Former Deputy Mayor Under Dinkins Lobbies City Hall to Kill PPW Bike Lane

Last week’s rally to defend the Prospect Park West bike lane, organized in response to a concurrent anti-bike lane protest, was a clear-cut demonstration of the public support enjoyed by a project that’s calmed speeding traffic and made cycling more attainable for people of all ages. By most estimates, supporters of the new PPW outnumbered opponents about 5 to 1.

Norman Steisel, appearing on Charlie Rose in 1993.

Norman Steisel, appearing on Charlie Rose in 1993.

In addition to the protest mounted by bike lane foes last Thursday, opponents have employed some less visible tactics to reverse the redesign. Before last week’s dueling demonstrations, Norman Steisel — a Sanitation Commissioner under Ed Koch and Deputy Mayor in the Dinkins administration who was ensnared in a high-profile prostitution scandal in 1997 — sent a long, annotated letter opposing the redesigned PPW to current Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith.

One bike lane opponent forwarded Steisel’s letter to Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors, who took the time to respond to Steisel’s arguments point by point. Steisel’s letter and part of the email thread circulated among the anti-bike lane “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” group are reprinted below, with McClure’s responses in blockquotes. Full names of “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” members have been abbreviated to initials.

The photos and formatted tables in Steisel’s original letter didn’t reach us intact, but if you have the patience, follow all the way through to Steisel’s footnotes at the end. He buttresses one point with a sixty-year-old text on traffic engineering, and argues, among other things, that the speed-reducing redesign has not made driver behavior more considerate.

Read on for McClure’s complete rebuttal, and to see how bike lane opponents are framing their argument.

—— Forwarded Message

From: Norman Steisel

Date: Wed, 20 Oct 2010 14:38:57 -0400

To: MT

Cc: LH, CL, CC, GW, GD, JB, JM, JS, LB, LN, LC, LD, MT, NR, RP, RL

Subject: Re: [SUSPECT]  Fwd: Prospect Park West Bike Lane Trial

i dealt with the safety by pointing out various created potential hazards—had no data but anecdotal evidence .. also esthetic briefly by analogizing to parisian boulevards.

On Oct 20, 2010, at 2:13 PM, MT wrote:

This is an excellent letter that addresses all the issues except for the safety and the esthetic. Hope that Mr. goldsmith will be kind enough to read it and respond.

From: LH

Sent: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 1:56 PM

To: CL, CC, GW, GD, NS, JB, JM, JS, LB, LN, LC, LD, MT, NR, RP, RL

Subject: [SUSPECT] Fwd: Prospect Park West Bike Lane Trial

This is the document we worked on that Norman sent to Goldsmith and a bunch of other politicians. It’s long for an email, but please look this over as it summarizes a lot of the research that has been done by NBBL. Apparently no response from Goldsmith as yet, but Norman can brief us on this tomorrow evening.

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Norman Steisel

Date: Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 12:54 PM

Subject: Prospect Park West Bike Lane Trial

To: xxxxxxxx@cityhall.nyc.org

Cc: LH, LC

Dear Deputy Mayor Goldsmith:

I am writing to you as a member of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes to request your direct involvement in reviewing the evaluation of the Prospect Park West Bike Lane, which is now in a trial phase scheduled to end at the end of the year.  As a former first deputy mayor and sanitation commissioner who has had considerable experience in managing complex operational issues, I would like to share with you my personal observations as a long-standing member of the Park Slope community.

You are doubtless aware of the controversy this project has engendered, the intensity of which, in itself, suggests that a superior solution to the problem (however it is defined) must be available.  And indeed, we believe that there is a preferable alternative which would better serve citizens of all ages, genders, and locomotive proclivities on both sides of the dispute.  But most importantly, we believe that the process that has led to the current impasse has been so tainted with opacity and pre-conceived notions of the appropriate outcome that the most important immediate objective is ensuring that the evaluation of this trial phase be as transparent and impartial as possible.  It is your assistance in achieving this end that we are requesting.

With all due respect to the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” the process has hardly been opaque, nor has it been in any way characterized by pre-conceptions.  A diverse group of residents and neighborhood advocates first raised the need to calm traffic on Prospect Park West, which was plagued by speeding, at a Park Slope Civic Council forum in March 2006.  The local Community Board, Brooklyn Community Board Six, wrote to then-new Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan in June of 2007, requesting that NYCDOT take steps to calm traffic on Prospect Park West, and even suggested exactly what was eventually implemented: the replacement of one of three travel lanes with a protected bicycle path.  In the spring of 2009, Park Slope Neighbors presented NYCDOT with 1,300 signatures on a petition asking for a similar treatment.  NYCDOT presented the Community Board Six Transportation Committee with an initial proposal in April 2009, which the committee endorsed, and the full board voted to approve the project by an 18-9 vote in May 2009.  The project’s implementation, originally scheduled for September 2009, was then delayed nine months, reportedly due to pressure from the Borough President.  It is frankly not very believable that the most recent prior Transportation Commissioner and a former first deputy mayor and sanitation commissioner who live on Prospect Park West, among others, did not know about this well in advance of the public at large, which has known of the actual plan for a year and a half, and a community-driven desire to redesign Prospect Park West for more than four years.

