By Alejandro Lopez de Haro
Groups for and against the current bicycle lane along Prospect Park West staged protests one block away from each other Thursday morning. The pro bicycle lane side had roughly 200 people of various ages while those against it totaled around 80, mostly older people.
At one point, members of the two groups broke out in a screaming match when the pro group walked toward the other group. The dispute involves the effectiveness of the bicycle lane, built last May by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in an attempt to pacify traffic and decrease alleged speeding on the avenue.
“It has had a great calming effect on traffic in Prospect Park West,” said Eric McClure, 47, president of Park Slope Neighbors Association (PSNA), a community organization that supports the bike lane. “It has made it easier to cross the street, because it has shortened traffic and decreased speeding because there are now two car lanes instead of three,” said McClure.
There are now two car lanes in the one-way avenue, with a pedestrian island separating the car lanes from and a two-way bicycle lane where there are crossings. Prospect Park West was previously a one-way road with three car lanes.
The PSNA carried out and published the results of a radar gun survey comparing the average speed of vehicles before and after the launch of the bicycle lane. Their study concluded that five times as many people adhered to the 30 mph speed limit since the bike lane was launched.
“I rode my bike in this road before there was a bicycle lane, and I thought it was a really dangerous road,” said Tishon Woolcock, 27, a resident and avid biker from Park Slope. He says that riding in Prospect Park West is a lot safer because there are now fewer cars on the road.
The organizations opposing the bike lanes, including Seniors for Safety and Neighbors For Better Bike Lanes (NBBL), argue that Prospect Park West was not a dangerous road prior to the bike lane. To illustrate this point, they point to DOT statistics that showed that Prospect Park West had fewer accidents then surrounding roads.
“We do not believe that safety has increased. The road is now unsafe for seniors and children,” said Lois Carswell, 68, President of Seniors for Safety. She emphasized that crossing the street has become much more confusing because it requires a person to cross a one-way, two-lane road followed by a two-way bike lane with no traffic lights.
“I am 75 and I am not getting any speedier. Bicycles are a danger. They are silent killers,” said Alfred Ingegno, a resident of Park Slope. He argues that bicycles can cause serious injury to senior citizens that may result in death.
“I am slow because of my condition and many bikers do not observe the rules of the road, so it’s a question of personal safety,” said Gordon Dipaolo, 76, who uses a wheelchair.
The controversy has been such a hot button issue that local politicians have gotten involved. Councilman Brad Landers, councilman Stephen Levin and Community Board 6 jointly published a survey seeking feedback from residents affected by the bicycle lane. The survey had around 800 responses on the first day of publication.
Marty Markowitz, the borough president of Brooklyn, issued press release today expressing his disapproval of the bicycle lane. He called for the DOT to remove it, referring to the bicycle lanes as a “dangerous eyesore.”
The DOT told the Brooklyn Ink that their preliminary numbers show that speeding has decreased in Prospect Park West, and that it could be “the most successful bike path that the agency has ever implemented.” They said that the Prospect Park West bicycle lane was added at the request of the Community Board 6, and that the Brooklyn bicycle lanes are some of the most used in the city.
Bob Minsky, 54, a Park Slope resident who favors the lanes, said crossing the street had become much easier with the bike lane in place. “Three lanes were difficult to cross. Now I can cross two car lanes, stop in the middle, check for bikes and cross. Its much easier for me,” said Minsky.