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Posts from the Iris Weinshall Category

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The NBBL Files: Weinshall Got Randy Mastro Before the Paint on PPW Was Dry

Last week, opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign moved to appeal Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Bert Bunyan’s decision to reject their complaint against the city. If the community board’s approval of the bike lane and the data showing its effect on speeding and safety didn’t persuade them not to sue in the first place, a judicial decision wasn’t going to persuade them now. The longer the litigation drags on, the more time they’ll have to muddy the truth (to borrow a phrase from the Brooklyn Paper).

Since the case is still in the courts, though, we’ve also got more time to get a clearer look at the anti-bike lane group “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.” Based on email correspondence obtained via freedom of information request, we now have a better sense of NBBL’s methods — how they’ve exploited their connections to politicians, media personalities, city bureaucrats, and various New York City power players in their attempt to erase the new bike lane in their neighborhood.

Randy Mastro offered pro bono legal representation to Iris Weinshall and Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes immediately after the bike lane was installed. Mastro photo: New York Post

Let’s begin with the connection that set the lawsuit on its path to becoming a media spectacle: NBBL’s access to Gibson Dunn partner Randy Mastro.

Actually, first let’s pause to appreciate a classic NBBL exercise in muddying the truth. In the run-up to suing the city, you may recall that NBBL adopted the posture of reluctant litigants. “Much has been said about a potential legal action; we hope not to be forced to bring one,” said their attorney, Gibson Dunn partner Jim Walden, shortly before filing the suit. At the time, in late February, NBBL and Walden had been grabbing headlines for a few weeks, talking about litigation as a supposed last resort.

In fact, his firm had been planning a lawsuit with former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall and the leaders of NBBL for more than seven months. Gibson Dunn provided this service “pro bono.” The person who first offered the use of the firm’s resources to assist Weinshall was Mastro, who co-chairs Gibson Dunn’s litigation arm.

Weinshall and Mastro were not strangers. Both served in Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration – Mastro as chief of staff and later first deputy mayor, Weinshall as a high-ranking official in the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and then as DOT commissioner.

On July 3, 2010, Weinshall emailed her daughter, Jessica Schumer, a recent graduate of Yale Law School who campaigned vigorously against the bike lane that summer. “Spoke with Randy mastro he said he would help you with the article 78!” she wrote [PDF]. (An “Article 78” refers to the type of lawsuit opponents eventually filed in their bid to tarnish DOT and erase the bike lane.)

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Contrary to Statement on WNYC, Gibson Dunn Now Claims Weinshall as Client

Yesterday we found out that the well-connected opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane are refusing to accept the decision from Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Bert Bunyan rejecting their lawsuit. A caveat to the journalists who might pick up the remnants of this story: Quotes from the opponents’ attorney, Gibson Dunn partner Jim Walden, often need vigorous fact-checking.

We’ve written a few posts about the ways Walden and NBBL cherry-picked data about the PPW redesign to suit their conclusions. But it turns out that Walden gave misleading statements about even more basic information — like whom he’s represented as part of his “pro bono” work to eradicate the Prospect Park West bike lane.

In March, soon after the lawsuit was filed, Walden was interviewed by Brian Lehrer on WNYC. At one point Lehrer asked why Walden took the case “pro bono,” given the privileged social status of NBBL members, and whether the group’s political connections played a role:

Lehrer: People say you’re trying to suck up to Senator Schumer and get a job with him because his wife is part of this group.

Walden: Right. Well, she’s not part of the group.

When the lawsuit was at its apex in the news cycle, Walden was trying to distance Schumer from it and deny former DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall’s connection to the anti-bike lane group.

But Walden and Weinshall are happy to reveal their attorney-client relationship — when it suits them.

Streetsblog recently reached a settlement with the City University of New York, stemming from a freedom of information request that CUNY initially contested, to disclose Weinshall’s correspondence regarding the PPW bike lane and her efforts to have it removed. The arrangement stipulates that CUNY does not have to disclose emails that are subject to attorney-client privilege. If Iris Weinshall indeed was not Gibson Dunn’s client, then no emails she sent or received would be shielded from disclosure based on their relationship.