1. “The Problem.”

The currently implemented plan had two stated objectives:  providing a bike lane to encourage this healthful and environmentally benign form of transportation, and removing a traffic lane to calm traffic and hence improve public safety.

In truth, the principle objective of both Community Board Six’s initial request, and the plan presented by NYCDOT, was to calm traffic.  The protected bike path was made possible because of the removal of the extraneous third traffic lane, which was the major contributor to the dangerous speeding that the previous configuration of Prospect Park West encouraged.

But there are better ways of achieving each of these ends, with fewer adverse impacts to the neighborhood.  West Drive, which parallels Prospect Park West (PPW) only a few hundred feet away inside Prospect Park, already accommodates a one-way bike lane which could readily be configured as a bi-directional route that would provide a more pleasurable experience for bicyclists while avoiding the safety and environmental problems associated with the use of PPW.

Cyclists, who have been using the Prospect Park West bike path in droves since it was installed, seem to find it quite pleasurable.  However, cyclists seeking to commute or run errands don’t find it at all pleasurable to go considerably out of their way to get around.  Nor have they found it very pleasurable to be able to legally enter and leave the park while on their bikes at only two points (3rd Street and 5th Street) between the north and south ends of the park.  Nor have they found it pleasurable to have to ride up and down the hills in the park, rather than on the much flatter Prospect Park West.  Nor have they found it pleasurable to be barred from Prospect Park between 1 a.m. and daybreak.  And just for a minute, imagine the difficulties of pedestrians trying to cross the park drive with cyclists coming in both directions at the very high speeds at which many recreational cyclists ride, speeds that, on average far exceed cycling speeds in the Prospect Park West bike path.  The implementation of a two-way loop in Prospect Park would, frankly, create more problems than it solved.

And while traffic speeds on PPW had not generally been perceived as problematic (indeed, average speeds on PPW were not discernibly higher than those on any other street of comparable roadway geometry in the neighborhood, while the accident rate is the lowest of any street in this part of Park Slope)[i] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn1> , traffic-slowing could more easily be accomplished, with fewer adverse effects on safety, fewer air-pollutant emissions—and much less honking—with additional signal lights, modifications of signal timing, and similar measures.  (In fact, when viewed from the perspective of traffic-calming, the project as implemented violates nearly all of the criteria in the NYSDOT’s traffic-calming manual.)[ii] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn2>

Prospect Park West traffic speeds have been perceived as highly problematic for years, as Community Board Six’s 2007 request to NYCDOT to curtail speeding would attest.  While the frequency of accidents was not great, the potential for serious injury or death was high, due to the prevailing excessive speeds, and some high-speed crashes have been serious, as in the linked photograph.  Signal timings have been adjusted and readjusted, and the results have done little to curtail speeding.  Furthermore, the only other street of “comparable roadway geometry” in the neighborhood, 4th Avenue, is a major arterial running through what until recently was primarily a commercial/industrial corridor, widely acknowledged to need traffic calming.  All other avenues in the neighborhood have just two lanes.  Additionally, Prospect Park West is a neighborhood street bounded on one side by residences and on the other by Brooklyn’s most-used public park, visited by thousands of pedestrians and cyclists on a daily basis — hardly the type of location crying out for higher speed capacity.

There is no evidence that the relative costs and benefits of either of these alternatives were adequately considered before the decision was made to proceed with the currently implemented project.

The Public Review Process.

While we do not mean to suggest that there was any intention on anyone’s part to conduct the public review process in any but the most fair and impartial manner, we submit that the perception that the process has been skewed in favor of a determination to proceed with the bike lane on PPW (rather than the inside-the-park alternative) prior to an objective analysis of costs and benefits is widespread and sincerely held.  The basic concern is that there is no evidence that DOT ever conducted any analysis of the “problem” in advance of implementing a “solution.”  (Using NYCDOT’s “Official Data Release Form,” we requested data on traffic speed and volume on PPW prior to the installation of bike lanes.  We were told that NYCDOT had no such data.)  And the rationales that were provided for the implementation of this “solution” are not supported by the data that we have been able to obtain.

