Southern Brooklyn has drawn a bicycle lane in the sand.
Infuriated by the city’s history of installing bicycle lanes without community input, a southern Brooklyn councilman will draft legislation to require community board hearings whenever the city wants to put in a new cycle route.
“I hope it wouldn’t be necessary to compel them to [hold public hearings],” said Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Canarsie), who once blocked a city bike lane by threatening a bill that would have painted it over once it was installed. “They should be doing this on their own volition.”
Accommodating cyclists is considered a necessity in Downtown, where many residents pedal to work, but Fidler says bicycling in southern Brooklyn is more of a recreational pastime.
“People here don’t bike to work, and most bike riders here want to bicycle along Marine Park rather than a four-lane road,” he said. “There are many different ways for people to transport themselves around this city and they all need to be accommodated, but there has to be a balance.”
Over the last few months, at least three southern Brooklyn communities have demanded that the city put the brakes on their ambitious plan to create an inter-borough network of bicycle lanes, including:
• Manhattan Beach: Residents cried foul when the city painted a bicycle lane on Oriental Boulevard last year, claiming it only to the already confusing traffic patterns on the strip. In a rarely seen accord, the famously fractious Manhattan Beach Community Group and the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association both demanded that the bike lane be moved to the Shore Boulevard sidewalk, where it used to be. The city has yet to acknowledge the groups’ request.
• Gerritsen Beach: The city was planning to put bicycle lanes along Gerritsen Avenue last October, but residents blocked the plan. The city relented after Fidler made his “paint over” threat.
• Canarsie: Community Board 18 has shot down the city’s plan to put bicycle lanes on both E. 94th and E. 95th streets which would connect East Flatbush and the Canarsie Pier. This past spring, a room full of board members agreed with District Manager Dorothy Turano when she said, “Canarsie is not Park Slope or Carroll Gardens.”
The route is already on the city bicycling map, but that could change. Fidler complained about the bike lanes to the Department of Transportation’s Brooklyn Commissioner Joseph Palmieri, and now the Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs is reviewing its plans.
Fidler said he has the support of several council members.
“[The legislation] wouldn’t be for or against bike lanes,” he said. “It’s just that the community should be asked before they’re put in. Maybe they’ll get 30 people at a hearing who will want [bike lanes].”
But community boards have always been able to relay their pleasure or displeasure about bike lanes through resolutions. In Downtown, Park Slope and Fort Greene, Community Boards 2 and 6 have held hearings and written plenty of resolutions over the years about bike lanes — most recently in the controversial Prospect Park West lane, which was built this summer after the kind of substantial public discussion that Fidler now says he needs a bill to initiate.
And Fidler may be overselling the Community Board’s clout in these matters. The board’s role is only advisory in nature and the city could ignore its claims if it sees fit.
Not that it does that thing, of course!
“We value the community’s input on our programs, which is why we are currently reviewing [the Canarsie] project based on their feedback,” explained Department of Transportation spokesman Monty Dean. “We are happy to work with Councilman Fidler to address his concerns.”