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Quick Hits from the CB6 Public Hearing*

March 11, 2011

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.

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19 Comments
  1. Lizbon permalink
    March 11, 2011 12:50 am

    I’m glad it was a long post. I wanted to attend & couldn’t, and the tweets were great, but it’s also nice to see a full write-up. One request? Recommendations on City Council members to address supportive letters to? Brad Lander? Others?

  2. Mike permalink
    March 11, 2011 1:44 am

    Stephen Levin represents the other half of PPW, and has (still!) not publicly stated a position on the project.

  3. March 11, 2011 4:30 am

    Thanks for the detailed and humorous write-up. If I had been there I probably would have done something unproductive which the NBBL-friendly media.

    Next time they fix up another “Community” Board meeting or whatever, can we at least know the process? They keep making our numbers not count.

    All Walden and NBBL need to do is keep playing the game. It goes national, and gives the Tea Party another shouting point against politicians who make a positive difference.

    Cynically yours from California,
    MY

  4. March 11, 2011 7:04 am

    Yes, I’d second the Stephen Levin suggestion. Brad Lander is about as supportive for this thing as he possibly can be and needs no convincing.

  5. Jonathan R permalink
    March 11, 2011 8:41 am

    Thanks for the writeup! I thought the best part of the meeting was the very beginning, where the board president went over the whole process that led to creating the bike lane. That for me pretty much hollowed out the “let’s go back to the status quo and study more” arguments.

    Call me a zealot, but I didn’t hear any arguments against the bike lane that held any water for people who don’t live on Prospect Park West. Roz Kochman’s argument that she felt her grandchild was in danger as her daughter unloaded the car would have been a little stronger if it was her daughter making it.

    If levels of usage are really crucial to how the street should be laid out, it doesn’t make any sense to consecrate TWO whole lanes to parked vehicles (20 per side, turning over, generously, twice per day) which maybe 80 people a day can make use of.

  6. Marty permalink
    March 11, 2011 10:12 am

    I was at the hearing last night too, and it was just political theater. The only thing that came across for me is that the anti-lane people are probably going to win the politics, solely because they’ve laid claim to the rhetoric of compromise, while the pro-lane people seem unwilling to agree to nontrivial changes to the lane.

    In fact, the opponents’ arguments against the bike lane fall flat: that nobody uses the lane and that there’s terrible risk of getting hit by a cyclist are mutually inconsistent positions. Before last night’s hearing, I was reluctant to believe that the opposition was actually all about a lane of car traffic getting removed, but so many anti-lane opponents offered this absurd pair of claims as to convince me that their opposition to the lane really does turn out to be about the car lane. So I think that CB6 should ask the DOT to something like the NBBL’s compromise position, of installing a class 2 bike lane southbound on PPW and northbound on 8th Ave, provided that the number of lanes of car traffic is kept to 2, with the existing class 1 lane removed or obstructed for bicycling. That is, we should just call their bluff: if NBBL and SFS don’t agree to this compromise, they’ll show that their arguments about the bike lanes are disingenuous, and they’re really opposed to the traffic calming itself.

    Politics is unfortunately seldom about being right or rational, and mostly about reaching compromise among disagreeing parties. Compromise is just about finding solutions that everyone can live with, and, luckily, the opponents of the bike lanes will only be with us another decade or two. Once they’ve aged out of the area and the 3 lanes of car traffic on PPW is forgotten, better solutions can perhaps be attempted again.

  7. March 11, 2011 10:47 am

    I just moved to Park Slope, and I live on Berkeley Place within eyesight of Grand Army Plaza. I love riding, and I’m looking forward to riding safely on PPW. I couldn’t make the meeting last night (and as a new resident, I probably would have faced howls from the opposing crowd), but I’d love to offer support whenever the next meeting happens.

  8. Evan permalink
    March 11, 2011 12:10 pm

    Thanks for your expert coverage!

  9. Joe permalink
    March 11, 2011 12:37 pm

    That class 2 bike lane idea is not safe at all.

  10. rah permalink
    March 11, 2011 12:59 pm

    I went to the meeting last night and signed up to testify, but did not get a chance. I plan on submitting written testimony via info@BrooklynCB6.org as per the CB6 guy’s instructions.

  11. March 11, 2011 1:00 pm

    Thank you for the follow-up and post. I have work until 8pm in the city – so early meetings do not unfortunately allow me to voice my opinion in public as loudly as I would like!

    Its a sad state that we are in when people are complaining about the need to look both-ways when crossing the street. It seems that some people are beyond common sense.

    Do we really need to devolve into Class II Lanes? Perhaps we can put speed bump spikes that flat out cars going over 30mph. That will surely slow down traffic!

    Joking aside, these are real issues that need to be addressed.

    Thanks for the updates on CB6.

    twitter.com/kristianhansen

  12. Jeff Putterman permalink
    March 11, 2011 2:48 pm

    Was Norman Steisel there, or was he down the street looking to buy more $15 donuts?

  13. March 11, 2011 7:05 pm

    I would continue to cc Brad’s office when sending comments, either by email or snail mail. Having a big stack of supportive letters to show people is never a bad thing.

  14. March 11, 2011 7:23 pm

    I’ll put these in a more prominent post later, but here’s Council Member Stephen Levin’s district office address:

    410 Atlantic Avenue
    Brooklyn, NY 11217

    Email is slevin@council.nyc.gov

    Brad Lander is:

    456 Fifth Avenue, 3rd Floor
    Brooklyn, NY 11215

    lander@council.nyc.gov

    Paper letters are never a bad idea.

  15. tom permalink
    March 12, 2011 2:11 pm

    Marty: In the final analysis we are all dead.

    You might want to examine the US Census findings, specifically for big jump in extended longevity, increased activism among slowly aging seniors and aging-in-place, especially in this assisted living community we call NYC.

    You should be ashamed of what you wrote.

    Eric McClure: I remember reading a post on Streetsblog from Brad Lander warning all to tone done the rhetoric in their comments. Perhaps you might want to read it again and use it as a guide to others before they forward comments to him that might disappoint him.

    Have a nice day.

  16. eveostay permalink
    March 12, 2011 10:32 pm

    After a few days to digest, I wish that when Hainline said “I didn’t boo you” that I had yelled out “tell it to the judge”. Hindsight is 20-20, as ever.

  17. eveostay permalink
    March 14, 2011 9:50 am

    Oh, oops, that was Carswell.

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