Promulgating the perception that the process was somehow skewed is of course advantageous to those who object vehemently to the redesign of Prospect Park West, but the reality of the years-long process contradicts these claims.  As for the availability of speed data, the request to NYCDOT for data must have been filed incorrectly (we will take the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” at their word that the form was indeed submitted), since data certainly exists: NYCDOT presented such speed and traffic-volume data to a regularly scheduled meeting of the Community Board Six Transportation Committee on April 16, 2009.  There was plenty of advance notice of the agenda for that meeting.  At the meeting, NYCDOT presented data showing that Prospect Park West’s existing vehicle volume at the time peaked at a little over 1,100 cars per hour, which NYCDOT explained could be easily accommodated by two lanes.  NYCDOT also reported that in field surveys conducted in March, 2009, they had found that more than 70 percent of the cars on Prospect Park West were exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, and at least 15 percent were traveling at 40 mph or faster.  Mr. Roger Melzer, whose wife has been quite active in the opposition to the redesign of PPW (and who is cc’d above in emails among the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes”), was present at the meeting and was the only person in attendance to voice objection to the plan.  While it’s possible that Mr. Melzer kept details of NYCDOT’s proposal to himself, his presence at the April 16, 2009 meeting again calls into question the claim by the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” that the process was somehow opaque or secretive.

Rationales Provided:

Accident Rate

Although DOT suggests that PPW is subject to a high rate of accidents, the only comparative data that we have been able to acquire show that it has the lowest rate of accidents in the neighborhood (see endnote 1).

To our knowledge, NYCDOT has never claimed that Prospect Park West is subject to a high rate of accidents, and neither has Park Slope Neighbors.  Rather, NYCDOT and PSN have said that Prospect Park West was plagued by excessive and potentially very dangerous speeding, and it is common knowledge that vehicle speed correlates with the severity of injuries sustained in vehicle crashes.

Capacity

DOT contends that three lanes are not justified by traffic volumes. Traffic volumes on the street vary (depending on location) between 1,127 and 1,149 vehicles per peak hour.[iii] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn3> Assuming a rule-of-thumb of 600 cars as a maximum per-lane capacity per hour,[iv] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn4> this traffic volume would require a full two lanes of free-flowing traffic.  But since one of those lanes is consistently subject to blockage (every time a taxi stops for a passenger, a school bus picks up or drops off a child, a handicap van picks up or drops one of the elderly, a Fresh Direct or UPS truck drops off a package, a resident loads a suitcase or a park-goer unloads a grill), the capacity is often reduced to 600 cars per hour and the overflow is backed up for blocks.  Meanwhile the increased lane-switching required to by-pass vehicles loading or unloading in one of the traffic lanes produces additional congestion and risk of accidents.

Just two paragraphs prior to presenting traffic-volume data, the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” claimed that NYCDOT had no data on traffic volumes prior to the redesign.  Now, above, they are quoting NYCDOT’s statistics.  They also far overstate the frequency of double-parking, based on anecdotal claims rather than any measurable, verifiable data; ignore the fact that school pick-ups and drop-offs, for example, do not coincide with peak traffic volumes; and further ignore the fact that NYCDOT has implemented several drop-off zones along Prospect Park West.  Furthermore, the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” present no actual data about their claim of diminished road capacity.

Problems Produced by the Current “Solution.”

These were the problem conditions identified by DOT prior to implementing the current “solution”:

1.                  “Traffic volume does not warrant 3 travel lanes

2.                  Speeding

3.                  Reckless Driving

4.                  Long pedestrian crossings

5.                  Park Slope has high volume of cyclists

6.                  No dedicated cycling space: uncomfortable cycling environment

7.                  Cyclists travel on sidewalk”

This was the design objective given:

“Complete Streets

·                     Pedestrians

·                     Cyclists

·                     Automobiles

·                     Buses”

With regard to motorists and pedestrians, this is what the bike path was supposed to achieve:

“Motorists:

Traffic Calming

·                     Fewer opportunities to speed

·                     Lead vehicles sets pace

·                     Channelized traffic

·                     Maintains traffic flow

Pedestrians:

·                     Improved safety

·                     Reduced crossing distance”[v] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn5>

We will consider each of these items in order.

