Last Thursday, the Department of Transportation (DOT), elected officials and transportation advocates celebrated the completion of 3.2 miles of protected bike lanes along Flatbush and 4th avenues. Altogether, New York City has created 15 miles of protected bike lanes citywide this year, with 10 more miles scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.
The Flatbush Avenue protected lane, totaling 1.6 miles, runs from Grand Army Plaza to Ocean Avenue, connecting Downtown Brooklyn to Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush and East Flatbush. According to DOT, more than 500 cyclists travel down the popular avenue every weekend.
The 4th Avenue lane, which is also 1.6 miles, completes the protected path from 65th Street in Bay Ridge all the way to the Barclays Center in Prospect Heights.
Other protected bike lanes that the city plans to install in Brooklyn are on Smith Street, Tillary Street and 7th Avenue in Bay Ridge.
“Now you can take a ride to the library, zoo, Grand Army Plaza or over to the Vanderbilt Avenue Open Restaurants or Open Streets,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “We hope this is going to also make Flatbush Avenue safer for drivers and pedestrians.”
Trottenberg recalled that in February, a similar group of officials and advocates stood at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge to discuss DOT’s plan to make cycling safer as part of the mayor’s Green Wave initiative.
Last July, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $58.4 million plan to build out a citywide protected bike lane network, with 80 more miles by 2021, including several projects in Brooklyn.
Last year, 29 cyclists were killed on city streets, which Trottenberg said was a “terrible year” for roadway fatalities. This year, even with the pandemic, 20 cyclists have been killed.
“We decided this year we have to do better,” she said. “Even though COVID unfortunately shut so much of the city down, and shut down DOT for a couple of months, we’ve made tremendous progress.”
Borough President Eric Adams noted that the previous weekend, advocates celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the bike lanes along Prospect Park West. A decade later, the other side of Prospect Park is getting its own protected bike lane.
“Multi-million-dollar homes and tenement buildings, they all want the same thing,” he said. “We can’t have 10-year gaps in allowing the green pavement of cycling to send the right statement, that it is a green light to move ahead and use our streets in a safe fashion.”
Adams said four years ago, his office wrote the DOT asking for the bike lane on Flatbush Avenue after cycling advocates made the case during a visit to Borough Hall. He said many people felt deterred from riding a bike because they don’t feel safe.
Now that the DOT has completed the Flatbush Avenue lanes, Adams said by next year, three-quarters of Prospect Park will have protected cycling infrastructure.
“As we cycle out of COVID, there’s going to be some time before people are going to use the transportation system at a comfortable level,” he said. “So biking is no longer a recreational aspect of our city, it has now become a necessity. We must build out the infrastructure to make this happen in a real way.”
Councilman Brad Lander, who represents the other side of Prospect Park, said when the community fought for the bike lanes on Prospect Park West ten years ago, their group was made up almost entirely of white, upper-middle-class Park Slope residents.
“It was a good fight, but we had not done enough to make it a genuinely diverse and equitable fight,” Lander said. “Now you see this coalition and the work to win Flatbush Avenue. The fight for a safe and livable city must also be the fight for an equal and equitable city.”
Prior to the celebration at Grand Army Plaza, a group of cycling advocates joined Trottenberg and Adams for a bike ride up Flatbush Avenue. Among them was Sue Donoghue, president of the Prospect Park Alliance, who noted that they rode by the first new entrance to the park in 40 years.
Donoghue said the protected lanes are a testament to the power of community, advocacy, government support and funding.
“We are so thankful on a day like today to celebrate the good that can happen when community and good government come together,” she said. “We’ll have better access, safer access, to this amazing green space that has served as such an incredible respite for so many over these many months.”
Another advocate who fought for the Flatbush Avenue protected bike lane was Courtney Williams, also known as the “Brown Bike Girl” and the “people’s bike mayor.”
Williams recalled riding down the avenue last summer to a Community Board 9 meeting to advocate for the protected lane. She said advocates were surprised to learn that the board already accepted that it was going to happen.
“There are people down in Flatbush, in the Flatlands, who need to get from point A to point B,” she said, “very much so for transportation, for affordability, for function, to get there quickly and safely.”
Williams said despite the welcome additions, the city’s pace of adding protected bike lanes is still “unacceptably slow.”
“In this crisis time, we have a narrowing window of opportunity to really ramp things up,” she added, “to put bike lanes where they matter, where they can save lives.”