Why Can’t We Get Bike Lanes Right?

Why Can’t We Get Bike Lanes Right?
Shore Boulevard, site of a proposed bike lane. Photo by George Burshteyn
Shore Boulevard, site of a proposed bike lane. Photo by George Burshteyn

Bike lanes are a hot-button issue in southern Brooklyn these days, and we just don’t seem to be getting them right. We wrote about how the city reversed its decision on exactly where the bike lane should be on E 38th Street in Marine Park, and this seems to have inspired a renewed push from residents and local politicians to relocate a dangerous and widely-unused bike lane on Oriental Boulevard (below) to the scenic Shore Boulevard (above).

Oriental Boulevard Bike Lane
Oriental Boulevard Bike Lane

A bike lane on Shore Boulevard is something that neighbors have wanted since 2012. The promise of the Oriental Boulevard bike lane, which was installed in 2003, was that it would help with traffic calming on the wide “raceway”, yet in the years since there have been three fatalities, and 42 injuries, according to the DOT’s Vision Zero data.

“Bike lanes on Oriental Boulevard were installed in 2003 in response to community safety concerns,” said a DOT spokesperson, arguing the effectiveness of the Oriental Boulevard bike lane. “DOT conducted a study immediately after their installation, in 2004, which found that speeds and daily traffic volumes decreased, while cycling and non-motor use increased. DOT’s most recent count of bicyclists use of the Oriental Ave bike lane showed that from May 25, 2003 to May  25 of 2016, there was a 53 percent increase in use.”

However, some argue that the road is still dangerous for bikers and pedestrians alike.

“There were 4 accidents on Oriental Boulevard involving bikes since 2012. So far in 2016 there has been one,” said Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, who has been on the forefront of this issue since it’s inception. “Moving it to Shore Boulevard seems like a common sense approach because you’re not moving across intersections like on Ocean Parkway or Bedford Avenue where someone could open their car door and you slam right into them.”

While it seems like a no-brainer to local politicians, residents and bikers alike, the issue at stake is city bureaucracy.

shore boulevard map

Shore Boulevard is Parks Department territory, and according to Deutsh, the project would cost $3.2 million. A Parks department spokesperson would not speak on the funding of the proposal, and only said they would comply with the DOT.

Deutsch’s plan to help in the funding of the bike lane is to reach out to his colleagues in government to contribute to the bike lane, like he has previously done to fund renovations at the Homecrest playground. The DOT is willing to work with Councilman Deutsch and the Parks Department on moving the bike lane, but has no immediate plans at the moment, according to a DOT spokesperson.

“It’s a lot of money but if we could save one life or reduce the injuries to zero, or reduce them to the point of not having anyone end up in the hospital and be disabled for the rest of their life that 3.2 million is well worth it,” said Deutsch.

The DOT could use some improvement in communicating, and working with the community when deciding where to install bike lanes, according to Deutsch. After all, who knows what’s best for the neighborhood better than the people living there?

“When the city puts in bike lanes or replaces bike lanes, there’s really no collaboration with city agencies and the communities,” explained Deutsch. “When it comes to bike lanes they usually look at the location and decide that this is the place to put a bike lane. It’s not the proper way to go about it. They need collaboration and partnership with the people in the community.”

A DOT spokesperson had this to say about their process when deciding where to put bike lanes:

“Whether it be a multi-year planning process like Jamaica Bay Greenway, a response to safety conditions, or a request of community board/elected – all plans requests are then reviewed and plans are developed. Plans are then submitted to the Community Board and elected officials for approval.”

Deutsch has been going back and forth with the Parks department and the DOT in an effort to get the bike lane on Shore Boulevard. A few years ago, he brought a DOT representative to both the Shore Boulevard location and the Oriental Boulevard location. Deutsch proposed Shore Boulevard for a bike lane, and the DOT rep seemed very receptive, according to Deutsch.

Next, Deutsch had to get Parks on board, which wasn’t easy at first. After speaking with them numerous times about the plan, Deutsch was told by Parks that Shore Boulevard couldn’t fit a bike lane. Deutsch argued that it could, if you think about Ocean Parkway’s bike lane, which is smaller than the proposed Shore Boulevard location when you take the sidewalk railing into account, and Bedford Avenue’s 4-foot-wide bike lane.

Parks complied and did a study at Shore Boulevard that proved themselves wrong — the location can fit the bike lane. After that, the DOT got back to Deutsch with concerns over four bike-related accidents on Shore Boulevard. Deutsch argued that if the accidents took place on the street, that they wouldn’t have happened if there was a bike lane; and if they happened at the proposed bike lane location, then they happened because there wasn’t an established, $3.2 million bike lane to adhere to.

Lest everyone think we are all against bike lanes here in South Brooklyn, a series of bike lane improvements in Marine Park were unanimously approved by Community Board 18 and the DOT in March with the overall goal of connecting Marine Park to the Jamaica Bay Greenway, and making Flatbush Avenue, a road often perilous for cyclists, safer. They got the E 38th Street bit wrong, but a fix was almost immediate. Maybe there is hope for Shore Boulevard.

[Update  10:42am]: A quote from Councilmember Deutsch was cleared to reflect that Ocean Parkway and Bedford Avenue were used as examples of bike lanes that involve crossing intersections on the street, rather than the sidewalk, like the proposed Shore Boulevard bike lane.

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