City Council Votes to Increase Oversight of Bike Lane Removal

Yesterday the City Council passed Lew Fidler’s Intro 412 — the bill mandating community board notification about the installation of bike lanes — setting the stage for some showboating from Fidler, Speaker Christine Quinn and Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca.

Little-known fact: Lew Fidler's bill also requires the city to notify community boards before a bike lane is removed. Photo of Bedford Avenue bike lane erasure: Elizabeth Press

“Our legislation will ensure the Department of Transportation works with community boards and fully considers feedback from neighborhood residents on where, and how, bicycle lanes are installed,” Quinn said in a statement.

This is kind of like bragging about legislation that ensures the Department of Sanitation will pick up the trash. The city already brings bike lane proposals to community boards. The past few years have produced a long record of community board votes in favor of safer streets, as well as a few that went in favor of the status quo. With or without this bill, the bike lanes are going in where the community boards sign off on them.

Defending the need for the legislation, Vacca told NY1, “I don’t think it’s anti-bike to make sure that local neighborhoods have input as to where bike lanes go.”

Can’t argue there. Having a public process for bike lane installation is not anti-bike. What’s anti-bike is to imply that the recent expansion of bike lanes has somehow lacked sufficient public input, which is the message that comes across from the coverage of this bill.

It’s also strange that the City Council thinks it’s necessary to mandate notification for all bike lanes, but not for all changes to motor vehicle lanes. If the city wants to carve out some left-turn bays from a pedestrian median, for instance, there’s no law requiring a public hearing.

So yeah, it’s anti-bike to grandstand about the imaginary problem of community input on bike lanes when the council could be focusing on real transportation problems like the MTA debt bomb, obscenely wasteful subsidies for stadium parking, or NYPD’s refusal to disclose information on traffic crashes.

In any case, Quinn, Vacca, and Fidler missed their chance to boast about the real innovation in this bill. It requires the city to inform community boards before any bike lane is removed:

…at least ninety days before the construction or the removal of a bicycle lane is to begin, the department shall notify each affected council member and community board via electronic mail of the proposed plans for the bicycle lane within the affected community district and shall offer to make a presentation at a public hearing held by such affected community board.

From now on, City Hall can’t make political bargains to rip out bike lanes without telling the affected community board and council member first. Whether the local CB and council member act on that information to notify the broader public seems to be up to them. So the bill isn’t quite a failsafe against future surprises like Bedford Avenue and Father Capodanno Boulevard, but it is a step forward.

NYC DOT has not opposed the bill, and the mayor is expected to sign it into law.