However, in a log of all email correspondence protected from disclosure [PDF], Weinshall claims more than 200 messages between herself, members of NBBL, and Gibson Dunn lawyers should remain confidential due to attorney-client privilege. The shielded documents included messages written six weeks before Walden went on the air saying Weinshall is “not part of the group” suing the city. The log describes many of these messages as “emails between clients and counsel reflecting legal advice and litigation strategy.”

To recap: In March, trying to portray the lawsuit as an exercise in “good government” litigation, Walden goes on the air and tells NPR listeners that Iris Weinshall is not suing the city. Then this summer, when Streetsblog requests Iris Weinshall’s emails via freedom of information law, hundreds of them are off-limits because Weinshall is a Gibson Dunn client.

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Victory for Safe Streets: Judge Rejects Prospect Park West Bike Lane Lawsuit

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Bert Bunyan dismissed the lawsuit seeking to reverse the redesign of Prospect Park West yesterday, putting an end to a protracted, ugly chapter in the annals of NYC street safety improvements. The lawsuit, brought this March by a group of politically-connected opponents who failed to participate in the years of public process that preceded the redesign, had no standing because it was filed after the statute of limitations expired, Bunyan ruled.

No lawsuit will take away this bike lane. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov

Official word of the decision came down last night and set off a round of jubilant tweeting from project supporters, celebrating what should be the last gasp of an extended PR attack that opponents waged against the PPW bike lane, NYC DOT, and street safety advocates. With the apparent end of the legal threat to the redesign, Brooklynites can rest a little easier knowing that the improved conditions for pedestrians and cyclists on PPW are here to stay. There will be no return to the old three-lane speedway configuration.

Bunyan’s ruling [PDF] is a major vindication for Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and NYC DOT’s bike and pedestrian program. “This decision results in a hands-down victory for communities across the city. The plaintiffs have been dead wrong in their unsupported claims about the bike path and DOT’s practices,” Sadik-Khan said in a statement. “This project was requested by the community, they voted repeatedly to support it, and their support has registered in several opinion polls. Merely not liking a change is no basis for a frivolous lawsuit to reverse it.”

The legal issues in the case hinged on two main questions: 1) whether the city, in responding to community requests for traffic calming and better bike connections on PPW, had acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner by installing the bike lane, and 2) whether the plaintiffs filed suit before the four-month statute of limitations had expired. Judge Bunyan’s decision rests squarely on his answer to the second question.

The city implemented the redesign in June and July of 2010. The plaintiffs and their attorney, Jim Walden, claimed this installation was a “trial” that did not become permanent until DOT presented data from a six-month evaluation period at a Community Board 6 hearing this January, about two months before they filed suit the first week of March.

But Bunyan rejected this argument, concluding that Walden and the bike lane opponents “presented no evidence that DOT viewed the bikeway as a pilot or temporary project.” He determined that the city committed to a permanent installation of the redesign as soon as the bike lane was built last summer, so the four-month window for opponents to file suit expired in November.

Because Bunyan dismissed the suit on statute of limitations grounds, he had no need to weigh in on the “arbitrary and capricious” question, and his decision does not address that aspect of the suit. From the outset, however, opponents had made the “trial” or “pilot project” issue a pillar of their argument, and Bunyan demolished it. He reserved his harshest rebuke for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who filed an affidavit at the eleventh hour alleging that DOT told him the redesign would be a trial in March 2010:

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CUNY Refuses to Disclose Weinshall Emails About PPW Bike Lane

Earlier this year, Streetsblog filed a set of freedom of information requests in our attempt to reveal the political maneuvering behind the campaign to get rid of the Prospect Park West bike lane. Since then we’ve received voluminous responses from the offices of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and City Council Member James Vacca, which have helped fill in some missing details. Thanks to those responses, we now have a clearer sense of how former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, the wife of Senator Chuck Schumer and a resident of Prospect Park West, has played a central role in the bike lane opposition. What we don’t have, for the time being, is any Weinshall correspondence furnished by her current employer, the City University of New York, in response to our freedom of information request.

