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.
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: