At this point, it seems that Clinton Hill will probably never see a bike lane installed on Clinton Avenue: despite the fact that a substantial number of residents support the plan, they're not the ones who show up to community board meetings to shout at the DOT. After a heated May meeting on the matter, the Department of Transportation was sent back to the drawing board and expected to present a revised plan for street safety improvements this month—but at Community Board 2's transportation committee meeting last night, officials announced that, due to the relentless opposition from one particularly vocal segment of the community, they've withdrawn the plan entirely.
"We saw that a lot of people weren't comfortable with the plan," said DOT's Ted Wright. "We're taking that into consideration. We're listening to the community loudly and clearly and at this point the plan is tabled."
Wright added that the DOT is still interested in making street safety improvements in Clinton Hill, and now plans to host a series of community workshops, ostensibly to see where a new, protected bike lane might be a better fit in the neighborhood. But residents gathered last night told him not to bother.
"Why are we going over this again?" demanded Karima Jordan, who's lived in the area since 1953. "The community does not want it. We do not want this. And it's not car against bike, it's a good plan and a bad plan...This plan does not make any sense. Any sense...Please, just forget about it. We don't want it."
Throughout the drama over the proposed Clinton Avenue bike lane, it hasn't been clear who, exactly, counts as "community." Those speaking against the plan at community meetings have primarily represented an older demographic—longtime residents of Clinton Hill who are distrustful of cyclists and worry that converting Clinton Avenue into a one-lane street will make it difficult for Access-A-Ride vans and ambulances to stop and collect the elderly and disabled.
Meanwhile, proponents of the plan have tended to be younger, relatively new arrivals to the neighborhood, who argue that converting Clinton Avenue into a one-way, northbound street with a two-way protected bike lane will make it safer for all residents. Since last year, there have been 46 crashes on Clinton Avenue resulting in three injuries—one to a cyclist, and two to motorists—according to NYPD crash data.
Before presenting its plan to CB2 in May, the DOT surveyed residents and found that 64% of over 1,000 respondents were in favor of the proposed changes. However, the anti-bike lane contingent has managed to turn out in bigger numbers to public meetings on the matter. Last night's meeting had just two people speak in favor of the plan, and they reminded those gathered that more area residents who might not be able to attend 6 p.m. weekday meetings do support adding a protected lane.
"I collected 250 signatures in support of the prior proposal, and I talked to residents on Clinton Avenue," said Matt Donham, before being shouted over by audience members who announced to their neighbors, "He's for it!" Once he was allowed to speak again, Donham continued: There is support by some of our community. These are residents I spoke with on Clinton Avenue and Washington Avenue, and Gates and Greene and Lafayette. So there is support...but this process so far has not been particularly welcoming to my perspective, or the perspective of 250 people."
Donham's perspective was shared by Adam Nelson, a Washington Avenue resident who said he feels he's been "denigrated for the fact that I ride a bicycle."
"I bike, I live here, and I hope to be considered as somebody who's part of the community, but thus far that doesn't really seem the case," Nelson said, before attempting to remind those gathered that turning Clinton Avenue into a one-way street and installing a protected lane would make the street safer for all users, not just cyclists. "In addition to feeling a little bit out of place here, I'd also like to talk about the fact that this isn't an issue of traffic, this is an issue of lives," he said. "If you walk down the street here, you'll see a ghost bike, a white bike, chained to a fence...That's a dead person."
Nelson proceeded to list other recent fatalities in the area—Lauren Davis in Clinton Hill and James Gregg in Park Slope, among others—before telling the crowd, "If you guys feel better about your cars than people's lives, I just feel sad for you." He was shouted off the speaking floor.
When asked by one resident whether the DOT would proceed with the plan despite what opponents see as a majority community disapproval of the bike lane, Wright said that "if the community board votes no, basically we are not allowed to do the project." DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray clarified that while "allow" may not be the correct word, "we're looking for consensus on a project, so if a project does not reach community consensus and CB2 does not support it, we will not move forward."
That statement earned Bray a round of applause—but it's not how the process necessarily has to go. Community boards' votes are purely advisory, and though the city typically bends to the will of the boards when there's strong opposition to a plan, that's not always the case. Recently, Mayor de Blasio ordered the DOT to proceed with installing protected lanes on Queens Boulevard, a.k.a. the Boulevard of Death, without the support of the local board.
"The DOT does not seek unanimous permission for crosswalks or speed humps," pointed out Paul Steely White, the executive director of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. "Unanimous approval should not be a prerequisite for other essential street safety improvements, like bike lanes."