January/February 1998, p.5

Borough Park, Brooklyn, Snags Bicycle Network Link

Read the latest news about this issue.

It's not unusual for bike lane plans to generate some controversy at the community level, but nowhere has opposition to a bike lane been as fierce and misguided as in Brooklyn's Borough Park this fall.

More than 150 Community Board #12 residents packed a November 10th meeting to protest NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) plans for the Sunset Park Connector, an on-street bike lane that would traverse Sunset and Borough Parks, connecting the Shore Parkway bike path with Prospect Park. The crowd booed, hissed and shouted down the DOT presenter while applauding bike lane opponents.

Alleged safety concerns dominated the hysteria, with one rabbi offering the fabricated statistic that bicycles hit and kill one person every day in the Big Apple (the real average is one person per year). Residents argued that Borough Park's numerous school buses, car services and many toddlers made neighborhood streets too congested and unsuitable for a bike lane. Others opposed police enforcement of presently unchallenged double-parking on the route.

State Senator Dov Hikind intoned that lycra-legged mobs of cyclists were unwelcome in the largely Hasidic community. And council transportation committee chair Noach Dear forcefully fought the lane, meeting personally with Transportation Commissioner Lynn to kill it.

But DOT insiders call the safety concerns nonsense, and Borough Park police agree. The 66th Precinct told T.A. that bicycles hitting pedestrians "is not a major problem. The larger problem is cars hitting pedestrians." Only 1 in 800 vehicle crashes this year has involved a bike hitting a pedestrian. The 72nd Precinct doesn't even track bicycle-pedestrian crashes. "It's not a prevalent problem," said one officer.

Nevertheless, Community Board #12 resoundingly voted down the Connector. The DOT's Luiz Aragao said the agency is considering routes that would "meet the community's needs." But Noach Dear's office insists, "There's not going to be any bike lane."

While the DOT faces intense pressure to appease angry Borough Parkers, it would set a crippling precedent to allow misinformed and irrational opposition to stop the lane. The DOT should select a route that accomplishes the Connector's goals but is more palatable to local residents.

The Neighborhood Open Space Coalition (NOSC) has urged the agency to consider the originally proposed greenway route along the Brooklyn waterfront on Second Avenue and Greenwood Cemetery on 36th and 37th Streets. DOT rejected that plan because of rail tracks and block pavers on parts of Second Avenue, but the NOSC's Dave Lutz says, "It would be easy to asphalt the edges of Belgian block paved streets." For now, the agency is refusing to comment on the alternate routes under consideration. Stay tuned.