Flip-Flop on Dyckman Street: Anatomy of a Bike Lane Debacle

Mayor de Blasio over-rules DOT — for now — on its plan to remove a protected lane on a key route.

Mayor de Blasio huddles with Police Commissioner James O'Neill during a press conference on Tuesday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Mayor de Blasio huddles with Police Commissioner James O'Neill during a press conference on Tuesday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Oops, never mind!

Mayor de Blasio said he has halted his own Department of Transportation’s unprecedented plan announced last week to remove a protected bike lane on Dyckman Street and will now personally review the decision — which should have been brought to him in the first place.

“I think you want to ask the question, ‘Was this something you authorized?'” the mayor said under questioning from Streetsblog on Tuesday. “The answer would be no.”

The mayor continued:

It’s a very big government and sometimes things happen that do not reflect my will … There is a history – I’m not talking about protect bike lanes here, I’m talking about bike lanes – there’s a history of bike lanes being implemented, and, in some cases, needing adjustment, and that’s fine. Some of those adjustments can really be sensible both in terms of safety and in terms of the needs of the neighborhood. We should never look at any of this stuff as static. But a protected bike lane is obviously there for a reason and alteration to that should be done very, very carefully. So, this was not brought to my desk. It should have been brought to my desk. It will be brought to my desk and I’ll render a judgment, then we’ll let you know. So, that decision’s on hold until I review it.

The mayor’s comment came on the first business day since DOT announced late on Friday that it would remove one of the two protected bike lanes on Dyckman — lanes that were installed last December and defended by DOT at a community meeting in May. The removal of such a high-profile protected bike lane would have been a first in the Vision Zero era.

In its Friday announcement, DOT said removing the eastbound protected lane would be an “improvement,” but skeptics saw it as a nod to rampant double-parking on the strip, where more than 300 people have been injured in crashes between 2009 and the installation of the protected bike lane on both sides of the street in December, 2017.

In a separate interview with Streetsblog, DOT spokesperson Alana Morales said the agency’s decision to remove the bike lane came after receiving “extensive feedback from the community.”

The DOT had heard that feedback before from several small business owners, who complained that business was suffering because customers could no longer easily double-park in front of their stores — and the new design appeared to accommodate that complaint with an extra wide painted buffer between the travel lane and the bike lane. That buffer would have been a de facto double-parking zone.

This was the brief proposal for undoing twin protected bike lanes on Dyckman Street. Photo: DOT
This was the brief proposal for undoing twin protected bike lanes on Dyckman Street. Photo: DOT

And Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who called for the removal of the protected bike lane, is perfectly all right with that.

“You are not going to get rid of double-parking on Dyckman Street,” she told Streetsblog after receiving the news about the mayor’s about-face. “Business owners were concerned because once the bike lane was installed, they were ending up with four lanes of Dyckman Street all blocked by cars.”

So they blamed the cyclists?

“Cars need to be able to stop and get their coffee,” Brewer said. “Columbus and Amsterdam [avenues with protected bike lanes] have more space. You don’t have double-parking like you do on Dyckman. The culture is double parking! You’re not going to change that.”

The debacle — and then the flip-flop — on Dyckman Street follows the proverb, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”

Almost since the redesign was installed, some drivers have complained that they could no longer double-park, and some business owners claimed sales were suffering.

And FDNY Captain Robert O’Brien of Ladder 36 tossed a bomb into the debate in January when he blamed double- and triple-parking for congestion on Dyckman Street — though, like Brewer, O’Brien saw the bike lane as the culprit instead of the drivers who illegally park and block emergency vehicles.

The DOT defended the configuration in May. A few days later, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat drove himself into the debate — literally — by posting his driver’s-seat-view of the crisis on Dyckman, not even bothering to get out of his car before suggesting that the roadway redesign had failed. He and Brewer pushed the city for changes.

Sure enough, in August, as part of a much larger rezoning of Inwood, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen signed off on a memorandum of understanding [PDF] that included the removal of the bike lane — which led to the DOT announcement on Friday.

But the language of the August 2 “Points of Agreement” memo does not even make sense.

“The Department of Transportation recently completed modifications to the bike lanes on Dyckman Street and continues to feel the facilities provide important benefits to all users of the corridor,” the document states. “DOT commits to make additional changes to the configuration by retaining a protected bicycle lane on the north side of the street and creating a buffered bike lane on the south side of the street.”

DOT did not comment on Tuesday about how the agency could — at the same time — believe that its twin bike lanes on Dyckman “provide important benefits to all users,” yet suddenly agree to remove one of them. Indeed, the agency used the word “safety” or “safer” on every page of its original Dyckman protected bike lane proposal last year [PDF]. And community workshops on the plan yielded a consensus: “Protected bike lanes … are less likely to be blocked by double-parked cars.”

Adriano Espaillat shows how people on bikes are ruining Dyckman Street — by not even getting out of his car to investigate.
Adriano Espaillat shows how people on bikes are ruining Dyckman Street — by not even getting out of his car to investigate.

In the end, sources inside city government were pointing fingers all day on Tuesday. The mayor blamed underlings for not bringing the Dyckman decision to his desk. Two sources blamed Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez for asking that the eastbound lane removal be part of the “Points of Agreement.”

But Rodriguez denied it, blaming other “elected officials” whom he did not name though are obviously Brewer and Espaillat for “putting so much pressure on DOT to remove both bike lanes on Dyckman.”

“These other elected officials want to remove the bike lane completely, but I have been very vocal in wanting to keep both protected bike lanes,” Rodriguez said. “DOT presented a plan to save the north side protected bike lane and the south side would be unprotected. This was the option because we were dealing with all the pressure.”

For his part, Espaillat seemed to vow to fight on.

“We had to make changes to the Dyckman Street bike lanes following firsthand accounts from first responders and emergency personnel who encountered increased difficulty in reaching their destination when responding to emergency calls,” he said in a statement to Streetsblog. “I’ve taken several walking and driving tours of the Dyckman area with officials from the DOT and we reviewed alternative locations — including Isham Street, Academy Street and 204th Street — for the bike lane.”

Espaillat also claimed he has “long been supportive of protected bike lanes in designated areas throughout our community,” though the NYC bike map shows very little protected infrastructure in the 13th Congressional District, which Espaillat has represented since 2017.

It’s unclear what the next step will be. Brewer said she’s still digesting the “breaking news.”

“I’ll go with whatever the mayor says,” Brewer said. “He’s the mayor. But I spend a great deal of time worrying about our small businesses. They are being hurt badly.”

By the bike lane or the double-parkers?

“Nothing is going to stop double-parking on Dyckman,” she reiterated.