Somewhat forgotten in the controversy surrounding the October installation of bike lanes along Kent Avenue is this: When the Brooklyn Greenway (to which the current Kent Avenue lanes are prelude) came before Community Board 1 for vote in April, CB 1 approved it by a near-unanimous 39-2 margin.
The Greenway and the lanes were presented and voted upon as part of a packaged deal, with the lanes being called a “temporary treatment” to the eventual Greenway.
How then, has something that seemed so universally popular at the time turned into such a point of community contention?
Rabbi Joseph Weber, who voted for the Greenway but is one of many Hasidic residents of southwestern Williamsburg now adamantly opposed to the lanes, said the problem arose with the Department of Transportation’s implementation of the lane installation.
“We voted for the Greenway, but not the stupid way they did these lanes, with no stopping and without any consultation,” he said.
Rabbi David Niederman said he did not vote for the Greenway, but said those who did might not have been aware of the practical ramifications of their vote.
“You’re at a Community Board meeting, you have 600 issues you have to vote on. You can’t expect a community member to grasp everything from a 10-minute presentation,” he said.
“They voted that way because everybody likes green, everybody likes parks. But they didn’t understand what it would mean for themselves and their neighbors. The DOT should have explained all the implications to the community before the vote,” Niederman continued.
Many Hasidic residents of the southern stretch of Kent Avenue complain the lanes have disrupted their lives by making parking and picking up/dropping off people impossible. These residents have also complained that cyclists compromise safety by disobeying traffic laws.
Another unhappy group are the light manufacturing business owners on the east side of Kent Avenue.
Karen Nieves of EWVIDCO, an advocacy group for the area’s manufacturing and industrial businesses, lamented a lack of outreach to the businesses prior to the April vote.
“If they knew the businesses wouldn’t be able to load and unload, how come nobody reached out to the businesses directly?” she said.
“We didn’t know it would effect the businesses in any way. There was kind of a disconnect. In the past, we’ve had a presence on the Community Board, but we don’t really anymore.”
Even many supporters of the Greenway have agreed with opponents that the DOT installed the lanes in a heavy-handed manner.
Former CB 1 Transportation Chair Teresa Toro, an ardent advocate of the Greenway who was deposed from her role as chair in a disagreement stemming from the lanes, characterized the DOT’s installation as “lazy as bureaucratic” in November.
But although she did not comment for this article, Toro has expressed deep skepticism that board members did not know what they were voting for, or that there was inadequate community outreach regarding the Greenway.
“This were about two-years’-worth of meetings on the Greenway,” she said.
“The conversation about the Greenway for all that time was about lost parking, so it’s really disingenuous now to say, ‘Hey, we lost parking.’ We agreed at the time to clear Kent Avenue for the Greenway design. The Board voted in support of the Greenway knowing full-well that it involved the elimination of car parking.”
Toro has also said that Nieves herself knew of the Greenway long before the matter was voted upon, contradicting Nieves’ assertion.
Regarding outreach, Toro wrote in a Nov. 26 e-mail to the CB 1 Yahoo! group list serve:
“The community board is made up of members who belong to community groups in the entire area — religious groups, civic organizations, business organizations, nonprofits, etc. That’s why we’re appointed — because of our special relationships with community-based groups,” she wrote.
“I believe it’s… our responsibility to report back to those very groups we represent. Otherwise, what are we doing on the board?” she continued.
“If any groups didn’t know enough about what has been going on the past TWO YEARS [emphasis Toro’s] I suggest you speak to your representatives on CB 1 and ask why they haven’t kept you properly informed.”