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Brooklyn Fifth Avenue Bike Lanes Rejected

By Alan Neuhauser | October 18, 2012 3:35pm

SUNSET PARK — Move aside, cyclists.

A proposal to extend miles of bike lanes into Sunset Park along one of Brooklyn's busiest commercial thoroughfares was killed Wednesday night by Brooklyn's Community Board 7.

The plan, based on a Department of Transportation feasibility study conducted in the fall of 2010, called for creating 2.3 miles of shared bike lanes on Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 65th streets, effectively expanding a network of shared and dedicated bike lanes that already exist on Fifth Avenue north of 23rd Street.

"The treatment would be similar to what currently exists on a stretch of Fifth Avenue from Dean to Carroll streets," a DOT spokeswoman said in an email to DNAinfo this spring.

The Fifth Avenue strip is already heavily trafficked by cyclists. Nearly 900 cyclists rode Fifth Avenue between 26th and 27th streets on weekdays, the DOT study found, and 775 cyclists rode it on weekends. Between 53rd and 54th streets, more than 500 cyclists used Fifth Avenue on weekdays and weekends.

On Wednesday night, a plurality of 15 board members actually voted to approve the proposal, but they failed to achieve a majority: nine board members opposed the measure, and 10 abstained. 

Those against the bike lane plan pointed out that Fifth Avenue, which measures one lane in each direction, narrows south of 23rd Street and could not safely accommodate a bike lane.

"The narrowness of the street, folks thought that other avenues might be safer because of that, particularly because it's a commercial avenue," district manager Jeremy Laufer described.

Some Fifth Avenue businesses, which rely on delivery trucks that are often forced to double-park on Fifth Avenue, also shared board members' concerns.

"If someone is double-parked, then you have to drive in the bike lane, or you have to bike in front of the cars," Steve Orellana, 20, a stock clerk at Bi-Rite Drugs on Fifth Avenue near 41st Street, told DNAinfo in May.

"If there's a biker, and you're driving behind him, you go super slow."

The Sunset Park Business Improvement District agreed, according to executive director Renee Giordano. Although the group did not mount a public campaign to oppose the bike lane proposal, it refused to endorse the plan when it was introduced to the Community Board's Transportation Committee in June.

"We have buses there, we have delivery trucks. We have the cars, obviously. So it's a very congested area, and you can't just zip from one end to the other, whether you're a truck or a bike or a bus," Giordano argued.

Cycling advocates, however, argued that Fifth Avenue's traffic congestion, combined with its frequent use by cyclists, is the very reason to create bike lanes.

"The fact that people are biking down a narrow street heavily trafficked by trucks means they're at risk, and giving them safe space to do so is trying to save their lives," said Michael Murphy, spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, a New York City-based cycling advocacy group.

"We license drivers with the understand that they can take one to two tons of metal onto neighborhood streets without killing anyone, so it's always not a bad idea to give them a bit of a nudge with paint on the road."

Board members suggested creating the bike lanes on wider roads, such as Fourth and Third avenues, but there are no formal plans or studies underway.

Fourth Avenue, another heavily commercial thoroughfare that is regularly labeled one of New York City's most dangerous streets, is undergoing DOT safety improvements to expand its shoulders and parking areas, tighten left-turn restrictions, and reduce traffic from three lanes to two in each direction. Third Avenue, which measures three lanes in each direction, runs under the Gowanus Expressway, which is lined with manufacturing, commercial and construction.

"They're wide boulevards, so perhaps the space could be more accommodating," Laufer said.

Murphy, however, was skeptical.

"What's trying to be done is to connect the lanes into a functional network," he said. "If you ride one block and then the lane stops, it's not doing you much good."