Prospect Park West resident, former DOT commissioner and current CUNY vice chancellor Iris Weinshall.

CUNY has repeatedly denied access to Weinshall’s email correspondence related to the Prospect Park West bike lane, records which CUNY admits exist but refuses to disclose. CUNY has also withheld PPW-related correspondence from Brooklyn College dean Louise Hainline, who conducted business for the anti-bike lane group “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” from her CUNY account.

Information gleaned from other FOIL requests revealed that both Weinshall and Hainline attempted to use CUNY resources to undermine the Prospect Park West project, but CUNY has maintained that the records Streetsblog requested are “personal” in nature and not subject to New York’s freedom of information law.

The only records CUNY has furnished are a handful of emails between Hainline’s husband, Brooklyn College professor Micha Tomkiewicz, and Eric McClure, a co-founder of the neighborhood group Park Slope Neighbors, which organized in support of the PPW redesign before and after implementation. (In the exchange, Tomkiewicz asked McClure for the raw data from a Park Slope Neighbors speed gun survey of Prospect Park West. “The topic of competing transportation interests within a community is a popular research topic of my students,” he wrote. “Reliable data are precious.” McClure shared the speed gun results, but nothing in CUNY’s disclosure indicates that Tomkiewicz did in fact use the data in the classroom.)

CUNY contends that the Weinshall emails they are withholding are exempt from disclosure because they are personal communications “not related to CUNY,” and would cause “economic and personal hardship” to Iris Weinshall and to others who wrote and received them.

Streetsblog is now challenging CUNY’s refusal to disclose the information we requested. Last month we filed a petition in New York County Supreme Court [PDF] seeking the release of the records in our March FOIL requests. The thrust of our petition is that CUNY has claimed an exemption where none exists.

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For Nearly Two Years, Ex-NYC DOT Chief Has Undercut the Signature Street Safety and Sustainable Transportation Agenda of Her Successor

Tomorrow, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Bert Bunyan is expected to weigh in for the first time on the core arguments brought by opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign against the City of New York.

Former DOT commissioner and current CUNY vice chancellor Iris Weinshall.

Ostensibly, the dispute is between the anti-bike lane groups known as “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” (NBBL) and “Seniors for Safety” on the one hand, and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan on the other. But there’s one critical player whose name won’t be on the docket: Iris Weinshall, Sadik-Khan’s predecessor at the Department of Transportation.

Weinshall, the wife of Senator Chuck Schumer and currently the vice chancellor for facilities planning at the City University of New York, has campaigned against the Prospect Park West project for the better part of the past two years. At first attempting to prevent the redesign of PPW, then, once the bike lane was implemented, to discredit the finished product and undermine Sadik-Khan, Weinshall has worked mainly through backchannels and behind the scenes, her methods evading scrutiny.

Publicly, Weinshall has made three prominent statements on the bike lane that runs past the apartment she shares with Schumer on 9 Prospect Park West: a quote to the Daily News indicating her opposition to the project soon after its installation; a December, 2010 quote to the New York Times saying she was concerned “about safety elements of the bike lane and the level of both community input and the data that’s being made available to the community”; and a December, 2010 letter to the New York Times signed alongside Louise Hainline, a dean at Brooklyn College who also lives at 9 PPW, and Norman Steisel, a former deputy mayor under David Dinkins. The letter to the Times identified all three as members of NBBL.

Weinshall’s affiliation with the campaign to wipe out the bike lane has been swept under the rug since NBBL filed suit against the city and Sadik-Khan in March. Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden, who is representing NBBL pro bono, told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that Weinshall is “not part of the group” suing the city.

