PAVE ON! Central Park West Bike Lane CAN Proceed, Thanks to Judge’s Ruling

Work has begun on the Central Park West protected bike lane. Photo: Vivian Lipson
Work has begun on the Central Park West protected bike lane. Photo: Vivian Lipson

Work crews can continue building the life-saving protected bike lane on Central Park West, thanks to a Manhattan judge who refused to side with a group of wealthy condo owners who claim a new configuration of the roadway is illegal.

State Supreme Court Justice Lynn Kotler denied opponents’ motion that the work must be halted immediately because construction of the protected bike lane constitutes immediate and irreparable harm to the neighborhood.

City lawyers and the plaintiffs will return to Kotler’s Lower Manhattan courtroom on Aug. 20 for the main event — the latest in a series of lawsuits against the city that argue that the construction of bike lanes, bus lanes or other street safety initiatives are so substantial that they must first undertake a formal environmental review.

Lynn Kotler
Justice Lynn Kotler

Kotler’s ruling to deny a “temporary restraining order” to the board of the Century Condominiums at 25 Central Park West leaves that larger issue in question. But there is no doubt that Kotler was extremely skeptical of the wealthy landowners’ claim that the city’s rearranging of the travel lanes on Central Park West would meet a standard, known as Type I action, that requires the serious environmental review.

“There are bike lanes all over the city — some in historic districts,” Kotler asked from the bench. “Why is this any different?”

The question got to the heart of the plaintiff’s claim that Central Park West’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places and its proximity to a world-renowned park makes the bike lane plan a Type I action.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Richard Leland, had also argued that the removal of 400 parking spaces constituted a major change because drivers might find themselves unable to find parking and would potentially cruise through the mostly residential neighborhood. But Kotler had obviously read her Streetsblog: “Some people would say that taking away 400 parking spaces would have a positive effect on the neighborhood,” she said.

Kotler also added that she was well aware that Community Board 7 had already approved the proposal.

“That would have been a perfect time for opponents to voice their objections,” she told Leland.

For its part, city lawyers argued that the bike lane plan — which would install a one-way northbound protected bike path against the eastside curb of Central Park West from Columbus Circle to 110th Street — is simply a “routine” reconfiguration using simple materials such as paint.

“There is no ‘construction,'” city lawyer Antonia Pereira argued. “This work involves street markings. And it responds to a community request for safety.”

She also pointed out that to get a temporary restraining order, plaintiffs must show irreparable harm — but given that the Central Park West bike lane consists almost entirely of paint and lines, there’s no “harm” that can’t be undone.

The people who want to halt the life-saving protected bike lane on Central Park West live in this building, one of the most expensive in the world. Photo: Vivian Lipson
The people who want to halt the life-saving protected bike lane on Central Park West live in this building, one of the most expensive in the world. Photo: Vivian Lipson

Before the hearing, Leland told reporters that he never talks to the press because “you always get it wrong.”

Afterwards, Streetsblog asked the lawyer if he had a comment on the judge’s decision. His one-word answer (correctly spelled)? “No.”

As Leland was uttering his no comments to the press, city work crews were already building the first phase of the bike lane in question, from Columbus Circle to 77th Street. Residents of the Upper West Side were saddened to hear that the wealthy residents of 25 Central Park West — which include Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people in the world — would seek to block a safety project on a roadway where cyclist Madison Lyden was killed less than a year ago after a taxi cut her off in an unprotected bike lane.

“Any safety measure is valuable,” said Lori, who declined to give her last name.

Bonnie Eisler, the 25 Central Park West resident who is the only named plaintiff on the case, declined to comment to Streetsblog.

Kotler’s ruling is the first big win for the city in the three current cases involving wealthy landowners and businesses suing the city to stop routine road redesigns on the grounds that such work requires a full environmental review. Last month, a judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from implementing its plan for a bus- and truck-only route on 14th Street to help speed transit. Opponents are arguing that the plan would send some drivers onto local streets.

And in May, a judge blocked the city from converting the four speedway-like lanes of Morris Park Avenue into a two-lane roadway with a center turning bay and painted bike lanes. Opponents there had also argued that such an alteration — which has been made dozens of times across multiple neighborhoods — required a formal environmental review.

But for now, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was pleased with her win.

“We are grateful for the judge’s decision today that will allow us to move forward with a design that will transform Central Park West this summer, and make our streets safer for everyone,” she said. “With so many lives being lost this year on our roadways, and with the broad support of the community, we are confident that we will ultimately prevail in our efforts to build this much-needed protected bike lane.”