Bike Corral Quarrel Pits Old Against New on Franklin Avenue

By Sonja Sharp on February 15, 2013 8:17am | Updated on February 15, 2013 9:49am

CROWN HEIGHTS — If it ain't broke, don't fixie it.

That's what officials are telling Crown Heights residents who want the recently-installed bike corral torn up and tossed off of Franklin Avenue.

"The DOT plants this thing in the middle of Franklin Avenue — what other plans do they have?" asked Lily Funmi Johnson-Dibin, who owns the bakery Lily and Fig across the street from the one-time parking spot now occupied by a cluster of bike racks.

"I do wedding cakes. My customers need to drive to the front of the store to pick them up."

Johnson-Dibin and many of her neighbors are grinding their gears over the 3-month-old racks, decrying the corral as a fly-by-night project intended to attract fixie-riding hipsters to the drag's coffee shops, without regard for its impact on other residents and businesses.

Volunteer merchant-sponsor Little Zelda cafe and other fans of the corral say it's helped cure the crunch for bike parking in an increasingly two-wheeled neighborhood while attracting business to the areas bars and restaurants.

"The purpose of the corral is to bring people from outside of the community," said Robert Witherwax, an early booster for the bike corral and head of Community Board 8's transportation committee. "We didn't base our decision on who spoke the loudest, but on the merits of the idea."

While they may not agree on much, both sides see eye-to-eye on one thing: racks aren't really the issue here. In a borough where bicycles are strongly associated with a particular subset of mustachioed menace, the corral appears to have struck a raw nerve.

"It's brought some disparate faces to the conversation," Witherwax told an agitated crowd at Thursday night's community board meeting. "Hopefully a productive dialogue about gentrification can come out of this."

Neighbor turned on neighbor during the heated debate that followed, echoing previous meetings about the issue where newcomers and longtime residents accused one another of ignoring the larger needs of the community.

Many said the DOT had failed to adequately inform locals that the corral was under consideration. Supporters — including members of CB8's transportation committee — expressed shock that the corral had stirred controversy at all.

"I just really regret not encouraging the DOT in their efforts and us not doing more," said Little Zelda co-owner Kate Blumm. "We're doing our best to reach out now."

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