With the exception of problem item 6—which we maintain could be more successfully addressed by developing a dedicated lane in the adjacent West Drive within the park (a contention that is supported by the significantly greater proportion of cyclists that currently use the inside-the-park greenway) and item 2, which we contend was not actually a problem[vi] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn6> —the other conditions have not been improved by the implementation of the bike lane.  (The notion that the dedicated bike lane had to be accessible to local users who want to ride only a few blocks and thus need to be able to enter and exit the bike lane every couple of hundred feet is belied by the fact that the rate of usage is de minimis compared to the number of bikers inside the park.  It is clearly more convenient for those going only a few blocks to walk rather than mounting, dismounting from, parking, locking, and unlocking a bike.)

“The Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” appear to confuse recreational riding, which is much more likely to take place inside the park, with commuting or errand-running, which has been made far more convenient by the directness of the bike path, the accessibility of the bike path at every intersection along Prospect Park West, and the availability of the contra-flow lane for northbound riding.  They present no cyclist counts to back their claims, and cycling usage figures reported last week by NYCDOT (or a visit to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket on a Saturday) reveal that the rate of usage is anything but de minimis. Furthermore, those who cycle likely find it preferable to walking, though it’s nice of the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” to suggest an alternate mode of travel.

Squeezing 15,286 cars a day[vii] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn7>  into one or two lanes may indeed have decreased the average rate of speed (by vehicles if not by bikes), but it has done so at the expense of marked increases in congestion (peak-period traffic jams, formerly rare, are now common), visible and odorous incremental exhaust emissions due to more idling, and a dramatic surge in traffic noise due to honking.

We would encourage the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” to present evidence of any bicycles traveling above the 30 mph speed limit; before-and-after data on congestion; and any actual data they may have collected on emissions and/or honking, the latter of which, of course, is illegal except in an emergency, and punishable by a $350 fine.

The ever-present blockages of one lane or the other (with pickups and drop-offs, parking, and cars backing from driveways into the street) actually promotes riskier driving behavior because of continuous lane-shifting.

Again, we invite the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes to present evidence of “riskier driving behavior because of continuous lane-shifting,” or of just plain “continuous lane-shifting,” for that matter.  Some of the riskiest driving behavior on the pre-redesign Prospect Park West, to our mind, was the frequent jockeying among three lanes by speeding drivers trying to avoid red lights.

Pedestrian crossings of a third one-way lane at signalized intersections were never a problem.  Crossing a third lane in which silently speeding bicyclists, who are difficult to see between parked cars, who may not have lights at night, are coming from both directions—without the benefit of signalized stops—is hazardous in the extreme, particularly for the young, the old, and the handicapped.[viii] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn8>

Cyclists are not actually “difficult to see,” because the redesign of Prospect Park West includes wide pedestrian refuge areas at each marked crosswalk.  However, concerns about visibility could be addressed through additional “daylighting” of the pedestrian refuge areas.  Furthermore, there is a three-foot buffer between parked cars and the bike path.  Riding without lights is illegal, and subject to citation and fine, as are failure to yield and sidewalk riding; Community Board Six, Park Slope Neighbors and the Park Slope Civic Council have formally requested stepped-up enforcement of bicycle violations by the 78th Precinct (as well as stepped-up enforcement of vehicular and parking violations).  Park Slope Neighbors has made inquiries to the command of the 78th Precinct, as well as the Precinct’s Community Affairs Office, regarding any increases in reports of bicycle/pedestrian accidents along PPW, and thus far, the answer has been, consistently, that the department has no such evidence.  We should also point out that with the advent of the redesign, nearly all cyclists are now riding in the bike path, which makes their presence much more predictable.

Although there may be a “high volume of cyclists” in Park Slope, one would not realize this by counting the number of bikers actually using the double dedicated lane.  This volume is minimal.  And those who use it tend to be fair-weather, recreational bikers rather than commuters drawn from their gasoline-burning cars (which perhaps explains why the majority of them choose instead to ride inside the Park.)

The “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” claimed just above that cyclists create dangers that are “hazardous in the extreme.”  Now they claim that hardly any cyclists are using the path, and that those who are, to their keen eyes, tend to be “fair-weather, recreational bikers.” Of course, the facts contradict them, since DOT’s preliminary data, released about the time the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes issued their email, indicate that more than 1,000 cyclists are using the path on weekdays, and nearly 2,000 are using it on weekends, representing a tripling and doubling of pre-redesign cycling volumes, respectively.  And even at those impressive usage levels, and even using a 12-hour day rather than a 24-hour day, that means a cyclist passes by every 22 seconds or so — more than enough time for almost anyone to safely cross the eight-foot bike path, not even allowing for braking or stopping by those cyclists.

Meanwhile, some bicyclists continue to ride, illegally, on the sidewalks.

