Fifth Ave BID, CB6 District Manager Take Aim at Park Slope Bike Lane

fifth_ave_delivery.jpgFifth Avenue in Park Slope on a weekday morning. What's wrong with this picture? Photo: Ben Fried.

Just about every New York City neighborhood has to deal with the consequences of dirt cheap on-street parking. When you practically give away spaces at rock-bottom prices, it guarantees double parking and endless cruising for spots by bargain hunting drivers. Which is bad news for all the bus riders, cyclists, and delivery drivers who have to contend with the clogged curbs, extra traffic, and lane-blocking vehicles that result.

For the past month, Fifth Avenue in Park Slope has been experimenting with DOT's PARK Smart program, which adjusts the price of metered spaces during peak hours and promises to eliminate some of the curbside dysfunction. A few Park Slope business owners also see their neighborhood's PARK Smart pilot as a good opportunity to eliminate something else: the Fifth Avenue bike lane.

This January, at the same time that DOT and Brooklyn CB6 were discussing the launch of PARK Smart, the Fifth Avenue BID approached the community board about doing away with the Class 2 bike lane that runs from Carroll Street to 24th Street.

The contention from BID director Irene LoRe, proprietor of the restaurant Aunt Suzie's, is that the bike lane interferes with deliveries and customer access. Even though parked cars, not two stripes of thermoplast, are what prevent delivery trucks from parking legally. And despite the fact that, according to several Fifth Avenue merchants who were unaware of the BID's request, tickets for double parking were just as common before the bike lane arrived (about five years ago).

Nevertheless, CB6 District Manager Craig Hammerman told Streetsblog last month that he thinks the BID has a point. "Previously the trucks could double park; now that there’s a bike lane, you can't load or unload," he said, agreeing with the notion that the lane is causing headaches for business owners and delivery drivers. "The idea is to share the roads. We'd love to see some sort of compromise."

What sort of compromise, exactly?

Hammerman provided us with a letter [PDF] he sent earlier this year to LoRe and Judi Pheiffer, another local business owner. In it, he proposes converting the existing bike lane to a Class 3 route. That means cyclists would get sharrows instead -- road markings that don't carry the same visual weight or staying power as dedicated lanes. "It would seem to me," Hammerman wrote, that converting the bike lane to sharrows "would eliminate the existing conflict between the bicycles and the merchant delivery trucks."

Or it would simply expose thousands of people to more danger and risk. The proposed scenario wouldn't do anything to help delivery drivers find curbside spots, but it would force cyclists to kiss their dedicated space goodbye. In DOT's latest survey of Fifth Avenue bike traffic, conducted on a weekday in October, 865 cyclists were counted between 8th Street and 9th Street in one twelve-hour period. There's no indication that the agency will roll back this widely used safety measure, but it's worth noting that bike infrastructure has come under fire in a seemingly unrelated discussion of meter pricing.

In a phone call with Streetsblog, BID director Irene LoRe laid out her belief that customers and suppliers are collecting more parking tickets because of the bike lane. "You can get a ticket for blocking the bike lane," she said, claiming that parking enforcement is increasing costs for retail merchants on Fifth. "Eventually a [supplier] is going to put it into their price." (Note, however, that parking in a bike lane -- violation 48 -- doesn't even have a check-box on the New York City parking summons.)

LoRe expressed tentative support for PARK Smart but didn't agree with the proposition that parking dysfunction should be cured with a combination of market-rate meter prices and coordinated delivery zones. "Believe me," she said, "if you start creating loading zones, you're going to take away all the parking spots you created with PARK Smart." While LoRe said she would welcome bike infrastructure on another street (she suggested a protected path on Fourth Avenue), it became clear during the course of our conversation that she does not see bicyclists as potential customers, and that restaurants, in her words, "depend on customers coming by car."

We know from studies of Prince Street in Manhattan and Bloor Street in Toronto that businesses in many urban neighborhoods have more to gain from attracting pedestrians and cyclists than from providing cheap parking. Park Slope is not the same as SoHo, of course, but it is dense, walkable, easily accessible by transit, and full of people who ride bikes.

Plenty of merchants along Fifth Avenue don't share LoRe's take on the situation. Mike Naber, who's run Bonnie's Grill for 10 years, said his delivery guys do get about six tickets per week, but that the enforcement has little to do with the lane striping. "It was like that before the bike lane," he said. (We'll have more from other Fifth Avenue merchants in a future post.)

Better curbside management holds the promise of vastly improved streets -- pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders stand to benefit enormously from properly priced parking and coordinated deliveries. So do many businesses, but myths and misconceptions still abound.