If the goal of the Prospect Park West bike lane lawsuit is to smear the Department of Transportation and sow doubt about the city’s street safety initiatives, it’s already doing a bang-up job. The Post and the Daily News both ran pieces yesterday basically lifting arguments straight out of the plaintiffs’ complaint [PDF] without a shred of analysis. Both papers repeat the same basic distortion: Bike lane opponents are fighting DOT’s agenda. But that’s not really what’s going on here.
The plaintiffs — the group of politically-connected residents who go by “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” and have the backing of former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, who happens to be married to Senator Chuck Schumer — are mainly fighting their own neighbors. If the DOT’s efforts to make streets safer citywide become a casualty in this fight, that’s collateral damage.
Let’s be clear: Residents of Park Slope asked for the Prospect Park West project. The idea for a two-way, protected bike path did not debut with DOT’s April 2009 presentation, as the Daily News suggests. It was not imposed, in the words of the Post’s Rich Calder, “to push an anti-automobile agenda.” The initiative to slow down speeding traffic on Prospect Park West and give people safer space to walk and bike predates Janette Sadik-Khan’s tenure at DOT. It came from people who live in the neighborhood — people who organized and attended public meetings and put together ideas for how to improve local streets.
These are the people whom the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” and their corporate litigator-turned-pro bono counsel, Gibson Dunn’s Jim Walden, are fighting.
They are fighting the results of a community organizing effort that goes back to the days when Iris Weinshall was in charge of DOT. In 2006, well before Sadik-Khan became transportation commissioner, rampant speeding on Prospect Park West and Eighth Avenue emerged as a top concern at the Park Slope Civic Council’s annual traffic and transportation forum. Shortly thereafter, another neighborhood group, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, made it a core goal to create safe bike access to and through Grand Army Plaza.
A physically protected bikeway on Prospect Park West would address both those concerns, and in June 2007, Community Board 6 requested that DOT study a two-way separated bike lane on Prospect Park West [PDF] when it approved plans for a bike lane on Ninth Street (a project initiated on Iris Weinshall’s watch and completed under Sadik-Khan). Sadik-Khan’s DOT then received 1,300 signatures requesting the bike lane, gathered by the group Park Slope Neighbors, before coming back to CB 6 with a proposal, which was approved by the full board in June 2009.