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Vinegar Hill and the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway

March 18, 2013


Regular readers of this blog will know that I have little patience for or sympathy with those who argue against bike and pedestrian infrastructure on purely aesthetic grounds.  I’m still fascinated by the true motivations of people who make this argument, however.  That’s one reason I’ve been following the minor controversy surrounding the stretch of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway that has been proposed for Vinegar Hill.

Via DNAinfo:

The Department of Transportation and the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative chose six blocks of the Belgian blocked Water Street in Vinegar Hill as part of the new bike lane.

In response The Vinegar Hill Neighbor Association released a petition, currently signed by Chadwick and over 80 others, stating “the use of Vinegar Hill by the Greenway would pose a danger to pedestrians, to motorists, to our Belgian block cobblestones, and to the historic character of our neighborhood.”

It’s hard to argue taste, but when one throws the vague spectre of dangers to pedestrians and motorists as the reason for objecting bicycle access to a particular street, the “historic character” part of your anti-bike-lane case becomes all the more suspect.  Why?  Because in at least two or three years of bikelash-related nonsense, none of the predictions made by bike lane opponents across the city have come to pass.  If you believe bikes cause a unique threat to pedestrians and motorists, we’re at the point in the city’s relationship with bikes where it’s on you to prove it.  (That’s how you know the bikes won: we’ve finally moved from “This Isn’t Amsterdam!” to “This isn’t Park Slope!”)

I had a look at the VHNA petition on to see what specific dangers the organization believes the Greenway will pose.  It seems like the biggest risks are to the free-flowing movement and free storage of cars.

The narrowness of Hudson Avenue cannot accommodate two lanes of cyclists, two lanes of cars, and also parking.

Bikes don’t cause congestion.  Period.  They may cause drivers to slow down to speeds below the legal limit, but that’s probably something anyone who’s driven on Vinegar Hill’s cobblestone streets is used to anyway.  And if a sense of historic preservation is at the heart of your objection to the Greenway, it seems hard to argue that the bikes can’t come in to your 19th Century neighborhood but the parked cars are free to stay as long as alternate side parking rules aren’t in effect.  Here’s how Bike Snob put it when a similar group of local residents objected to proposed Citi Bike station locations in historic Fort Greene last summer:

…do you know what else they didn’t have in the twenty-five year period between 1855 and 1880 that is embodied by this neighborhood?  Streets lined with cars!  How are a bunch of Subarus and idling Fresh Direct trucks more in keeping with the landmark character of a neighborhood than a bike docking station?  You don’t get to ditch the bike share but keep the free car parking.  I’m willing to defer to their argument if and only if the people of this neighborhood are willing to preserve their neighborhood’s unique “sense of place” by eschewing alltrappings of life post-1880 while within the boundaries of their landmarked district.  That means period-correct clothing only, and no cellphones, no computers, and no electricity.

The VHNA petition uses the scare tactic of a neighborhood overwhelmed by bicycles as further grounds for opposing the Greenway:

The Greenway and D.O.T.’s Implementation Plan would occupy with cyclists a full six city blocks of our small, ten-block neighborhood. This would introduce a volume of cycle traffic disproportionate to that absorbed more easily by larger neighborhoods. This is true especially considering that more than 1,000 cyclists per day are already using the Flushing Avenue segment of the Greenway.

Flushing Avenue does indeed have a high volume of bicycle traffic, but most of it is likely comprised of people going to and from work.  For the petition’s claim to be true, one has to believe that a significant portion of weekday commuter cyclists who currently take this route to the Manhattan Bridge…


…would suddenly prefer a route that looks more like this:


Seems unlikely, no?  Weekends would be a different story, of course, since one goal of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway is to allow cyclists to explore the Brooklyn’s many waterfront neighborhoods, but I doubt it would be too much for Vinegar Hill to handle.  

As for the aesthetic objections, it’s not as if DOT is planning to pave over the Belgian Blocks with black tar and slap down yellow and white paint.  According to DNAinfo, “DOT plans to construct the bike lane using smooth machine-made cobblestones making it easier for bikers to use the streets.”  This is about access to a neighborhood for non-motorized transportation.  You’d think that would be something to celebrate in a neighborhood that was developed in the early 19th Century.

If you’re interested in the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway route through Vinegar Hill, a third public workshop will be held this Wednesday, March 20 at 6 PM at NYU Poly Incubator, 20 Jay Street, 3rd floor.  

  1. Paco permalink
    March 18, 2013 4:38 am

    perfectly stated arguments here. The VH petition is riddled with illogical arguments reeking of pure NIMBYism.

  2. Ivan permalink
    March 18, 2013 10:22 am

    It’s also funny that when bike lane opponents are not complaining that “nobody uses bike lanes”, they are complaining about a “disproportionate volume of cycle traffic”.

    • March 18, 2013 9:09 pm

      I call this Hainline’s Paradox: bike lanes are never used but pedestrians are constantly threatened by the cyclists in them.

    • Steve F. permalink
      March 18, 2013 11:21 pm

      The Goldilocks Effect: It’s always too hot – too cold; too hard – too soft; too few bikes to warrant a facility – too many bikes to handle on this facility. Never fails, Goldilocks is always part of the program.

  3. March 18, 2013 10:50 am

    Absolutely. I do think it’s a significant turning point that bike lane opponents now admit that a lot of people use bike lanes!

  4. KillMoto permalink
    March 18, 2013 11:20 am

    DOT would have a much easier time installing bike and pedestrian improvements if, six months before any discussion of same, they came in and banned all parking.

    People speculate why motorists hate cyclists. Some motorists will say “I hate all cyclists because I once heard a friend say they saw a cyclist run a red light.” and there – it’s because of red light running. More likely, the motorist hates the cyclists because they had to circle for parking somewhere and were told “you know, there used to be more parking before that bike lane”.

  5. Tom permalink
    March 18, 2013 12:53 pm

    Hell is other people.

  6. March 18, 2013 1:56 pm

    Have to ask if the “aesthetic” issue is the idea of paint on the cobblestones? This would be such a great opportunity to design the sharing of the road a little differently, to reflect the historic nature of the streets. Small bollards that allow a single car or emergency vehicle through at each intersection will change the speeds of the streets, and could create a truly shared space. Wonder if the residents would be interested in a play street in the middle of the route that does not allow cars but allows bikes and residents to be in the street.

  7. Chris M permalink
    March 19, 2013 8:49 am

    I’m sure the merchants in VH would appreciate the new customers that will be brought to them via this bike lane. VH is a hidden neighborhood, you only go there if you know about it already. Hundreds of new people will discover VH when this bike lanes is built. It will increase the property values any sales in the area. I ride to VH but I hate the cobblestone s son I frequently ride on the sidewalk! Now there is a safety concern for you.


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