The extent of Weinshall’s involvement in the opposition to the Prospect Park West redesign has become something of a guessing game, with reporters getting few if any answers out of Weinshall herself. But documents obtained by Streetsblog indicate that Weinshall’s activities are, in fact, intimately linked to NBBL’s campaign against the bike lane.

Last summer, Weinshall traded on her contacts at CUNY in an attempt to help members of NBBL discredit the Prospect Park West redesign, and she met with City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca in the run-up to the council’s December 9 hearing on bike policy – an early milestone in a long run of bad publicity for Sadik-Khan and the NYC DOT bike program, which stemmed in large part from opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign and their lawsuit.

Weinshall did not comment to Streetsblog, and the City University of New York has denied all freedom of information requests for Weinshall’s email correspondence related to the Prospect Park West bike lane. This story is based on correspondence obtained from other freedom of information requests and corroboration from other sources.

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Ten Things NBBL Doesn’t Want You to Know

#3: Before NBBL was lobbying City Hall to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane, Marty Markowitz and Iris Weinshall were lobbying DOT to not even build the PPW bike lane (PDF). #4: NBBL has a U.S. Senator on their side.

If opponents of an effective street safety project repeat dishonest distortions about it often enough, does that make their position true? Apparently, the Daily News editorial board thinks so. An opinion piece they published over the weekend on the Prospect Park West bike lane might as well have come straight from the desk of Gibson Dunn lawyer Jim Walden, the corporate litigator, Chuck Schumer campaign donor, and rumored Brooklyn DA hopeful who’s now representing bike lane opponents “pro bono.”

A decade ago Daily News reporters were crusading for safety improvements on Queens Boulevard, leading to measures that prevented injuries and saved lives. Now, without any hint of skepticism, truthseeking, or other basic journalistic impulses, the Daily News editorial writers seem content to lift talking points straight from street safety opponents, aligning themselves with the goal of making New York more dangerous. They apparently believe the narrative spun by the anti-bike lane group known as “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” and their spin-off, “Seniors for Safety” — a story in which DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is the only person in New York who wants safer streets for biking and walking, and the local community could, at any moment, “erupt into open revolt.”

It can be time-consuming to visit the neighborhood you’re opining about, do nuts-and-bolts research, or fact-check the faulty assertions in a lawsuit before you reprint them for hundreds of thousands of readers, so Streetsblog has compiled this handy list for the future reference of the Daily News editorial staff, or anyone who’s actually curious about how this project came to be and what the opponents are really after (hint: it’s not safety or “better bike lanes”).

The NBBL narrative obscures the following:

  1. Community groups asked for the project

    One of NBBL’s basic tenets, unchallenged by the tabloid dailies, is that the city foisted the Prospect Park West redesign on the neighborhood. But the fact is that public pressure to tame traffic on Prospect Park West had been mounting since 2006, when the Park Slope Civic Council’s traffic and transportation forum highlighted rampant speeding on PPW as a major quality of life concern.

    Later that year, after holding a series of public workshops, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition produced a report including recommendations for better bike access to GAP, and in 2007, Brooklyn Community Board 6 asked the city to study the implementation of a two-way, protected bike lane on PPW. Park Slope Neighbors later gathered 1,300 signatures asking for a two-way bike lane and traffic calming measures on the street — all before DOT proposed the PPW redesign in 2009. No one had to convince people that their neighborhood streets could function a lot better.

  2. DOT’s safety data is rigorous and honest

    Data collected from the six-month study period after implementation of the re-design clearly shows that the incidence of speeding on PPW has gone down significantly, and the early results indicate that crash and injury rates have declined. You can’t be “for safety” and oppose a project that produces these benefits, so NBBL has attacked the data and cherrypicked numbers to undermine confidence in DOT’s methodology.

