Few of the topics set for the agenda were covered when it became clear that a majority of the attendees were there to discuss the controversial issue, which is pitting different aspects of the community against each other as they struggle to work out a compromise that will satisfy everyone.
The meeting, which was spearheaded by Community Board 1 Transportation Committee Chair Teresa Toro, Rich Mazur, and council members David Yassky and Diana Reyna, brought out representatives of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), but it was clear that the DOT’s sudden installation of a bike lane on Kent Avenue and subsequent removal of parking spaces and loading zones was the primary focus of the agenda, with more than half of the meeting devoted to its discussion.
The two bike lanes on either side of Kent Avenue were installed earlier this summer by the DOT to comply with the Greenway Initiative, and have provided a continuous cycling route along the East River waterfront from Sheepshead Bay to Newtown Creek.
But residents of the South Williamsburg community and business owners along Kent Avenue said that the bike lanes have created excessive hardship on their lives and demanded that they be immediately removed while a new study is conducted.
The primary problems cited by residents and business owners related to the bike lanes include a drastic reduction in available parking spaces and the inability to load vehicles without blocking traffic or the bike lanes, which makes picking up children from schools and loading trucks a ticket-able offense and a logistical nightmare.
One small business owner spoke at the meeting, saying, “all of a sudden, it’s illegal for me to make deliveries to my business. The bicycles are great, they just did this in the worst possible way.”
Many community members criticized the DOT for reaching out to the primarily Jewish South Williamsburg community, although DOT’s Josh Benson said that they had done significant community outreach.
Simon Weber, a member of CB1’s Transportation Committee, admitted that he had seen the plans for the bike lane before it was instituted, but said that “when you see the pictures of the bike lanes, it’s hard to tell what the impact will be.”
He also said that, in the case of dropping off and picking up students at school, parents and buses were allowed to load in the street, a claim that was refuted when residents said that they had been ticketed for doing just that.
“You’re asking us to drop off our kids eight feet away from the school and on the other side of a bike lane,” said Isaac Abraham, a community advocate. “I find it incredibly disrespectful that you tell us to drop off our kids in the middle of a bike lane.”
Residents of South Williamsburg suggested that the bike lanes were severely underutilized, with one resident saying that he saw no more than 30 cyclists in one day. Benson said that a DOT count conducted last Wednesday during daylight hours found 514 riders using the Kent Avenue lanes in South Williamsburg.
“We’re asking Kent Avenue to do to much,” said Michael Freedman-Schnapp, co-chair of the board of directors for Neighbors Allied for Good Growth. “DOT needs to reexamine the street.”
Several attendees suggested that there were already bike lanes on Berry Street, Wythe Avenue, and Bedford Avenue, and that the Kent Avenue lanes were unnecessary, but Benson indicated that the two lanes were required as part of the city’s Greenway Initiative to open up the East River waterfront.
The importance of providing separate lanes for cyclists was not disputed during the meeting, with even the strongest opponents of the biking lane calling for changes to the lanes rather than a definite removal.
A suggestion that the Kent Avenue bike lanes in South Williamsburg be further separated from the roadways and sidewalks through the creation of a barrier or median was received as a possible solution to the problem, but an expensive one that would require a lot of time to implement.
At the meeting, it was revealed that Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez had secured more than $6 million to make a permanent, separate bike lane for Kent Avenue.
Though little was resolved at the meeting, Yassky pledged to schedule a meeting with himself, the 94th Precinct, DOT, and members of the community to work out a better solution to the problem.