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Anti-Bike Lane Lawyer Offers to Help Foes of Queensboro Bridge Plan

By Victoria Bekiempis | April 23, 2013 9:08am | Updated on April 23, 2013 9:37am

UPPER EAST SIDE — Days after the city announced plans to bolster bicycle paths near the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, the lawyer representing opponents of the controversial Prospect Park West bike lane offered to help Upper East Side locals opposed to the proposal.

Jim Walden, who represents "two community groups opposed to the two-way, parking protected bike lane on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn" pro bono, fired off an e-mail to members of Community Board 8 offering assistance, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.

"We were surprised to see DOT’s statements concerning the inherent safety of bike lanes, since recently it was forced by a judge in the Prospect Park West case to release data, which showed a significant increase in crashes after installation of the lane," he said. "If we can be helpful to you in your evaluation of the bike lane on UES, please let us know."

Walden's e-mail came five days after the Department of Transportation told CB8 at a meeting that it would complete the bike route on First Avenue between East 56th and East 61st streets. DOT officials said April 3 they plan to add a shared bike lane from East 56th Street to East 59th Street and make a two-way bike lane between East 59 and East 60th streets.

The latter part of the plan would take away one lane from First Avenue, creating an 8-foot buffer area separating traffic and bikes. From East 60th to East 61st streets, another "moving lane" would be removed, swapped with a parking lane and buffer to block bike travelers from traffic.

The additions also call for shared lanes for eastbound and westbound bike traffic to be installed on East 59th street.

Though heralded by the DOT and members of the bike community as measures that would foster safety for all road users, some Upper East Siders protested the initiative at the meeting, claiming that they would create "more pollution than ever before" — and questioning whether bike lanes really reduced accidents, according to DOT data.

This second criticism is similar to what Walden, of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, has long argued in court about the Prospect Park West Bike Lane, whose foes count among them powerful residents such as former DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall, who is married to U.S. Sen Chuck Schumer.

Walden said Monday that he contacted CB8 because he believed their situation was similar to that of the ongoing battle over Prospect Park West, where he claims car crashes have increased since the installation of bike paths.

"The only reason I reached out to Community Board 8 was because there was coverage that some of the citizens were concerned whether the Department of Transportation [was] being candid with the impact of parking lanes with regards to the safety situation," he said. "People should be making decisions based on data and analysis and study.

"I don't think the Department of Transportation has been candid with people about Prospect Park West," he added. "I wanted to make sure they had access to the information."

Walden said he hasn't heard back from CB8.

"I don't know the facts and circulation about what's happening there," Walden said.

CB8 members on the transportation committee declined to comment because the offer had not yet been discussed by the committee or full board.

The Department of Transportation did not return requests for comment.

Those familiar with bike lane controversies across the city, however, did not take kindly to Walden's e-mail.

Eric McClure, a founder of pro bike-lane group Park Slope Neighbors, called Walden's move "chasing ambulances," saying it points to opponents' overall aversion to bikes, not just skepticism about select lanes.

"His clients who have sued the city regarding the Prospect Park West redesign have said over and over again that they're not opposed to bike lanes — only the ones on Prospect Park West — but his action with this proposal on the Upper East Side would clearly contradict that," McClure said. "It seems like it's an attack on protected bike lanes in New York City."

Walden reiterated that he and his clients are not anti-bike lane, denying that he was actively soliciting more clients in CB8.

"Believe me...I've got a very, very full docket of pro bono cases that cover a very diverse number of issues. If someone is speculating that I'm looking for more pro bono cases at this state, they obviously should take a hard look at my pro-bono docket before they make such an assertion," Walden said.

"It's really kind of shocking that a senior litigator for a prestigious law firm would be trolling for lawsuits against the Department of Transportation," he added.