    To do this, NBBL claimed that DOT typically doesn’t use multi-year averages of crash data to ascertain the effect of street redesigns, when the truth is that this is exactly how DOT and other transportation agencies measure safety effects, because that’s the statistically rigorous way to do it. As Gary Toth, a 34-year veteran of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, told Streetsblog: “It is the opponents’ lawyers who are grasping at aberrations and doing the very thing they accuse the DOT of — selectively picking data to stack the deck in their favor.”

  3. Before NBBL was lobbying City Hall to remove the PPW bike lane, Iris Weinshall and Marty Markowitz were lobbying DOT to not even build the PPW bike lane

    From the beginning, the campaign against the bike lane has been spearheaded by opponents with political clout. In October 2009, after the PPW redesign had been approved by CB 6, Borough President Marty Markowitz wrote to Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, asking her not to install the redesign. “I am joined in this request by former DOT Commissioner, Iris Weinshall — who absolutely agrees that the installation of a two-way, barricaded bike lane would cause incredible congestion,” Markowitz wrote in a letter [PDF] obtained by Streetsblog through freedom of information requests. The attempt to perform an end-run around a multi-year community-led planning process had begun. Weinshall would later join Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel in penning a letter to the New York Times on behalf of NBBL, speciously claiming that the redesign increased danger on PPW.

  4. They have a U.S. Senator on their side

    NBBL leaders have taken to saying that only “a small number” of their members are politically connected. But it only takes one former deputy mayor to go over the heads of the local community board and get direct access to City Hall. It only takes one former transportation commissioner to lend an air of legitimacy to spurious claims about a traffic-calming project increasing risk. And if that former DOT chief is married to a U.S. Senator, that’s all you need to enlist City Council members to start agitating against the current DOT and its projects to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

  5. They have media access that would make Snooki jealous

    In the annals of NYC NIMBYism, NBBL may be the only neighborhood-level opposition group that has hired a PR firm to get its message out to the press. They’ve also received a helping hand from Marty Markowitz’s office, which offered to put members of NBBL in touch with CBS2 reporter Marcia Kramer last October, according to email correspondence obtained by Streetsblog. CBS2 aired a Kramer segment in February featuring Markowitz, NBBL member Steve Spirn, and video footage provided by NBBL. The coordination between all these parties is never revealed to the viewer, who sees a series of bike lane opponents that seem unrelated to each other. Kramer never mentioned NBBL herself during the segment; only after she kicked it back to the anchor did he say that a group called “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” planned on suing the city.

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Help Streetsblog Tell the Political Story Behind the Prospect Park West Fight

There are many things we still don't know about the involvement of former transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel in efforts to erase the Prospect Park West bike lane and undermine the city's street safety policies.

Thanks to some rescheduling, we’ve got nearly two months until the first court hearing on the Prospect Park West lawsuit. Flimsy as the plaintiffs’ case may be, they now have a long time to run their smear campaign against DOT and the neighborhood advocates who put in years of organizing to make this street safer.

So we’re probably going to be seeing more of Gibson Dunn lawyer Jim Walden in the media — he’s quite skilled at getting the papers to reprint his arguments, no matter how scurrilous. And the more we hear from Jim, the less we seem to read about the political maneuvering his clients have engaged in to erase a project that enjoys broad support and has slowed speeders while opening up a neighborhood street for all-ages cycling.

Which is too bad, because there are an awful lot of public figures connected to this campaign to erase a single bike lane. Think of the political story that will eventually be written. It involves City Council members, a borough president, former deputy mayors, a former federal prosecutor and top candidate for U.S. Attorney, a former transportation commissioner, a sitting U.S. Senator, and maybe a certain political correspondent at CBS2.

We’d like to find out more about the connections between all these players, and we’re not going to find out by calling them up and asking politely. Here’s what we’ve been up to…

At the beginning of February, Streetsblog sent a freedom of information request to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s office, asking for his staff’s communications about the Prospect Park West project. The request was delivered on February 8, according to the U.S. Postal Service, but when we later checked in with Markowitz’s office, they told us they never received it. Markowitz’s staff counsel asked us to email the request to him, which we did. He then said he’d let us know by March 16 if the request would be granted. We’re still waiting to hear back on that one.

