The DOT wants to put a two-way bike lane on Plaza Street, but unlike on Prospect Park West, this design has cars parked at the curb, leaving bikers unprotected.
Department of Transportation officials presented the plan at a joint meeting of the Community Board 6 and 8 transportation committees last night in a packed room at Prospect Park Residence, 1 Prospect Park West.
The plan is a revision of the DOT’s 2010 proposal, which featured a Prospect Park West-style protected bike lane between the curb and the parked cars (see photo gallery for diagrams of both plans, and see the DOT's full presentation here.).
But they changed the design in response to concern from community residents that moving the cars away from the curb would leave the street would be too narrow for drivers to pass double-parked vehicles.
DOT officials also cited other advantages of the new plan, saying that it will be easier for bikers and cars to see each other when a bicyclist turns onto a side street and that in the new design no parking spaces would be lost (while 30 of the 90 berm-side parking spaces would be removed if a protected bike lane were installed).
However the crowd of about 100 people who came to the meeting met the proposal with significant concerns, both from bikers and drivers.
Those who want a protected bike lane said the current design was too dangerous. Drivers would need to cross the bike lane both to go around double-parked cars and to park. Allowing bikers going both ways is a recipe for an accident, they said.
“What happens when a cyclist going contraflow is confronted by a car going around a double parked car?” asked one resident.
“It’s a terrible disaster waiting to happen,” said another.
Several people said design is also too dangerous for pedestrians, who would need to watch for cars and bikes in both directions when trying to cross. A number of speakers preferred the Prospect Park West design, which allows pedestrians to stop between crossing the bike lane and crossing the street.
On the other side were those against a two-way bike lane altogether, saying that bikers should be required to ride with traffic around the circle, rather than making accommodations for those breaking the law.
“If you want a two-way bike lane why don’t you take some of that wide sidewalk? You’re going for a boutique constituency that is actually rather arrogant to the rest of the city. The vast majority of people in the city are not commuting by bicycle,” said Plaza Street attorney Marc Russo.
“I’d like to know what the granola Gestapo would have to say about that,” he added.
The suggestion to put the bike-lane on the berm-side sidewalk was supported by several people in the room, but the DOT’s Joshua Benson said the sidewalk belonged to the parks department and it would be much more complicated and expensive to pursue that plan.
As to the concerns that a two-way bike lane was just too unsafe, DOT spokesman Chris Hrones said that 25 percent of bikers already rode against traffic.
“You already have that. What we’re trying to do is make it more predictable,” he said.
But not everyone at the meeting was against the unprotected bike lane.
“I think this proposal, while not ideal for all constituencies, strikes the best possible balance,” said one Plaza Street East resident. “Double parking is a reality there. The unprotected bike lane is not ideal for the biking constituency, but maybe a good compromise for the three blocks.”
Despite the concerns, in the end, both community boards voted to support the proposal—with conditions.
Prospect Heights’ Community Board 8, representing Prospect Heights, voted unanimously to support the proposal, but asked the DOT to try to find more ways to calm traffic and protect pedestrians and also to return and study the impact of the change after six months.
Community Board 6, representing Park Slope, voted 12 to 1 to support the proposal—as a first step toward a protected bike lane—with the condition that the DOT study at the impact within six months, look into putting crosswalks at Lincoln and Berkeley places, and look for additional ways to separate the bike lanes from the cars.
They also asked the DOT to look into banning a left turn from Plaza Street onto Union Street/Grand Army Plaza to discourage drivers from cutting through Plaza Street, a suggestion that the DOT’s Benson called “very clever.”
Asked why the board supported it when so many Park Slope residents spoke against it, CB6 transportation committee member David Paco Abraham said the proposal was a step in the right direction.
“This is a good compromise,” agreed Robert Witherwax, coordinator of GAPCo, a Grand Army Plaza community organization that worked closely with the DOT in designing the plan. “It’s a good way to share the street.”