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NBBL Waves the White Flag?

February 16, 2011

I took this short article in today’s Post as a sign that the story of the Prospect Park West bike lane is reaching its denouement:

Opponents of a controversial bike lane along Prospect Park West are offering a one-way compromise, suggesting the two-lane path be chopped in half.

“The entire community favors a regular one-way bike lane, which would neither place pedestrians in danger nor create the kind of choking traffic we see day in and day out,” Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes said in a statement yesterday.

The 130-member group has powerful backing — its leaders include former Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall, who is married to Sen. Chuck Schumer, and former Sanitation Commissioner Norman Steisel.

It says the city DOT is overstating the number of cyclists using the path since its installation.

The city says the lane has reduced motorist speeding and curbed accidents.

On one hand, it’s another example of NBBL’s brilliant PR strategy, although this time they didn’t need Marcia Kramer’s help.  By offering a “compromise” they can position themselves as the only side willing to give even an inch, as opposed to that stubborn DOT, which is often portrayed in the tabloids as shoving bike lanes down community residents’ throats.

On the other hand, it’s a sign that NBBL has zero confidence in their lawsuit.  Settlements are common in all types of legal battles, but it’s not the most Sun-Tzu-like move to offer this drastic a concession so early.  It’s also a sign that NBBL’s PR strategy isn’t always that brilliant; the threat to sue may have been a huge overreach, especially considering the negative publicity that comes when wealthy people get pro bono representation.

If anyone believes that NBBL would have been in favor of this bike lane from the beginning had it only been one-way and taken up three fewer feet of road space, then I have a bike lane over the Brooklyn Bridge I’d like to sell them.  And is NBBL’s biggest problem with the lane really that pedestrians have to look both ways before crossing it?  It’s fine to offer compromise, but given how far back the PPW traffic calming project goes I wonder where NBBL has been for the past five years.

Still, you have to hand it to NBBL for pretending to speak for the “entire community.”  Of the 65,000+ people who live in Park Slope, and of the thousands more who use PPW, NBBL can claim only 130 members.  NBBL’s Facebook group has only 310 members, while the one supporting the new PPW has over 1,900.  Perhaps 50 to 75 NBBL supporters came to the October rally, while over 300 safe street supporters turned out on the same day.  I have no idea how NBBL tallies its membership, but perhaps they use the standard multiplying effect of 50:1 for constituent support.

You also have to hand it to the Post for not including a response from the DOT, TA, Park Slope Neighbors, Community Board 6, or Brad Lander, whose office found that an overwhelming majority of the community favors the two-way bike lane more or less the way it is.*  Lander’s survey asked respondents, “If Kept, How Should the Design Be Modified?”  The top recommendation was “Clearer yield” followed by many other design and aesthetic improvements.  “Make the lane one way” didn’t even make the cut.

Note, too, the subtle framing in NBBL’s statement: a “regular one-way bike lane.”  There’s no such thing as a regular bike lane, just as there’s no such thing as a regular street.  Some are one-way, some are two-way.

There is another positive sign in the Post’s reporting of this development.  Once again, the paper has made a clear connection between Senator Chuck Schumer and Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, and news of the Schumer-to-NBBL connection continues to build.  Getting him involved may be a bigger overreach than NBBL’s legal threats.

This will all be over soon.  I can’t wait for spring.

*UPDATE: Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors points out in the comments that he was contacted by the Post’s Bill Sanderson but he had filed the story by the time Eric returned his call.

  1. February 16, 2011 11:17 am

    To be fair, Bill Sanderson at The Post did contact Park Slope Neighbors, but he had filed the story by the time I returned his call.

  2. February 16, 2011 11:21 am

    Good to know. I’ll update the post to point that out.

  3. Mike permalink
    February 16, 2011 11:24 am

    Sounds like what they really want is a non-protected lane, a.k.a. double-parking lane. Which defeats the whole purpose of having a safe, protected lane free from parked cars.

  4. February 16, 2011 11:34 am

    Good interpretation, Mike. I’d also call that a “door lane” or a “no way in hell you’d let your kids ride in it lane.”

  5. Maris permalink
    February 16, 2011 12:05 pm

    I wonder if Chuck backed off because of the anticipated political heat coming from having ‘pro bono’ legal representation provided by a campaign contributor.

  6. wkgreen permalink
    February 16, 2011 12:52 pm

    If this “compromise” goes through then nothing for bikes goes the other way (not even the park loop) except for the sidewalk. This helps pedestrians how? They’ll still need to look both ways.

  7. eveostay permalink
    February 16, 2011 12:58 pm

    I wonder if Chuck Schumer Bike Lane Appreciation Day had anything to do with this “compromise”. I hope so.

  8. February 16, 2011 1:00 pm

    It would be nice to think so, but I doubt it. I think they’re just trying to look like they’re the one’s willing to bend a little.

  9. Alex permalink
    February 16, 2011 1:49 pm

    Maybe on the day they counted their membership Marty Markowitz tipped off seniors to go to 9 Prospect Park West.

  10. February 16, 2011 2:56 pm

    The two-way nature of the lane is crucial. It makes clear that the lane is used for transportation, not just recreation. And for many trips it is better transportation than all other options. That makes the lane “disruptive”, not at all in terms of traffic but how people think about about surface transportation. This cultural disruption is precisely the thing that bothers NBBL, who have now tipped their hand and practically admitted that their other objections were fabricated.

    The other way that the counterflow lane is disruptive is it would need its own dumb stoplight for at least one direction, which of course the DOT knew would be a waste so they put up flashing yellow lights instead. If cycling were only allowed in the direction of the auto traffic, the NYPD would be out there right now writing $270 tickets to cyclists “running” the automobile stoplights, exactly as they are now doing in Central Park. But on the PPW lane the police can not write tickets to people legally riding through a signal they can not see. This perfectly safe arrangement (as has been and will be observed) is a powerful antidote to our city’s stoplight hysteria. If the experiment is allowed to continue through the summer, it may well cause New Yorkers to question their traffic status quo in general.

  11. February 16, 2011 4:50 pm

    “That makes the lane “disruptive”, not at all in terms of traffic but how people think about about surface transportation. This cultural disruption is precisely the thing that bothers NBBL…”

    I think that’s exactly right. Everything they’ve brought up, every contradictory piece of “data,” stems from this basic psychology. Great point.

  12. February 18, 2011 4:51 am

    Here is the order of surrender: The lawyer, chuck, marty, marcia, iris, lois, ray, then norman, Norman has the least to lose.

  13. ADN permalink
    February 22, 2011 10:53 pm

    You guys have got this one all wrong.

    Don’t you find it odd that the mere removal of the yellow stripes in the middle of the bike lane would somehow make this project acceptable to these folks? The removal of the northbound bike lane doesn’t seem to actually solve any of their major problems — the disappearance of the third motor vehicle travel lane, the purported hardship of walking across a bike lane, the aesthetic problems. Why does this compromise work for them? Would they really walk away from their fight if DOT agreed to this? If the NBBL lawyer were seriously negotiating, why would he put this offer out publicly via press release rather than make a phone call to, say, Brad Lander or Steve Levin, asking to facilitate a discussion with DOT?

    What’s actually happening here is the NBBL lawyer is putting this out to check the “good faith” box on his path to a law suit. Now he can put in his brief: “Look, we offered a compromise solution, we tried to negotiate with DOT, we came up with an idea for a ‘better bike lane,’ but they refused to deal with us. We are reasonable and rational and really trying to come up with solutions that work for everyone. We have no choice but to sue now.”

    That’s all this is. It’s just a lawyer and a tactic. Don’t be fooled.

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