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Paper: Here’s how to fix the Mean Streets

The Brooklyn Paper
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To its credit, the city Department of Transportation has made an unprecedented effort to encourage and promote bicycle commuting in this congested city. And bike ridership is way up, partially as a result of those efforts.

But the surge in bicycle commuting has caused a rise in conflict between motorists and bicycle riders as they compete for the same turf.

The painting of bike lanes on dozens of streets — as the city has done and continues to do all over Brooklyn — has proven to be no substitute for a comprehensive network that works for the majority of road users (drivers), but also cyclists.

The Department of Transportation has exhibited a haughty approach to community involvement — that is to say, there has been none — that suggests there is unanimity about how to calm Brooklyn’s Mean Streets. But one only need look at the comments under our online story about a police bike crackdown in Fort Greene, or Wednesday night’s deeply split Community Board 6 vote over a bike lane on Prospect Park West, to see that drivers, pedestrians and cyclists are not on the same page.

The board voted 18-9 for the bike lane, but the reason for the controversy is clear: cyclists and motorists believe that the other holds the balance of power.

Another problem is that the city treats cars and bikes the same: you run a red light or drive on the sidewalk, you get a ticket. You want to get to work by car or by bike, you have to share the roads.

But cars and bikes are not the same. Cars have long enjoyed a virtual monopoly over every street, and drivers don’t share the road willingly (despite outweighing bikes by 200–1). To mitigate this, the city has painted bike lanes on major through streets such as DeKalb Avenue, Clinton Street, Third Avenue, Smith Street, Bergen Street and, disastrously, Jay Street in Downtown.

But these bike lanes only offer the illusion of safety because of a lack of cohesive planning. When a Brooklyn bridge-bound bicyclist using the lane on Bergen Street wants to make a right turn onto Smith Street, for example, he has to cut off fast-moving cars that are heading straight through the light. In such places, riding a bike feels like going into combat.

That is why the city needs to put the breaks on its haphazard bike-lane expansion and do a better job of truly understanding how poorly many of these lanes work in the places where the rubber actually hits the road.

But such a comprehensive review could — and we think should — incorporate one bike-friendly idea whose time has come: the creation of bike-only portions of some roadways during rush hours.

Bikers would use these car-free roadways, giving drivers on the nearby bike-free roads a commute without fear of hitting a cyclist.

Updated 5:12 pm, July 9, 2018: Here's one cure for the Mean Streets: gives cyclists a few roads of their own.
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