At CB6 Meeting, PPW Foes Take Stand Against Waving and Smiling

This dispatch from last night’s meeting of Brooklyn Community Board 6 comes to us from reader Doug Gordon. You can follow Doug at his blog, Brooklyn Spoke.

Despite broad public support and studies demonstrating the benefits of the redesigned Prospect Park West, there remains one group who would rather ignore the facts: the so-called “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” who want to do away with the PPW re-design. Members of NBBL and a few like-minded bike lane opponents sounded off at last night’s Community Board 6 meeting, where City Council Member Brad Lander presented the findings of his widely publicized community survey regarding the new PPW.

Photo: Jeff Prant
Photo: Jeff Prant

Lander quickly laid his own biases on the table. “I was on the community board when the bike lane was first proposed and voted in favor of it,” he said. He insisted that he would not speak to the DOT studies which have revealed reduced speeding, but that the agency would be back in early 2011 to present its findings.

He handed the presentation off to policy director Michael Freedman-Schnapp, who highlighted the survey’s methodology and findings, none of which are surprising to anyone who has been following the story.

During the Q&A session that followed, opponents questioned the survey’s methodology, and offered up some findings of their own. Lois Carswell, who has been active in the fight against the PPW redesign, testified that her group collected “verifiable emails” proving that car accidents have “skyrocketed” since the bike lane was installed.

Lander handled this with aplomb. “You can’t self report,” he said politely, stressing that any measure of the redesign that excluded before and after studies was an “apples to oranges” comparison. In his only reference to DOT findings, he said, “The data is clear: a pedestrian fatality is substantially less likely now.”

Still, many preferred their own observations. One woman claimed that it took her 20 minutes to travel from Grand Army Plaza to Bartel Pritchard Square — a pace that works out to about three miles per hour. (DOT has timed the average travel time in a car down the new PPW at under three minutes.) Another said that her group installed a surveillance camera in a home overlooking the bike lane, counting “only” 500 cyclists using the lane, not the 1,131 cyclists counted by the DOT in their study.

Others claimed that there was too much double parking now, but Lander assigned responsibility for traffic violations, including those by cyclists, to better enforcement and further design tweaks. “The things that improve quality of life,” he said, “are street safety and enforcement.”

An opponent who identified herself as a physical therapist got tongue-tied and short of breath as she spoke, as happens to anyone nervous about public speaking. She blamed the bike lane, saying that she was “having trouble speaking because of the increased pollution” it caused.

Bike lane supporters also made some statements, and not all were cyclists. One man, who identified himself only as someone who drives an SUV, said that he loves the new PPW. “I drive less aggressively now,” he said. A bike commuter who lives at 18th street spoke of being doored twice a year on Eighth Avenue. It’s not something he’s afraid of now that he can ride on Prospect Park West. Other supporters ventured where Lander did not, highlighting the DOT findings about slower traffic speeds.

The most telling exchange, in my opinion, came while Lauri Schindler of the Park Slope Civic Council took a turn to speak. “This is about community and what kind of responsibility we have for each other,” she said. “What kind of personal sacrifices are we willing to make so that our streets and neighbors are safe?” Schindler said that she loved the positive interactions the bike lane fostered. “When someone crosses the bike lane, I stop, wave them on and smile.” Boos and hisses erupted from opponents. NBBL had staked out a position against waving and smiling, which told me everything I needed to know.