NEW YORK—Hundreds of cyclists of all ages gathered near Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn on Sunday morning to ride around Prospect Park in the “We Ride the Lanes” event organized by cycling enthusiast Mitch Sonies.
The group ride took about a week to organize and spread mostly through word of mouth. Sonies noted that many more riders showed up at the event than he had anticipated.
Several groups have recently formed to either support or oppose the establishment of the bike lane on Prospect Park West. Sonies said he doesn’t fully understand the controversy and politics surrounding the issue.
“Parents and families and kids here think it’s just essential, and we love it,” he said, referring to the bike lane. “We’re just here to show that a group of people can ride through safely.”
Aaron Naparstek of Park Slope Neighbors, an organization dedicated to enhancing the neighborhood, said he was surprised that there was any controversy at all. By his count, 90 people were in favor of the lane and only 14 were against it at the community board meeting two weeks ago.
Naparstek said he was surprised to learn that Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety had filed a lawsuit to oppose the Prospect Park West bike lane a month ago.
The Prospect Park West bike lane has been in place for almost a year; related discussion about rerouting and slowing down traffic started back in 2009. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), installation of bike lanes has led to a decrease in crashes across the city.
Those who oppose the lanes are not convinced that this measure has increased safety, however—they claim that the DOT-reported numbers are buffered. The hearing for the lawsuit is scheduled for May 18.
According to Naparstek, Sonies “was so blown away that there was opposition at all” that he obtained the required permits for the parade and began contacting friends and families around the neighborhood to spearhead the “We Ride the Lanes” effort shortly after the community board meeting. Transportation Alternatives, a cycling advocacy group, backed the event.
The vote to keep the lane was unanimous at the last Community Board 6 meeting, but compromises were reached: Buffer zones around the bike lane will be narrowed, the entrance to the street will be repainted to give cars wider access, and curbs will be put around pedestrian refuges.
Jean Callahan said she bikes on the Prospect Park West lane regularly with her 8-year-old daughter and wouldn’t feel safe doing so in the traffic-congested area without the allocated lane.
Ralph Yozzo, a nearby resident, said he frequently uses bike lanes for jogging, but noted that they are more recreational than functional. He said that while he encourages people to ride their bikes more, the current bike lanes around the city don’t extend far enough for most people to actually get from home to work on a bicycle.
“I used to bike more, but I find it a little too dangerous because of the cars,” Yozzo said, recalling a few unpleasant encounters in areas without bike lanes. “If you’re going to bike to work, these bike lanes don’t go that far—that’s one of the issues with these lanes. They go to nowhere, usually. They just stop, [leaving you wondering], ‘Where am I supposed to go now?’”
The Grand Army Plaza crossing is wide and full of cars, but the bike lane on the side of the park has slowed down traffic in a positive way, Yozzo noted. “We want cars to slow down here. This is not a super highway. When [drivers] see a road with three lanes, the tendency is to speed up,” he said.