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On Clinton Ave

May 12, 2016

Opponents of a potential two-way bicycle lane on Clinton Avenue here in Brooklyn are circulating a petition in which the list a number of concerns with the Department of Transportation’s plan. While I certainly respect that the scope of the change may feel big – DOT will convert Clinton from two-ways for cars to one-way while adding a two-way bicycle lane – a lot of their concerns have easy answers, if the opponents are willing to compromise and think differently about how streets work, the future of our city, and the nature of history.

Here are their concerns:

– The street can be completely blocked by one vehicle causing traffic delays and lack of access for emergency vehicles

– Poor access for residents to load and unload; also dangerous, as passing cars will have no room

– Poor access for delivery services- UPS, Fedex, USPS which deliver several times a day

The elephant in the room here — and with nearly every potential street transformation — is the free storage of private automobiles. Throw in a handful of loading zones on Clinton Avenue and the first three concerns on the opponents’ list simply evaporate. This involves losing a handful of parking spaces, and opponents should be asked if they believe such a trade-off is worth it.

– Loss of parking spaces in an area that continues to see tremendous population growth. Loss of parking spaces leads to greater traffic congestion as vehicles continue to circle the neighborhood in search of parking spaces.

This is a losing battle. Those residents are coming whether or not Clinton Ave gets its bike lane. Better to offer them streets that make getting around without a car possible. As journalist Ezra Klein explained at the Washington Post during the height of the 2011 bikelash here in New York, for driving to remain as pleasant as some bike lane opponents want it to be — or to at least remain as awful as it already is without getting worse — “it will only be because most New Yorkers decide against purchasing cars. And they’re only going to do that if the other options seem attractive.”

– Studies show one-way streets lead to speeding, increasing danger to pedestrians, bikes and cars alike.

I have some sympathy for this concern, as it’s not entirely wrong. However, this can be addressed, at least a little, with speed bumps. Chicanes and other design features — some of which would mean losing one or two parking spaces — would help pedestrians and drivers even more. As for people on bikes, the risk of getting hit by a car will more or less be eliminated since a parking-protected bike lane means they won’t be riding next to moving vehicles.

– The destruction of the beautifully designated and historic nature of Clinton Avenue by placing traffic islands in the middle of our beautiful street – and thus taking even more space from the road.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that questions about a neighborhood’s “historic nature” are, in my opinion, highly subjective. They can’t be answered without answering a different question first: Which historic nature?

This one?


Leading down to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, c. 1840 – 1845. Image via Flickr user sjcny.

Or how about this one?


Clinton Avenue c. 1910. Image via Flickr user sjcny.

This looks pretty historic to me:


Clinton Avenue, Looking North from Lafayette Avenue. Date unknown. Image via Flickr user sjcny.

Then there’s this history:


This history began sometime in the middle of the last century. If this is what bike lane opponents are trying to preserve, that’s certainly their right. But they should know that this “beautifully designated” area is currently filled with late-model automobiles which some might argue are even more anachronistic than bicycles.


  1. BBnet3000 permalink
    May 12, 2016 8:33 pm

    This lane has the potential to make my commute a lot better, but I have a lot of concerns:

    1. It’s a detour from the real desire line, Vanderbilt.

    2. It doesn’t go south of Atlantic Ave as Vanderbilt, Washington, and Classon do. It’s creating a very roundabout route that’s actually quite short, really a walking distance rather than a cycling distance. It’s not intuitive and I’d be surprised if more people use it than continue to use Vanderbilt after it’s done. Since they used counts from Vanderbilt to justify this lane proposal, I’d be curious to see follow-up counts to see if this ends up used more than Vanderbilt.

    3. They’re not planning a second detour south of Vanderbilt either (the doorzone bike lane on southern Vanderbilt and the horrible geometry of the intersection at Atlantic could use a detour). This isn’t a concern with this lane directly but it’s related to our inability to plan a coherent comfortable network. If there’s a protected path from the Manhattan Bridge all the way to the end of Clinton, as is in construction/proposed, an inability to continue comfortably to Prospect Park (something of a popular destination, no?) demonstrates a really basic inability to plan a coherent network.

    4. A side street would be better as a filtered local street/bike boulevard ( which would also head off virtually all of the NIMBY’s complaints.

    5. This proposed lane is too narrow for the existing cycling usage of Vanderbilt and too narrow for the hill at the northern end. NACTO recommends wider paths in both high use and hilly scenarios, as they have also failed to do on Pike Street in Manhattan.

    6. A protected lane on a side street shouldn’t be necessary, and if traffic is expected to be low enough for a 2-way lane to be safe (2-way lanes aren’t usually built on grids with frequent cross streets), which I doubt, then ensuring it remains low or lowering it further through eliminating through-traffic seems like a no-brainer. There seems to be a belief in New York that we won’t be done until “there’s a bike lane on every street, ideally protected”. In cycling-friendly places, most local streets don’t have any bike-specific space. It’s a lot more comfortable to ride on a wide street with few cars than to ride downhill or uphill in a narrow bike lane with people passing you (or lining up behind you because they cannot pass as we see on Pike Street and the narrower bridges).

    • May 12, 2016 9:44 pm

      I share some of those concerns and this post is by no means meant to suggest that the Clinton Ave proposal is perfect. I also understand why DOT chose Clinton over Vanderbilt, as the latter would definitely be a heavier lift. Sadly, until this city is willing to take on major parking reform, congestion pricing, and other ways of reducing overall car ownership and usage, a lot of what you write will remain out of reach.

  2. samuelitooooo205 permalink
    May 18, 2016 1:25 pm

    Interesting that you mention quotes that say one-way streets lead to speeding, when NYC DOT has shown that one-way streets are safer. (Look at their Seaview Ave – Canarsie Pier Access presentation)

    Visually narrow settings also calm traffic, including narrow vehicle lanes (10 feet wide).

    • May 18, 2016 2:20 pm

      Some of the studies are inconclusive, and, as I mentioned, any problems can be addressed through design. But I do think it’s important to recognize that while a lot of the opponent’s positions have absolutely no basis in reality, this one isn’t coming out of nowhere.

      • samuelitooooo205 permalink
        May 23, 2016 1:10 pm

        I understand. Thank you!

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