Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West Bike Lane Sparks Fierce Local Debate

by , 03/24/11

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Unless you’ve been living (in New York) under a rock for the last nine months, you’ve probably heard about the Prospect Park West bike lane. Installed last June, the lane seemed to be just another positive step forward for Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn‘s pro-bike agenda. But local residents began protesting the lane almost immediately, and now the fight has erupted into a full-blown battle that will be decided in court. On March 7th, two anti-PPW bike lane groups filed a lawsuit against the DOT and Sadik-Kahn, seeking to have the bike lane removed.

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What started as a seemingly harmless nimby argument has become a high-profile case being discussed around the world. Matt Seaton of The Guardian writes that the career of Sadik-Kahn, who has “been an effective and high-profile champion of public transportation, pedestrianisation projects and pro-cycling measures” is at stake, along with the future of a greener New York:

And on her fate rests the whole future of transportation and traffic management public policy in the city of New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is under considerable pressure to admit that the lieutenant he once charged with delivering his own ambitious “greenprint” for a sustainable city, PlaNYC, has become a PR liability. If he now hangs Sadik-Khan out to dry, it will be a huge setback for PlaNYC, and a major reversal for progressive transport policy.

To create the PPW bike lane, the DOT reconfigured the boulevard to have two lanes of traffic instead of three. The third has been converted in the bright green, two-way bike lane. A row of parking spaces protects cyclists from drivers; six parking spaces were eliminated in the conversion.. The lane runs 19-blocks through Park Slope from Grand Army Plaza at the tip of Prospect Park to Bartel-Pritchard Square. Flashing lights and reflective signs help modulate new traffic patterns.

New York Cyclists rejoiced when the lane was laid down. Anti-laners complained that the lane was an eyesore and a safety hazard that was forced on them without proper community input, even though it was officially approved by the neighborhood’s community board before it was built. In January, the DOT declared the bike lane a success, saying that the number of weekday riders nearly tripled and the number of speeding vehicles decreased from three in four to one in five. A different survey, issued by the community board and council members, found that neighborhood residents approved of the bike lane by a 3 to 1 margin. Additional community board meetings have shown similar approval.