With a tainted history of traffic accidents and the death of a 4-year-old boy, Oriental Boulevard is now sporting brand new bike lane signs courtesy of the New York City Department of Transportation. The agency hopes the signs will provide a safer street, but local leaders are incensed, saying the signs indicate the agency is backtracking on community-led initiatives that the agency had previously appeared to support.
The signs went up in the final days of 2011, providing more prominent markers for Oriental Boulevard’s bike lanes that have been there for several years. According to the DOT, workers simply replaced existing signs; but locals say there are now more of them – and it’s a misplaced priority.
Both of Manhattan Beach’s two civic associations have complained about the bike lanes, saying that speeders often ignore the lines and turn the strip into a raceway. After several years of trying, the groups felt they gained ground when they met separately with representatives of the Department of Transportation last year, sporting several proposals for improved safety – including relocation of the bike lanes to Shore Boulevard.
With installation of the new signs, it seems the lanes are destined for permanence, and the groups are outraged that their proposals fell on deaf ears.
“The ‘in your face’ bicycle lane signage just placed on Oriental Boulevard is out of line with what is needed in this community,” wrote Judy Baron, Traffic chairperson for Manhattan Beach Community Group (MBCG), in a response on their website. “Protect us FIRST and then DOT can discuss bicycle riding, especially when the current bike lanes are not only dangerous, add to the problems and are virtually unused.”
The Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association is also disappointed with the new bike lane development, and the lack of concern for their other proposals.
“The only people who aren’t doing anything about [safety] is the DOT,” said Edmond Dweck of the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association. “The DOT is ignoring Manhattan Beach; they’re listening to everyone else but us.”
Dweck feels that the whole bike lane should be completely removed because “people just don’t respect lines these days.” (When Sheepshead Bites visited Oriental Boulevard for a photograph, we watched as one car drove several blocks in the bike lane while the rest of the roadway was completely empty.) He suggested a possible solution to prevent future speedsters is by having traffic lights on the boulevard.
The Manhattan Beach Community Group has also called for the elimination of the zebra stripes and bike lanes, and proposed installing a safety lane along the median that, at corners, serves as a left turn bay. Also, they want the speed limit to be reduced to 20 mph.
“To think that the most important action DOT Kings County could come up with is BIKE LANE signs is incomprehensible!” wrote Baron. “Tell that to the parents of the small child who was killed last year on Oriental Boulevard. Tell that to the 1500 people who signed our petition to the Mayor to DO something to stop the speeding in our community!!!”
The DOT, however, stands by its decision, saying that the increased number of bicycle lanes have led to safer streets citywide. Preliminary data for 2011 shows that the streets of New York City are safer than ever, with an indication of traffic fatalities being the lowest it has ever been in the city’s recorded history, said a DOT spokesperson.
In its Pedestrian Safety Report and Action Plan, the DOT has found that streets with bike lanes on them are 40 percent less deadly for pedestrians. The data reflects the city in its entirety, not just Oriental Boulevard.
Complaints about the new bike lane signs come just a little over a year and three months since the tragic bus accident on Oriental Boulevard that claimed the life of young Evan Svirsky.
“By having the bike lane up, she [the DOT commissioner] is just putting put another feather in her hat instead of preventing another child from dying,” said Dweck.