UPDATED: Parks Department Removes Key Part of Bay Ridge Bike Network

A path the DOT maps as a protected lane is not one, another department declares.

The portion of the bike path between Sixth and Seventh avenues in Leif Ericson Park in Bay Ridge is overgrown. Photos by Gersh Kuntzman
The portion of the bike path between Sixth and Seventh avenues in Leif Ericson Park in Bay Ridge is overgrown. Photos by Gersh Kuntzman

The Parks Department has quietly removed a key part of the protected bike-lane network in Bay Ridge — and is now in a battle with the Department of Transportation over whether the path should be used by cyclists at all. 

A cyclist who goes by the Twitter handle @Foldienyc made the discovery after he asked Parks for information about the decrepit bike path in Leif Ericson Park — which appears on DOT maps as a protected bike lane (and was the subject of a Streetblog expose in 2018). The Parks Department response to the cyclist was stunning:

“There is no authorized bike lane in Leif Ericson Park and signs mistakenly indicating a bike lane were removed,” the Parks Department help desk wrote.

The cyclist told Streetsblog that he was “frankly confused.”

“South Brooklyn already lacks bike infrastructure, and when NYC Parks suddenly proclaimed an important connection like that is just gone, it is frustrating,” @foldienyc said.

The latest turn of events for the poor infrastructure came after the cyclist approached Parks about because of the bad condition of the path, including a lack of signs and ramps on various stretches, a dangerous crossing blocked by parked cars, missing tiles, potholes and trash — conditions similar to the ones Streetsblog documented two years ago. 

Parks “should decide if they [want to] keep [the lane] or just remove it and find some other alternative,” the cyclist  continued, “It is a vital stretch if they want to connect Dyker Heights to the Fourth Avenue bike lane as part of the new network.”

It’s unclear what is going on. Parks Department spokeswoman Crystal Howard told Streetsblog that “Parks and NYC DOT are now officially re-evaluating the … relationship” of the bike path with the park.

Parks claims that only a small section of the park was originally agreed to as part of the bikeway, and the former signage was unofficial. The department is encouraging cyclists to use nearby on-street bike lanes that are managed by the DOT. Council Member Justin Brannan, a defender of the Bay Ridge bike network, told Streetsblog: “The Parks Deptartment installed signs declaring this a greenway but they never actually built out the infrastructure to support a greenway. There are spots along this path that lead you straight into the side of parked car. It’s bizarre. Parks and DOT agree and we’re trying to make it right.”

The DOT punted any comment to Parks.

The Leif Ericson path has attracted attention before. Our expose found that it was “one of the worst” protected bike lanes in the city, “with missing signs, missing curb cuts, potholes, bumps, garbage and directional signs that lead directly into parked cars.” 

The protected bike path in Leif Ericson Park is still shown on the official city bike map, but the Parks Department has erased it.
The protected bike path in Leif Ericson Park is still shown on the official city bike map, but the Parks Department has erased it.

The lane’s disrepair remains important because the DOT has held up its end of the bike network bargain, creating a protected lane along Fourth Avenue that now links Park Slope to Bay Ridge (albeit where the bike lane goes to die, thanks to a recalcitrant community board). The DOT has also said that by next year, it will finish more stretches of the vaunted Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a 26-mile protected route for pedestrians and cyclists that is 15 years in the making. The city’s official bike map includes the Leif Ericson path as a protected lane that connects to Brooklyn’s new Seventh Avenue protected bike lane, another important route.

All bike lanes — especially protected ones — have become an even more crucial part of the city’s transportation network since Mayor de Blasio this week urged New Yorkers to “bike or walk to work if you can” rather than take public transportation on account of the Corona-virus outbreak. Unofficial reports indicated that a number of city bike paths, including the well-traveled Hudson River Greenway, were experiencing heavy volume this week because residents apparently heeded the mayor’s advice and used them for their commutes. 

The bike lane’s removal from the network enraged bike activists, who have been trying for years to create safer conditions for cyclists and pedestrians in Bay Ridge, a noted epicenter of traffic violence.

“Why does any agency get to unilaterally decide that a bikeway should be removed?” Brooklyn safe-streets activist Brian Hedden asked. “It takes countless years of effort from bike advocates, many of whom volunteer their time … to get the slightest incremental addition to the bike network. But the Parks Department can say with the snap of their fingers that any bikeway in their jurisdiction can be taken out, without any public comment or review. In this case, Parks is targeting an area in Southern Brooklyn that doesn’t have many protected bikeways suitable for riders of all ages to begin with.

“Erasing the Leif Ericson Greenway disconnects Fourth and Seventh avenues for people on bikes,” he added. “Lastly, this unilateral act is to truly make a liar out of Mayor de Blasio and his solemn promise to add to the city bike network following the rise in injuries and deaths. If he adds 30 miles to the network, but then takes one away, he only nets out to 29. Where else is this happening? Does de Blasio even know this is happening? Or is someone in the Parks Department management going rogue, no matter what the consequences to the mayor’s reputation?”

This story was updated to reflect the comments of Council Member Justin Brannan.