NYCDOT reported, in the data it released last week, that only 4% of cyclists on Prospect Park West continue to bike on the sidewalks (down from 46%, many of whom were afraid to ride in the roadbed, prior to the redesign), and of those, about a third are children who can do so legally.  Anything above zero is, of course, still a concern, and we hope that the NYPD’s announcement this week of a crackdown on illegal riding will help to reduce or even eliminate sidewalk riding.  A good portion of that sidewalk riding is being done by delivery personnel, and Park Slope Neighbors and other groups hope to launch an outreach campaign to neighborhood businesses to educate delivery personnel about cycling rules and regulations as soon as we can stop having to defend the Prospect Park West redesign against spurious and misleading attacks.  We invite the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” to join us in that outreach effort.

With regard to “complete streets,” with only two remaining, narrowed, traffic lanes, one of which is often blocked, and with the former bus stops now repurposed for loading zones and parking spaces, it would scarcely be possible to return bus service to PPW, despite the undoubted environmental and social benefits restored transit service would produce.  And if start-and-stop local bus service were reinstituted, it would significantly exacerbate an already acute problem of lane blockages.

Bus service has been operating for decades on 7th and 5th Avenues, both of which have just two travel lanes, and are two-way, to boot.  In addition, given the environmental and social benefits of prioritizing transit over private automobile use, one of the two parking lanes could be eliminated to accommodate a dedicated bus lane.

Motorists not only have fewer opportunities to speed, they have many fewer opportunities to maintain steady forward motion.  Because the “lead vehicles” often “set the pace” by blocking the lane, traffic is indeed “channelized”—into the other lane.  Meanwhile the decrease in lane dimensions (according to the DOT plans, a foot less than the width recommended in the NYSDOT Office of Design’s Highway Design Manual;  according toour measurements [on June 20, 2010], 20 inches less than the recommended 12 feet) not only increases the risks of contact between moving (and lane-blocking) vehicles, but increases the risks to anyone trying to enter or exit a parked car.  And the increased volumes on narrower lanes make getting into or out of a parking space significantly more difficult.

Our reading of the NYSDOT Highway Design Manual (which we should note is oriented primarily to highways and suburban and rural roads) indicates 10 feet as the minimum, and 11 feet as the “desirable” lane width for urban streets with 30-mph speed limits.  Furthermore, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ “Green Book” states that 10-foot-wide lanes are acceptable on low-speed roads, and that for signalized roadways operating at lower speeds (sub-45 mph), narrower lanes are normally adequate.

Pedestrians, with not one but two different kinds of traffic streams to cross, feel at significantly greater risk and experience slower crossing times.

We encourage the Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes to produce the results of their pedestrian poll, and empirical data pertaining to the effect of the redesign on crossing times.

In addition to these newly created problems, two others deserve special mention.  One is the new set of difficulties posed for the critical public functions of street-sweeping and snow removal.  The streets are noticeably dirtier, particularly in the bike-lane areas, due to the difficulty of accessing them.  This lack of access will also affect snow plowing.  More significantly, the piles of plowed snow will narrow the two traffic lanes to one lane—which will be blocked every time a school bus or taxi cab stops, or a parent pulls a sled from the back of an SUV.

The bike path was designed, obviously, to allow for plowing and street-sweeping.  We encourage the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” to present data pertaining to their claims of “noticeably dirtier” streets, though we’d even settle for before-and-after photos.  To our knowledge, the neighborhood’s other two-lane avenues do not seem to have been shut down by snowfall in the past.

The second problem that must be highlighted is the impact of the bike path on emergency vehicles.[ix] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn9>   Fire trucks and ambulances often now use adjacent streets rather than PPW, since it is difficult for the vehicles ahead of them to clear a lane in response to their sirens.  In a genuine emergency, this could prove fatal.

Here again, we invite the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” to present evidence of the re-routing of emergency vehicles.  Given that the four nearest parallel avenues are also two-lane roads, we frankly are doubtful that this claim is accurate.  And again, when we have inquired with the 78th Precinct about any negative effect on response times, we have been told that there have been none.  New York Methodist Hospital has made no reports of compromised response times.

A final issue also merits consideration:  the altogether unhappy aesthetic effect of the garishly painted, plastic-pyloned bike lanes on the serene beauty of what is one of the most gracious boulevards in the city, the stately boundary between graceful Prospect Park and one of Brooklyn’s finest historic districts.  And the parking lane in the middle of the street destroys the previously unfettered vista culminating in the magnificent Grand Army Plaza memorial at the pivot of Prospect Park West, Prospect Park, and Eastern Parkway.  (One shudders to imagine how a Parisian might view the encrustation of the view down the Champs Elysées through the Arc de Triomphe.)

