint a “shared route” along the wide stretch of the parkway between Shore Road and Bay Parkway in Bensonhurst — a lesser category of bike lane than a full-fledged path.

Cassara’s call came two weeks after the city, which once supported a true bike lane on the three-mile stretch, abandoned that support amid community complaints.

“Bay Ridge Parkway is a perfect place for a bike lane,” said Cassara. “I don’t see any other place where it would work so well.”

But there was plenty of bikelash against Cassara’s proposal. Some committee members argued that the “shared route,” also known as a Class 3 bike lane, is more dangerous than a full-fledged bike lane because it gives cyclists a false sense of security, yet burdens drivers with the same need to look out for the two-wheelers.

“Bike lanes are dangerous because cyclists can get doored or hit by cars,” said CB10 board member Larry Stelter. “And if that happens, the cyclists have no obligations; it’s the drivers who are always at fault.”

But Cassara insisted the bike lane would be safer for cyclists and pedestrians because it would take two-wheelers off the sidewalks. The lane would also include painted warnings on the street alerting drivers that they must share the road.

Cyclists who live on Bay Ridge Parkway backed up Cassara.

“The only place I fear for my life is in Bay Ridge,” said Harry Denny, who lives between Colonial Road and Narrows Avenue. “It’s absolutely the scariest place to ride.”

But local elected officials haven’t shared Denny’s concerns. Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Dyker Heights) has been leading the fight on behalf of drivers, he said.

“The Bay Ridge Parkway bike lane was a disaster waiting to happen,” Abbate cheered after the city withdrew its support last month. “It would have actually made it more dangerous for drivers, pedestrians and bikers — all of whom would be competing for too little space on what is already too narrow a road.”

But the street is actually wider than normal city roadways, measuring 50 feet in width from Bay Parkway to Fourth Avenue and 44 feet from Fourth Avenue to Shore Road.

The Department of Transportation has said there is no one-size-fits-all policy for installing bike lanes, but the agency evaluates locations based on the width of the roadway, parking needs, traffic volumes and community input.

The agency proposed the plan in 2010, arguing that a bike lane was needed not only to provide a safe haven for cyclists, but to reduce the speed of car traffic by narrowing lane widths. Abbate and Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) didn’t buy it, and hailed the city reversal.

“He believes that agencies should let their policies be guided by local expertise and knowledge — and in this instance, our community believed that the lanes would pose a safety hazard,” said Gentile spokeswoman Dena Libner.

This isn’t the first controversial bike lane. Prospect Park West’s famously devisive bike lane is currently the subject of a lawsuit and a campaign by a state lawmaker to get the lane converted into a standard, one-way lane. And last year, the city removed the Bedford Avenue bike lane in Williamsburg after receiving complaints from drivers.

For now, Cassara’s resolution will head to a showdown at Community Board 10’s full meeting on May 16. Cassara predicted that bicyclists will show up in force to defend the measure.

“We always hear from anti-bikers at these meetings,” said Cassara. “Now cyclists need to be heard — and we will be.”

Community Board 10 full board meeting at the Knights of Columbus [1305 86th St. at 13th Avenue in Dyker Heights, (718) 259-8840], May 16, 7 pm.

Community Board 10 member Bob Cassara thinks wide Bay Ridge Parkway is the perfect place for a bike lane. Others disagree.
Photo by Noah Devereaux