Fifth Ave Merchants: Delivery Problems Have Nothing to Do With Bike Lane

fifth_union.jpgMany Fifth Avenue merchants do see cyclists as customers, not obstacles. Photo: Ben Fried.
Tuesday's post about the Fifth Avenue bike lane in Park Slope gave me the chance to talk to several retail merchants about how they receive their deliveries, and whether the Class 2 bike lane is causing them any trouble. According to Fifth Avenue BID director Irene LoRe, the bike lane makes it tougher for delivery drivers to do their job and adds to the cost of doing business. But based on my conversations with other restaurant owners and retailers, there is little support for this view among merchants on the strip.

Basically, I heard many variations on the theme voiced by Bonnie's Grill proprietor Mike Naber: Delivery drivers were getting lots of tickets and fines "before the bike lane." In the interest of providing some measure of balance to local press reports that blame dips in retail sales on bike infrastructure or bus lanes, here's a sampling of what people told me.

Emily Isaac, owner of Trois Pommes Patisserie, receives about 10 deliveries per week. If the bike lane is causing her suppliers problems, they're keeping quiet about it. "I haven't heard a word or noticed anything," she said. When I asked if she'd be willing to adjust her schedule if it meant she could receive deliveries at the curb during specific times, she said "Yes." She also said that replacing one on-street car-parking spot on her block with space for bike parking would suit her just fine.

At 'Snice, a cafe at the corner of 3rd Street, owner Mike Walter gets three deliveries per day, on average. He thinks the suppliers have given up on trying to find curbside spots, and he has other concerns besides the bike lane. "I'm sure the double-parked trucks hurt bus service," he said. (The B63, which runs on Fifth Avenue, is the slowest bus line in Brooklyn.) "As far as the delivery guys, no one's complained to me that because of the bike riders they're getting tickets."

Between Carroll Street and Flatbush Avenue, Fifth Avenue is too narrow to accommodate a striped bike lane. It has sharrows instead. Revealingly, the merchants on this part of the strip also report that their suppliers receive parking tickets with regularity. So turning Fifth Avenue's Class 2 bike facility into sharrows, as CB6 district manager Craig Hammerman has suggested [PDF], would not accomplish much besides making the street more dangerous.

It's pretty clear that what's going on here is not a bike lane problem, but a delivery problem. Muslh Alomri, a manager at the Associated market on Fifth and Union (he's got sharrows, not a bike lane), would like nothing more than to have a bigger delivery zone in front of his store. The space he has now is equivalent to two parking spots. When the big rigs come to deliver milk, about five or six times a week, the back of the truck sticks out into the bus stop, and the truck driver gets a ticket. Alomri wants to expand the delivery zone to occupy three car parking spaces, but says he's been rebuffed by the city.

You may be asking: Don't his customers have to carry stuff away? Doesn't he need car parking nearby? In fact, said Alomri: "Most of my customers are walking customers. Maybe one out of a hundred comes in a car."