Quick Hits from the CB6 Public Hearing*
Thursday night marked the third Community Board Six meeting I’ve attended on the subject of the Prospect Park West bike lane and let me offer this quick assessment: members of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, Seniors for Safety, and other unaffiliated critics of this vital traffic calming project were given an amount of time at the microphone disproportionate to their attendance.
By trying to achieve the semblance of balance at the meeting, CB6′s decision to alternate between small groups of “pro” speakers, small groups of “con” speakers, and speakers designated with the ambiguous category of “other” left me somewhat dismayed. It gave the early impression that there is some sort of split on this issue, which there is not. Not according to the Brad Lander/Stephen Levin survey which showed around 70% approval for the project, and not tonight; my guess is that the room was split 80/20 into supporters and opponents. As a barometer, Transportation Alternatives says it handed out 350 green and pink pro-cycling and pro-pedestrian stickers in a room of about 450 people, and many supporters were not wearing them. But because of this seeming need for balance, a reporter who covered only the first thirty minutes of public testimony might have gotten the impression that the community was evenly divided. It is not and it never was.
On the TV series Lost, we never really learned if the Others were good, bad, or somewhere in between, but what ended up happening with the “other” category at the public hearing tonight was that, for the most part, it was co-opted by opponents. To be fair, some may have thought that their position was in the middle somewhere, but there were far more examples of people who were clearly against this project who could not honestly claim agnosticism on the subject. One woman, who at the December meeting complained that all of the pollution on PPW was making it hard for her to sustain speech, spoke as an “other.” CB6 should have come down harder on people like her, as this happened around six times during the night. Other after other would get up only to very quickly reveal himself or herself as more or less against the new PPW.
After the first hour, CB6 did loosen up on its pro-con-other order a bit, allowing multiple pros to go speak. When some bike lane opponents complained that the other side was getting too much speaking time, the chair did say that if he allowed the cons to speak with the same frequency, “your side would run out of speakers.” Eventually they did run out of speakers towards the end of the meeting. In fact, in a minor breach of protocol, the CB6 chair solicited someone from the audience, asking if there were any people on the con side who wanted to speak. One woman volunteered but began her speech by saying, “I wasn’t prepared” and then proceeded to ramble on for far more than the allotted two minutes. By the time the meeting ended shortly before 9 PM, around 90 people were still left to speak, all of them supporters of the new Prospect Park West. In a way, it’s really good news that support for this project surpasses the amount of time available to speak about it. The support is there and hopefully the written testimony submitted follows a similar pro-con breakdown.
There’s more good news, too. On a cold, rainy night, over 350 people packed a stuffy and hot high school auditorium to stand up for safer streets. People care about this and I believe that further legal maneuverings will only stir this pot even more.
The tone stayed civil, for the most part. There were disparaging remarks here and there, of course, but not so much to shift the tone all that much. When one man from Carroll Gardens was booed by opponents for not being from the neighborhood, the chairman upbraided them, saying, “We are one community.” NBBLers were heckled a few times, but such moments on both sides were rare.
A few of my favorite moments:
- Brad Lander spoke first and I can’t stress this enough: I believe he has exhibited real courage on this issue, considering the power and influence of some members of NBBL. It seems silly to say that courage is necessary to defend a bike lane, but that doesn’t make it not true. Lander said, “The Prospect Park West bike lane is working. Fears it would be constantly gridlocked are untrue.” (I think he meant the car traffic and not the political process.)
- After Council Member Brad Lander, the next two speakers were 2nd grade girls June and Ava, who both spoke about riding their bikes with their families and being safe. Both were adorable.
- A man who identified himself as a “registered Republican…in Park Slope” and who admitted to voting for both Bushes and McCain, said “Even I am pro bike lane. Cyclists need a safe and legal place to ride and I want more bike lanes.” Citing the economic and health benefits, He said he was “pro-business, pro-family and pro-bike lane.” He fairly chastised cyclists for breaking laws, but made the point that more bike lanes means more legal behavior.
- One of my favorite quotes came from a man who said the bike lane had made riding with his kids safe: “Slower traffic speeds is a better aesthetic than a floating parking lane.”
- A woman who was left disabled after an accident, with a limp that meant walks to Celebrate Brooklyn would take her a long time, said that biking was an efficient mode of transportation for her but that given how riding in traffic felt to her before, she felt compelled to ride on the sidewalk: “Obeying the law would have been suicide for me.
On the con side, there were few surprises. We heard conflicting testimony, often from the same person, about how the bike lane is empty, but that seniors are afraid to cross or exit their cars because there are too many bikes. Yogi Berra couldn’t come up with that if he tried. Some people blamed the lack of bus service on the bike lane and not, say, budget cuts. Others complained of double parking, which is an issue of enforcement by police and not my concern when I go by on my bike.
Mostly, we heard this issue reduced to bikers versus everyone else, even though pedestrians and drivers have, in many ways, been even bigger beneficiaries of the safety improvements than bikers. It was illustrative to me to see how many NBBLers and other opponents honestly believe that everyone who opposes them must be a cyclist. This is bigger than that.
Many opponents repeated the request that the bike lane be removed, and that a one-way Class II bike lane be installed with a two-way bike lane put into the Park. I’ll write more on the subject in the future — and have in the past — but that solution does nothing to calm traffic. Paint alone can not stop a truck. It’s becoming a major talking point for NBBL, so stay tuned.
I Tweeted much of the meeting and highlighted some of the NBBL, SFS, and others opponents comments. Here are some notable ones.
- Louise Hainline of NBBL repeated the “experimental bike lane” language and said, “We are not your enemy.” But from where I see it, she was one of only a few people in the room whose name and signature is on a lawsuit to take away something that over 70% of the community loves. I don’t know if that makes her an enemy, exactly, but she’s not likely to earn any friends after it’s all over.
- She listed four bike lanes, all installed in recent years, and said, “we can not keep this up.” No word on how many streets she can name and whether or not New York can keep up with them.
- Lois Carswell also repeated the call for a Class II bike lane and another in the park. I’ll give CB6 credit. When it came up later, a CB6 member raised the point that riding in the park late at night is not safe.
- Carswell said that on every other street in New York traffic is “controlled,” which elicited howls from the audience. She suggested that one way to control speeding on PPW would be to put up speed limit signs and install radar guns. Right. Because those 30 mph signs you see around the city are doing a great job.
- One man said he had contributed money to the litigation fund and that it was sad that this thing would go higher and higher and be appealed. He said, “Let’s go back to the status quo,” which I am suggesting NBBL put on a bumper sticker.
- Another man said cycling was a religion and what he saw was zealotry, again reducing the issue to cars versus bikes.
- Jasmine Melzer testified of crossing the street and having to watch out for bikes because you don’t know which way they’re coming from. Someone in the audience yelled, “Both!” Melzer is from the UK, I believe, and I did enjoy the irony of a British person moving to America, presumably learning a new street-crossing behavior when she came across the pond, but now, decades later, complaining that she might have to look both ways before crossing the street.
All in all, it was a home run for everyone involved who supports livable streets. We had a great turnout, an upbeat attitude, and proved that outside of the pages of the tabloids there is real and growing support for this kind of positive change in Brooklyn. There is still a full Community Board vote on the subject to come, so keep letters coming and don’t be shy about calling or writing your local City Council member.
The fight is not over, but we’re getting close.
*I wrote this post thinking it would be short. It was not. I am sorry. And sorry for any typos or sloppy grammar. I wrote this bleary-eyed at midnight last night.