Beauty and aesthetics are, of course, in the eye of the beholder.  Once the city can fund the implementation of raised curbs to replace the pedestrian refuge areas, the pylons delineating those areas can be removed.  However, they are necessary at this juncture to prevent drivers from parking in the at-grade refuge areas, which are instrumental to the visibility and safety of pedestrians and cyclists.  Of course, the replacement of the park-side parking lane with a planted median might add tremendously to the avenue’s aesthetics.

That these problems are the subject of intense local concern is demonstrated not only by the volume of press and blog coverage on the Web, but by the fact that over four hundred residents of the immediate neighborhood have signed petitions opposing the dedicated bike lane on PPW (and favoring the inside-the-park alternative.)  (Note that unlike the type of e-survey that pollsters and decision-makers consider unreliable because they are so easily subject to manipulation—and unlike the new survey now being conducted by Councilmen Lander and Levin and Community Board 6, which recognizes the defects of prior e-surveys conducted by pro-bike advocates and avoids them—the physical signatures on our hard-copy petitions are verifiable.)[x] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn10>

The “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” ignore the fact that supporters of the redesign of Prospect Park West have collected more than 400 physical signatures on hard-copy petitions, as well.  In addition, the vast majority of the additional 1,400 signatures we collected electronically are easily verifiable, as well, as we have email and physical addresses and other contact information for virtually all of them.  Furthermore, it was only after the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” launched a Facebook group (Facebook being one of the “Gen X and Gen Y social networking sites run by paid advocates” that the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” condemn in their footnotes; see below) to demonstrate opposition to the Prospect Park West redesign that supporters launched their own version.  As of October 26th, Facebook supporters of the Prospect Park West redesign outnumber opponents by 1,805 to 325, which may be the reason the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” now appear to hold such social media in contempt.

That better-than five-to-one ratio of supporters to opponents was replicated this past Thursday, when a diverse group of well more than 300 enthusiastic supporters, many of them residents of Prospect Park West and the immediate environs, rallied in Grand Army Plaza for the new Prospect Park West, while a group of several dozen opponents held a media event to broadcast their displeasure.  We should note that the opposition demonstration consisted of only about three times the number of “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” cc’d above.

Lastly, let us further note that Park Slope Neighbors is a completely volunteer grassroots organization without a penny to its name, and that the Facebook group supporting the redesign of Prospect Park West was created, and is administered by, an unpaid volunteer.

The Critical Importance of an Objective and Transparent Evaluation Process

Not only has DOT not provided satisfactory data, analyses, or rationales for their decision to implement this trial project, they have not provided any clear indication of how it will be evaluated, or of what data are being collected, in what fashion, to provide what metrics, or of what the evaluation criteria will be.  The public has the distinct sense (compounded by the lack of information provided in response to our official request), that few if any baseline data were collected prior to project implementation.  Without adequate baseline data, it is difficult to envision how a valid monitoring and evaluation process can take place.

Our concerns are heightened not only by the experiences we have observed elsewhere (e.g., with the midtown Manhattan pedestrian-area experiment, where DOT appeared to be less-than-forthcoming in its provision of data, and appeared to shift the evaluation criteria after the fact), but by statements concerning this project which, in the absence of any information about what data are being collected or how they are being evaluated, are puzzling, to say the least, since they directly contradict the observed experience that many of us have shared.

Concerns are also raised by the sense that DOT appears less-than-committed to engaging with the neighborhood’s designated representatives—Community Board 6—in this process.  In its vote in May, 2009, the Board’s approval of the trial project was conditioned on DOT’s response to a series of issues the Board foresaw as being potentially problematic.  (These included most of the problems noted above, which have indeed occurred as a result of project implementation.)  Although DOT did respond to some of these concerns in April 2010, the full Board was not given an opportunity to approve or disapprove of these responses and design modifications before the project was implemented shortly afterwards.

Furthermore, one of the things that the Board had specifically requested and expected to see the results of was a study of vehicle-loading and –unloading activities during a peak period.  Although the DOT did sample this behavior for a few hours on a Saturday, this hardly represented peak-period conditions, which occur during week days when school buses, delivery trucks, and other business-related activities are in full operation.  Such issues were the subject of Community Board Chairman Richard S. Bashner’s September 15th letter to Commissioner Sadik-Khan, in which he expressed his dissatisfaction with the “extent to which various recommendations and requests that Community Board 6 had made in our attached letters of July 13, 2009  and  June 20, 2007 were not included in DOT’s plans” and requested a meeting “as soon as possible.”

In an August letter to Councilman Brad Lander, DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan wrote that in order to evaluate the project her Department was collecting data on vehicle and bicycle volumes, speeding frequency, illegal cycling behavior, and crash injury rates.  But since we are unaware of any satisfactory pre-trial data on vehicle and bicycle volumes, speeding frequency, or illegal cycling behavior, it would seem impossible to produce a valid appraisal of the success of this trial in achieving the bottom-line objectives of this endeavor—improving safety, ease of mobility, and environmental quality.  (Even more disquieting than the lack of scientifically satisfactory pre- and post-trial data is that the only so-called “speed data” that, to our knowledge, have been collected, are ad hoc speed-gun measurements based on an altogether unsystematic sampling procedure, taken by unqualified non-professionals, which would not withstand any objective methodological appraisal, yet which pro-bike advocates have been touting as demonstrating that pre-bike-lane speed levels, in aggregate, were excessive, and that post-bike-lane levels, in aggregate, have been significantly reduced.)

Once again, the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” actually cited NYCDOT’s pre-redesign data above, and NYCDOT presented speeding data to Community Board Six – which again, requested the redesign of Prospect Park West because of concerns about speeding – prior to the implementation of the redesign.

Furthermore, NYCDOT released preliminary post-redesign speed and bicycle-volume data at about the same time that the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” were issuing this missive, data that indicates that speeding has been greatly curtailed and that bicycle usage has soared.  In addition, although the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” impugn the credibility of the before-and-after speed survey data collected and presented by Park Slope Neighbors, sneeringly dismissing it as “amateurish,” “altogether unsystematic” and “unable to withstand any objective methodological appraisal,” we would be remiss in pointing out that our data matches the results presented by NYCDOT almost exactly.  Certainly the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” wouldn’t say the same thing about data collected and presented by the trained transportation engineers at NYCDOT, would they?  We further note that in internal correspondence outlined above, the author of the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” email admits that he “had no data but anecdotal evidence” for any of the alleged ills he ascribes to the redesign of Prospect Park West.

“The data for all these categories will be analyzed in its entirety to assess the effects of the Prospect Park West project on the safety and mobility of its users and to assist in any necessary refinement to the bicycle path design,” Commissioner Sadik-Khan continued.  (Note the lack of any indication that anything other than “any necessary refinement”—e.g., the pursuit of superior alternatives both for the bike path and the traffic calming—is contemplated.)  “We anticipate that the data will show that the parking-protected bicycle path on Prospect Park West has increased street safety and bicycle volumes, as similar projects through New York City have.”[xi] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__edn11>  Such predictive phrases (is it possible that they are based on the amateurish advocacy data mentioned above?) give the impression that the current “trial” may not be as open to objective appraisal as a New York City tax-payer would have reason to expect.

We would like to request a meeting with you or your staff to discuss these issues.  Our goal is to ensure that measures are in place that will allow us to feel confident that the analysis of the bike lane trial will be conducted transparently and impartially, that all of the critical affected agencies (e.g., Police, Fire, EMS, Sanitation) will have a role in the analysis, and that the fundamental objectives of safety, equal access to mobility, and environmental quality will be kept in view so that the best of the available alternatives can be selected.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Norman Steisel

[Editor's note: Let the footnotes begin. Regrettably, the formatting of tables didn't translate.]

[i] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref1> These are the most recent available data, supplied by the NYC DOT:

1/1/06-12/31/09

4 yr. Total

Ped

Bike

Veh

Totals

4 yr. Average

Ped

Bike

Veh

Average

Prospect Park W

5

2

35

42

Prospect Park W

1.3

0.5

8.8

10.5

8th Avenue

10

5

68

83

8th Avenue

2.5

1.3

17

20.75

7th Avenue

23

10

61

94

7th Avenue

5.8

2.5

15

23.5

6th Avenue

14

8

55

77

6th Avenue

3.5

2

14

19.25

5th Avenue

31

15

74

120

5th Avenue

7.8

3.8

19

30

10 Year data from 1995 to 2005 Pedestrian and Bicycle Accident Incidences

Street

Total number of accidents

Avg. # accidents/year

Accidents/block/year

Fifth Avenue

234

23.4

1.23

Sixth Avenue

73

7.3

0.38

Seventh Avenue

114

11.4

0.60

Eighth Avenue

63

6.3

0.33

Prospect Park West

27

2.7

0.14

Total

511

51.1

2.69

Source: DOT as presented at: http://www.crashstat.org/

[ii] NYS Department of Transportation Highway Design Manual

On-line at: https://www.nysdot.gov/divisions/engineering/design/dqab/hdm.  Objectives that are violated by the present project are shown in bold.

