Kent Ave Bike Lane Stirs Passions in Williamsburg

kent_ave_small.jpgThe Kent Avenue lane at work, with squad car. Photo: i'm not sayin, i'm just sayin.
New York's latest bike lane skirmish flared up Monday night at a "transportation town hall" in Williamsburg. About 150 people turned out, and DOT bike program coordinator Josh Benson caught an earful from bike lane opponents upset over new parking rules on Kent Avenue, in effect since last month.

Convened by City Council members Yassky and Reyna, the meeting got off to a rough start after MTA reps delivered news about service cuts that will affect the neighborhood. The tone was set for a contentious discussion of Kent Avenue. "Business owners came out against it," said Sholom Brody, a member of TA's Brooklyn Committee. "The problem is 'no standing'; they're really upset about the stretch between Clymer and Division Avenue," a small portion of the lane's full length.

The parking situation has already been through community board review. In April, CB1 approved plans for the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, which would offset the removal of parking spots on Kent by identifying new spaces on side streets. (The current bike lane is a stopgap until the Greenway is built.) All told, DOT made three presentations to the community board about the project [PDF]. Opponents now say this process was insufficient.

An NYPD ticket blitz immediately after the parking rules took effect appears to have inflamed opposition, and the usual canards, of course, are in full effect. According to Brody, one bike lane opponent claimed to have seen only 20 cyclists use the lane over the course of a full day, a figure that DOT refuted with its own 12-hour count -- 500 cyclists.

Streetsblog regular Dave "Paco" Abraham inspected the new lane on a recent ride organized by the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. Any hindrance to drop-offs and deliveries caused by the "no standing" rule need not give rise to a hot-blooded confrontation, he says. "The problem is very workable and the BGI and CB1 supporters readily admit it should be addressed and corrected."

Fine-tuning is already underway. "DOT has been working with local businesses and the community to address changes brought about by the project and will continue to look for ways to minimize any impacts," said spokesman Scott Gastel. The agency has set aside a bus pickup and drop-off zone outside one school and approved a loading zone for a local business.

Despite signals that the kinks will be worked out, a vocal opposition based in the neighborhood's Hasidic community is not embracing a conciliatory tone, to put it mildly.

All indications are that the all-out war approach is a non-starter. "We often see issues like Kent Avenue turned into a referendum on bicycling. That doesn't get us anywhere," said TA's Wiley Norvell. "Turning Kent back into a dangerous truck route with no provision for the hundreds of bicyclists who use it every day would be reckless."