Streetsblog needs some muscle behind this FOIL request if we’re going to get any information out of it. So we’ve hired attorney Steve Vaccaro of Rankin & Taylor to manage the process. We’re not getting pro bono assistance on this one, and our budget doesn’t usually include a line for FOIL-related legal expenses, so if you can contribute to Streetsblog this spring, it will help us see this important reporting project through to completion.

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In Anti-Bike Lane Case, Gibson Dunn Strays From Pro Bono Standards

In an effort to undo a bike lane reportedly opposed by Senator Chuck Schumer, Jim Walden, a partner at Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, is providing free legal services to wealthy Prospect Park West residents who live in some of the most exclusive real estate in Brooklyn. Photo: Gibson Dunn.

Jim Walden is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the kind of white shoe firm where lawyers represent major corporations at rates of nearly a thousand dollars per hour. His name has been popping up on Streetsblog recently because he represents a politically-connected group attempting to undo the redesign of Prospect Park West. According to press accounts, Walden is doing this work at no charge to the client. Walden would not comment to Streetsblog for this story.

Under the ethical standards of the legal profession, lawyers are expected to donate a certain amount of their time pro bono publico, for the good of the public, and some of Walden’s pro bono representations are quite impressive. In 2007, he received Gibson Dunn’s top award for exemplary pro bono work for representing 11,000 New Yorkers whose food stamps had been wrongfully terminated. Last June, Walden won a pro bono case in front of the United States Supreme Court preventing a legal resident from being deported for a minor drug offense.

Walden’s newest pro bono case, however, doesn’t rise to the standard he’s set in the past. In representing a group of Brooklyn residents fighting against the traffic-calming Prospect Park West street redesign, Walden is devoting his pro bono time to the affluent and politically connected, not those in need.

The New York City Bar Association’s statement of pro bono principles, which Gibson Dunn has signed on to, defines pro bono work as legal services provided without fee to:

  • “persons of limited means,
  • charitable, religious, civic, cultural, community, governmental and educational organizations committed to serving the needs of persons of limited means and/or in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means,
  • individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights,
  • individuals, groups or organizations who have been harmed by a natural disaster or public emergency or who are providing assistance to persons harmed by a natural disaster or public emergency, and
  • charitable, religious, civic, cultural, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources.”

Esther Lardent, the president of the Pro Bono Institute, wouldn’t comment on the particulars of a specific case, but did share some general principles about pro bono work. “If this is something that could be handled on a contingency basis in the marketplace,” explained Lardent, “that would be unlikely to be something that could happen on a pro bono basis.” If the clients can afford to pay, in other words, it’s not likely to merit pro bono services.

The Pro Bono Institute is a non-profit organization that helps support pro bono work; Gibson Dunn has signed on to the institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge. “In recognition of the special needs of the poor for legal services, we believe that our firm’s pro bono activities should be particularly focused on providing access to the justice system for persons otherwise unable to afford it,” reads one section of that challenge.

The pro bono coordinator of another major law firm, who asked to remain anonymous in order to protect the firm, told Streetsblog that while different firms have different approaches to pro bono work, “We try to focus all of our pro bono on helping the poor, or helping institutions that help the poor, or advancing rights.”

It’s hard to call the leaders of the anti-bike lane group either poor or powerless. The group’s leading spokespeople are Norman Steisel, a former deputy mayor, and Louise Hainline, a dean at Brooklyn College. They have published letters in print and online media alongside Iris Weinshall, a former DOT commissioner and the wife of Senator Chuck Schumer.

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Conflict-Hungry Press Ignoring New Yorkers With Street Safety Expertise

The latest bike story ricocheting around the local media is Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction to a crowd in the Rockaways that reportedly booed the mention of bike lanes. David Seifman at the Post ran with it yesterday. Adam Lisberg at the Daily News picked up on it today. And NY1 managed to work it into a story about today’s blizzard.

