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Bike lane backlash: Cyclists speak out against board votes

Bay Ridge cyclists are as divided as a two-way street over whether bike lanes in Bay Ridge will keep them safe.

Last month, citing safety concerns, Community Board 10 and Community Board 11 overwhelmingly voted down a bike lane planned for Bay Ridge Parkway between Bay Parkway and Shore Road, and CB10 also nixed a northbound bike lane along Shore Road between Fourth Avenue and 68th Street.

Hearing of the votes, some bike riders were hopping mad.

“Bike lanes slow down traffic,” said Maureen Landers, a community member of CB10’s newly formed Select Committee on Pedestrian Safety, who is also a founding member of BRAKES, Bay Ridge Advocates Keeping Everyone Safe. “To make the argument that Bay Ridge Parkway is too dangerous for bikers so we can’t put bike lanes on it seems counter-intuitive to me. Bike lanes will make it less dangerous.”

And she’s not the only cyclist to feel that way.

“There’s a lot of evidence that proves that having bike lanes painted on the roadway actually slows traffic down,” said Stefania Vasquenz, a BRAKES member who also joined CB10’s Select Committee on Pedestrian Safety earlier this year. Vasquenz, who bikes through Bay Ridge and pushes a stroller down its thoroughfares, added that having bike lanes made it safer for her when she’s on two wheels.

But, some bicyclists disagreed.

“It’s going to make it more congested,” said Ridgite Ferdinand Leewah. “Cars are going to be swinging left and right, endangering riders.”

Others felt bike lanes should always be separated from roadways.

“Unprotected bike lanes are a recipe for getting killed,” said Robert Newmark. “When someone double-parks, you have to leave the bike lane and swing into traffic. It’s dangerous.”

In fact, that was one of the reasons some members of CB10 opposed the city’s plan.

“I don’t think a painted line is going to protect anybody or deter anything,”said Fran Vella-Marrone.

Nonetheless, city officials have been promoting the bike lanes as a way of slowing traffic and enhancing safety. Over the past few years, the city has been aggressively expanding its bike-lane network, with a focus on providing connections between existing bike lanes, said Brooklyn Transportation Commissioner Joseph Palmieri in a letter to CB10 announcing the Bay Ridge Parkway installation.

The Bay Ridge Parkway bike lane will connect to existing bike lanes on Colonial and Shore roads as well as planned bike lanes on Third Avenue, Fort Hamilton Parkway and Bay Parkway, Palmieri said.

Palmieri said in his letter that, over three years, the city plans to add 200 miles of bike lanes to city streets. In addition, he said, the agency plans to add about 50 miles of bike lanes each year to city streets until 2030, when it is anticipated that the bike network will be finished.

Bike advocates are happy with the agency’s approach.

“It’s a pretty necessary safety improvement,” said Noah Budnick, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, a bike and pedestrian advocacy organization. “We know from projects all around the city that bike lanes help slow down traffic, and that’s not something that should ever be scoffed at. There’s never been a bike fatality in a bike lane, and research shows that even unprotected bike lanes improve safety for everybody, not just bicyclists.”

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