Pothole for Lafayette Bike Lane

Brooklyn Paper | March 9, 2011

By Laura Gottesdiener

Cyclist and bike shop owner Cassidy Vale supports a now-scuttled lane on Lafayette Avenue through Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

A city plan for a new bike lane in Fort Greene skid to a halt after community objections last month, the latest clash in a winter of discontent about bike lanes across the borough.

The city was cruising toward installing a new cycle path on Lafayette Avenue between Flatbush Avenue and Broadway until the Department of Transportation mysteriously scrubbed the plans two weeks ago.

"It's off the table for at least the rest of the year," said Community Board 2 District Manager Robert Perris.

The flat tire came only one week after the city's Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator Chris Hrones optimistically presented the bike lane to Community Board 2 as a way of eliminating speeding -- and amid increasing controversy over bike lanes in other neighborhoods.

Under the agency's plan, the Lafayette lane would run eastbound and would complement the westbound lane on DeKalb Avenue. An existing eastbound lane on Willoughby Avenue five blocks north isn't suitable, cyclists say, because it starts at Fort Greene Park, not at Flatbush Avenue.

"Lafayette is a route we cyclists want to take," said Caroline Samponaro from Transportation Alternatives, the bike-advocacy group. "But you're forced to ride in the door zone with speeding cars all around you. It's totally harrowing."

Others cyclists agreed that slower auto speeds would benefit everyone.

"It's not the kind of street that should be used as a thoroughfare," said Cassidy Vale, the owner of Bespoke Bicycles on Lafayette Avenue near S. Elliott Place.

Residents stepped up the effort to get a bike lane last year, prompting a city traffic study that showed a bike lane could help retard drivers and make cyclists safer.

But after subsequent community meetings this January and February the city suddenly downshifted.

"There was not a lot of enthusiasm from Community Board 2 or Community Board 3 about the lane," said Perris.

"Granted riders who are heading east need to do a little zigging and zagging to get over to Willoughby, but that doesn't seem like a persuasive argument that a new lane should be created one block to the south."

Community members were also frustrated that their requests to slow speeding on Lafayette from Flatbush Avenue to Cumberland Street turned into a 2.7-mile-long bike lane.

"Part of [the opposition] was surprised that we'd asked for one thing and we got something that was much grander," Perris said, adding that the city may revisit the idea in the future.

Whatever the reason, the scrubbed Lafayette Avenue lane is part of an ongoing backlash against cycle paths. The city has embarked on an ambitious plan to build 200 miles of new bike lanes, but increasingly, neighborhood groups have been pushing back.

An anti-bike lane group in Park Slope sued the city this week to dismantle the Prospect Park West bike path. And in the same neighborhood, the city took a pair of lanes on 14th and 15th streets off the agenda of a Community Board 6 meeting after some locals objected.

Meanwhile, Councilman Lew Fidler (D--Canarsie) is pushing a bill that would require public hearings before any bike lane could be installed.

The goal, Fidler has said publicly, is to curtail the city's free-wheeling approach to cycle paths, which offends some drivers.