The Daily News headline is a good example of how the press itself is distorting this story. Out of a few notable but rather mild quotes from Bloomberg (“I don’t think we’ve done a very good job at explaining and planning,” he said. “There are plenty of people that do like them.”), the News spun the headline “Bloomberg says city needs to listen more closely to those opposed to bike lanes.”

First off, I’m not seeing the connection between the Bloomberg quote and the headline. The mayor seems to be saying that there’s room for improvement in public communication and outreach, not that the city should empower bike lane opponents.

As for outreach, I’m sure DOT or any other public agency can always do better, but the reporters who are parachuting in to these bike policy stories don’t seem to know that, in many cases, DOT has been responding to neighborhood-based initiatives for safer streets. Judging from what he’s been saying in public, the mayor may not know this either.

Protected bike lanes on Eighth and Ninth Avenue are linked to street safety campaigns by groups including the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety (ChekPeds). The Columbus Avenue lane fits with the vision for safer streets supported by the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance. Lanes on Brooklyn’s Kent Avenue and Flushing Avenue came out of years of grassroots work by the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. The Prospect Park West redesign sprang from community meetings and public charrettes held by the Park Slope Civic Council and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, going back nearly five years.

No one in the press seems to be approaching these groups, who’ve been deeply involved in improving street safety and bicycling, for their perspective. So I checked in with Christine Berthet, co-founder of ChekPeds.

“DOT has installed four bike lane segments in our neighborhood. For the last three they learned from their mistakes and did extensive planning and outreach,” she said. “Change is hard, especially when it involves taking away privileges from a minority and redistributing space, time, clean air and safety to the majority. We applaud Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan for forging forward on this mission.”

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DOT’s PPW Data Greeted With Cheers, Paranoia at CB 6 Meeting

Data from the sixth month study period indicates that the traffic calming redesign has substantially reduced the incidence of injurious crashes on Prospect Park West. Graphic: NYC DOT

The loudest applause at last night’s Brooklyn CB 6 meeting on the Prospect Park West bike lane went to DOT Assistant Commissioner Ryan Russo, after he wrapped up his presentation documenting the redesign’s effect on safety, bicycling rates, and traffic. The brief summary: injuries are down, cycling is up, and speeding has been tamed while travel times and traffic volumes are the same as before. The project has been a success so far and DOT will be moving ahead with further tweaks, like installing raised concrete islands in the pedestrian zones between the bike lane and the traffic lanes.

The second loudest applause went to Council Member Brad Lander, after he told the audience of about 150 that the DOT data “shows the project is working to me and that we should keep it and move forward.” (In contrast, you could hear crickets chirping after Lander’s colleague in the council, Steve Levin, weighed in on the redesign by saying he’s concerned about the effect on snow removal. Christmas blizzard populism has its limits.)

Other than that, there weren’t many occasions to audibly and directly register one’s opinion at a meeting devoted mainly to audience questions about DOT’s presentation. CB 6 will be holding another event to gather public feedback on the redesign, probably in March. So prepare to save the date.

When the Q&A rolled around last night, the anti-bike lane folks were easy enough to spot because their questions mainly boiled down this: They don’t believe DOT. The “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” just don’t believe that a project which has slowed down speeding traffic and shortened crossing distances for pedestrians has actually improved safety. They would rather believe that their self-reported, apples-to-oranges data collection represents the truth, and that opposition to the bike lane is actually 50 times greater than what they’ve been able to muster.

Some of the more high-profile bike lane opponents, including Iris Weinshall and Norman Steisel, could be spotted in the pews of the Old First Reformed Church, shaking their heads as Russo and DOT bike and pedestrian director Josh Benson explained their data. (Interesting factoid: DOT bike counts and traffic flow data are collected by outside consultants, not agency staff.)

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