“Chapter 25, Traffic Calming

25.4: TRAFFIC CALMING PROJECT OBJECTIVES

A project’s needs determine what objectives should be achieved by alternatives. Examples of objectives that may be achieved by traffic calming measures include:

  • Improve driver behavior to be more considerate of other users of the street or road
  • Increase the level of respect for non-motorized street users
  • Create a feeling of safety for all street users
  • Improve safety and convenient for road users, including residents, motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders and people with disabilities
  • Reduce the number and/or severity of accidents
  • Reduce noise and air pollution (see note below)
  • Provide space for non-traffic activities (e.g., shopping, rest, and play)
  • Enhance street appearance and reduce, where possible, the number of traffic signs (Traffic control measures require signing and may increase the number of signs)
  • Achieve an overall improvement in the environment
  • Reduce speeds of motor vehicles where incompatible with adjacent land use
  • Reduce need for police enforcement
  • Reduce short-cut motor vehicle traffic
  • Mitigate the impact of vehicular traffic on residential neighborhoods
  • Promote and support the use of transportation alternatives to the single occupant vehicle
  • Achieve an overall improvement of the community’s quality of life

Note: Some traffic calming measures may not reduce air pollution. If the objective of the project is reduced air pollution, the appropriate analysis should be conducted to prevent unintended consequences.”

[iii] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref3> http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/prospectpark_west.pdf, accessed 10-11-10.

[iv] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref4> “Traffic Movement

Most cities in America with public systems have the gridiron type of street system with block lengths varying from 300 feet up. The movement of traffic is immediately reduced at least 50 per-cent by such a street system because of the time that would be proportioned to cross traffic. This percentage is further reduced where more than one street crosses the main street at an intersection. Research by the Public Works Administration indicates that streets of this type in urban areas can accommodate a maximum of approximately 600 cars per lane per hour, under good traffic control measures.

The efficiency of traffic movement on existing urban streets is further impeded by pedestrians’ actions, the driving ability of motorists, curb parking, turning vehicles, transit and commercial vehicle loading or unloading, inefficient traffic signal operation, street repairs, and other incidents.”  Frank H. Mossman, ed., Principles of Urban Transportation, Press of Western Reserve University, 1951, p. 157, http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/12000/12700/12762/12762.pdf, accessed 10-11-10.

[v] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref5> http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/prospectpark_west.pdf, Slide 4, accessed 10-11-10.

[vi] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref6> The average vehicle speed calculated by DOT in May, 2006, for the AM peak period was 20.1 miles an hour.  http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/centralprospect.pdf, p. 66, accessed 10-11-10.

[vii] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref7> [“DOT data” cited by Hainline in “calming.docx”]

[viii] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref8> “A few examples:

“[O]n Friday July 30, 2010 at 6:55 PM. while walking his bicycle to the park with my mother-in-law a bike traveling in the bike lane struck the front wheel of my [four-year-old] son’s bike causing him and his bike to fall.”  –XXXX X. XXXXXXX to xxxxxxxxxx@aol.com,  8-3-10.

“I am outraged today, because I was almost hit by a bike while walking across First St. with the light.  I fell to the ground and injured my hip and wrist and luckily my dogs were not injured.  The bicyclist lost his balance, but kept on going.”—XXXXX XXXXX to Marty Markowitz, 6-29-10.

“I  tried to cross at the crosswalk on 5th Street with my son’s Yorkshire Terrier. To be especially careful, I picked up the dog and started into the crosswalk as the green walk sign started to flash. I immediately had to back up to avoid being hit by a cyclist who proceeded against the red light and in spite of a clear sign to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. I was clearly visible to him as he glanced at me and kept going.” –XXXXX XXXXX to admin-for-better-bike-lanes@googlegroups.com, 8-10-10.

[ix] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref9> Firemen standing outside 9 PPW (where deliveries by Fresh Direct and UPS often cause traffic backups into Grand Army Plaza) were asked how the bike lane would affect their ability to access PPW.  They said that it would be a nightmare for them when it snows, but “no one ever listens to us.”

[x] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref10> While the pro-PPW-bike-lane side boasts 1,300 signatures collected from throughout the borough via Facebook and other Gen X and Gen Y social networking sites run by paid advocates, the pro-inside-the-park-West-Drive side (i.e., the anti-PPW-bike-lane side) has collected genuine signatures with snail-mail addresses in old-fashioned hard copy.  Over 125 of these signatories live on Prospect Park West itself.  The survey by Levin, Lander, and CB6 is at http://www.surveymonkey.com/ppwsurvey33.

[xi] <#12bc0464d50ea0c0__ednref11> http://bradlander.com/commissioner-sadik-khan-details-ppw-bike-lane-study, accessed 10-11-10.