‘We’re all at great risk’: Cyclists blast Williamsburg’s Grand Street bike lane

‘We’re all at great risk’: Cyclists blast Williamsburg’s Grand Street bike lane
Photo by Joe Hiti

Call it a Grand failure.

Cyclists are calling a more than mile-long stretch of protected bike lanes spanning Grand Street in Williamsburg an unmitigated disaster, slamming transit officials for using plastic flaps in lieu of solid concrete barriers, which permit illegally parked cars to force riders into traffic.

“If this is their response to mounting cyclist and pedestrian fatalities in the city then we’re all at great risk,” said cyclist Philip Leff. “I’m incredibly disappointed by DOT’s execution of that bike lane.”

The bike lanes — which will stretch between Rodney Street and the Grand Street Bridge when they’re completed later this month — eschew permanent concrete barriers, or medians, and instead employ a combination of cheaper safety devices, including using a row of parked cars to separate drivers from cyclists, and installing painted buffers and plastic floppy bollards the agency calls “delineators.”

Trucks and cars block a section of the bike lane between Catherine Street and Morgan Avenue that transit officials plan to repaint green and add flappy plastic delineators to.
Photo by Joe Hiti

These light, plastic flaps are designed to bend when struck by a vehicle, and provide no barrier to the scofflaw motorists who routinely park their cars in the bike lanes, according to one frequent rider.

“People that have experience riding are used to it, but people that don’t are getting hurt,” said Israel, a Bushwick resident and bike messenger, who declined to provide his last name.

During a recent mid-morning survey, dogged Brooklyn Paper intern Joe Hiti encountered rampant obstructions on both eastbound and westbound bike lanes, including eight illegally-parked cars, several delivery and box trucks, welders sawing off the back of a pickup truck, mechanics changing tires, and delivery men unloading refrigerators.

A trailer serving as a temporary construction office was placed smack in the bike lane opposite Catherine Street, where the green paint comes to a sudden halt and spray-painted arrows and orange traffic barriers divert cyclists around the structure — and right into a row of vans at the entrance of a nearby auto shop.

A makeshift construction office at Catherine Street blocks the bike lane and someone spray-painted arrows around it.
Photo by Joe Hiti

A delivery man for FedEx said he was forced to park his truck in the bike lane during stops, because the new loading zones were taken up by illegally parked private vehicles.

“Even though we have commercial spots to park in, residents are still parking there,” said the delivery guy. “It takes no more than three minutes for me to make deliveries — but I can’t park anywhere.”

Hiti also discovered several floppy bollards lying broken on the road, demonstrating just how well they stand up to a two-and-a-half-ton vehicle.

In response to the complaints, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation said the agency will continue to augment the bike lanes with additional safety measures in the coming months.

Workers unload refridgerators near Graham Avenue.
Photo by Joe Hiti

“We are currently in the process of finishing all touch ups, including reinstalling delineators where necessary, and expect this work to wrap up by the end of this month,” said Lolita Avila. “We are also looking for locations where we can add additional protection to prevent vehicles from parking in the bike lane, this work will continue through the fall.”

But fixing a few sheets of flimsy plastic remains a poor excuse for a protected bike lane, according to Leff, who said if the agency really wanted to protect cyclists, it would start over and use materials that work.

“The worldwide gold standard is some kind of concrete curb that’s impossible to drive over,” Leff said. “Any strategy that relies only on tickets and enforcement won’t work — there should be physical structure to discourage that behavior.”

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
RIP: A damaged flappy delineator provides little confidence in the safety of the so-called “protected” bike lane.
Photo by Joe Hiti