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Not Quite Copenhagen

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Bike-lane supporters have countered that Hainline’s camera is set up on just one end of Prospect Park West and can’t possibly account for all traffic. The matter will now have to be settled by attorneys. On March 7, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety filed a lawsuit against the DOT and Weinshall’s successor, Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, seeking to have the Prospect Park West bike lane removed. The petition alleges that the DOT and pro-bike activists conspired to “suppress criticism” of the bike lane and asserts that the DOT relied on “misleading, selective, and unsound data to support false conclusions.”

“People feel there is a larger policy, which looks good on paper, and everyone can get behind in a general manner, but has been implemented in such a rash way—with not just a lack of information but misinformation being conveyed to communities,” says Jim Walden, a partner in the New York offices of topflight law firm Gibson Dunn, which has agreed to represent the anti-lane forces pro bono.

No matter that the Prospect Park West lane was officially approved by its community, with the project voted in first by the transportation committee of Community Board 6, which represents Park Slope, and then by the entire board. Walden maintains that the DOT set out to mislead residents from the get-go. “This case is about a government agency wrongfully putting its thumb on the scale by fudging the data and colluding with lobbyists,” he says. Gibson Dunn is expected to bring its considerable resources to bear on the case, which could drag on for months.

“It’s not just a bike lane. It’s a repudiation of Iris Weinshall’s tenure as DOT commissioner. And it’s in her face every single day.” — Aaron Naparstek, Streetsblog

“We’ve never seen anything like this in the realm of neighborhood-level bike advocacy,” says Aaron Naparstek, creator of the pro-cycling site ­Streetsblog and co-founder of the advocacy group Park Slope Neighbors. “It’s crazy. Gibson Dunn is the law firm that represented George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore in 2000. Now they’re working to get rid of a bike lane. Think about that.”

And so it has come to this: Bike lanes, not so long ago a symbol of a boldly progressive New York City, have sparked a bitter row on the hushed and leafy streets of brownstone Brooklyn—just one part of a biking backlash rippling across the five boroughs. Businesses citywide complain that by inconveniencing drivers, bike lanes hurt sales. At City Hall, a young Queens council member has floated the idea of requiring all adult cyclists to register with the city. Some Upper West Siders have jeered a new protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue. In Brooklyn, a proposed Lafayette Avenue lane in Fort Greene has been scrapped, perhaps indefinitely, joining a lane in South Williamsburg removed after protests from Hasidic residents upset by (among other things) female cyclists’ revealing outfits. On Staten Island, residents succeeded in reclaiming two lanes on Father Capodanno Boulevard, one of which has been converted into parking spaces.

“We have entered a period where communities and community boards are very skeptical of the DOT,” says Robert Perris, the district manager of Community Board 2, which represents Fort Greene. “I hate to get philosophical, but these things sort of feed themselves. There’s been lots of bad press about [bike lanes], and when people read some of those articles, it triggers a response of ‘Yeah! I agree. Me too.’ ”

New York’s bikers have been called renegades, menaces, and high-speed killers; opponents of bike lanes have been called troglodytes desperately clinging to an antiquated notion of city life. (“Oppose bike lanes,” one Republican city lawmaker tells me, “and you get these people screaming that you’re not fully evolved. That you’re part of the ‘old thinking.’ ”) The bike-lane wars have become front-page fodder, grist for the international press—the Prospect Park West bike path, a Guardian blog recently opined, could “affect the future of cycling worldwide”—and even a catalyst for an internecine spat between New Yorker writers John Cassidy and Hendrik Hertzberg. (Cassidy: “If global warming disappeared tomorrow, the bike lobby would still ­demand more bike lanes.” Hertzberg: “And I would be onboard with that, a hundred percent!”) Bike lanes have even emerged as a wedge issue in mayoral politics. Congressman Anthony Weiner reportedly told Bloomberg that if he becomes mayor, he is “going to have a bunch of ribbon-­cuttings tearing out your fucking bike lanes.” Weiner later tweeted that the line was a joke, but you could see how a PG version might make for a good talking point in 2013.

As bike lanes have gone from simple strips of pavement festooned with green and white paint to sponges for a sea of latent­ cultural and economic anxieties, their critics have come to include plenty of the usual suspects: The New York Post, which never misses a chance to fan the flames of populist ire, has for instance depicted the bike-lane rollout as an invasion of socialist-leaning, Eurocentric, limp-wristed Lycra warriors. Meanwhile, conservative outer-borough lawmakers have accused “Chaka Khan” and her DOT engineers of ignoring their constituents’ real needs. “In my community,” says James S. Oddo, a City Council member from Staten Island, “bike lanes are a catchphrase for misplaced priorities.”


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