A long-promised bike lane in Lower Manhattan is being held up amid objections from a powerful force: New York’s judges and court officers.
Since last year, members of the state’s judicial arm have tried to kill the city’s plan to replace curbside parking with a protected lane along a stretch of Centre Street lined with courthouses and government buildings. One court official even likened the potential traffic disruption to a notorious effort by France to deter invasion from Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
“The last time such an intransigent, hubristic and ill-conceived misperception of vehicle movements occurred, the Maginot Line was involved,” said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration. “If they really do enforce it, it's going to be a disaster.”
The five-block stretch of Centre Street between Worth and Canal streets currently has two lanes used for parking and through-traffic. But on many days, the strip is choked with traffic and double-parked cars — the bulk of them featuring government parking placards issued to judges, prosecutors, court officers and cops.
City officials pushed back the project, which was set to launch last year, after court officials met with members of the Adams administration. A Department of Transportation spokesperson said the delay was needed to evaluate public safety operations around the courthouses.
Planning documents from the city show the bike lane — which is partially painted — would take up curbside space on the west side of the street. The rest of the road would be reframed to include two parking lanes and one narrower lane for traffic. It would fill in a key connection for the growing number of cyclists riding over the bike path on the Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 2021.
Dennis Quirk, the president of the New York State Court Officers Association, said his association's members were “absolutely opposed” to the bike lane, pointing to the need to keep traffic moving on Centre Street as a security concern. He argued curbside parking spaces are important for criminal court judges who “don't like traveling on the train or public transportation and then bumping into people whose cases are in front of them.”
“I don't think the priority of them getting bikes over the Brooklyn Bridge outweighs the security of the court buildings,” he said.
Parking in the area is so highly coveted that court officers often set up orange cones in spaces to hold them for the judges.
As fears of the bike lane mount, even NYPD placard holders aren’t safe. In recent weeks, court officers have begun putting flyers on the windshields of illegally parked cars with police placards warning some spaces are “reserved for Criminal Court judges only.”
A DOT spokesperson said the agency will move forward with the bike lane this year with minor adjustments – but declined to detail what changes to the initial plan would be put in place.
In a 2021 presentation, the agency estimated the lane would remove approximately 15 parking spaces, and said the project was part of its effort at “expanding the protected bicycle lane network to the East River bridges.” More than a year later, cycling advocates argue the lack of progress on the project is evidence of Mayor Eric Adams’ misplaced priorities.
“The placard class is the core constituency of Mayor Adams, so when they complain about this stuff, he listens,” said Jon Orcutt, policy director for the group Bike NY. “It’s the uniformed civil service and people who hugely abuse the limited parking privileges that are supposed to come with that with massive impunity.”
A spokesperson for the mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Though Adams has touted his major investment in street safety initiatives, he is on track to build just a fraction of the 300 miles of protected bike lanes he promised on the campaign trail.
Quirk, the head of the Court Officers Association, warned the lane would cause chaos on the street, which is at the epicenter of the city’s civic world.
“Parking is very difficult down there,” he added. “If you eliminate those parking spaces, where are the judges going to park?”