Some City Council debates focus their energy on lower taxes, affordable housing, or crime. But in the 33rd District, at least for one night, bicycles were the main issue.
Perhaps that’s because the event was hosted by Transportation Alternatives, the bike-advocacy group. But cycling was front and center also because the 33rd District — which stretches from Greenpoint to Park Slope along the Williamsburg waterfront — is the city’s epicenter of two-wheeling.
“Williamsburg has definite biking bedrock,” Transportation Alternatives spokesman Wiley Norvell told — some would say warned — six of the seven candidates for the Democratic nomination: Isaac Abraham, Ken Baer, Doug Biviano, Ken Diamondstone, Jo Anne Simon, and Evan Thies.
“Every candidate realizes its legitimacy as an issue. And no candidate would take a pass [at answering a bike concern] for it is such an integral part of neighborhood life.”
Well, one candidate would — front-runner Steve Levin blew off the debate, something he has done repeatedly throughout the campaign.
In the end, there was not much controversy among the candidates. Jo Anne Simon, a longtime Democratic district leader, spoke for many in the crowd when she said, “We need to teach everybody that they [sic] share the road, and make sure they share the road respectfully.”
She advocated bike safety educational programs there should be a reduction in bike accidents and promote safer biking in the big riding community.
But not all residents are on two wheels. Barbara Vetell, president of Greenpoint West Street Block Association, typically uses four, and had the opposite concern than most attendees.
As a driver, she is scared of bikers, saying that bikers have all the power. If she hits a cyclist, she’s responsible, even if the biker ran a red light.
“They should be licensed,” she urged. “And they should be ticketed [for traffic violations]!”
Like others, she shared a local concern that the new one-way Kent Avenue — with its two-way protected bike lane — would increase truck traffic on neighboring streets. The one-way transformation of Kent Avenue has just taken effect, in the quiet of summer, so it is unclear whether the concern is a real one.
All candidates denounced the idea of licensing bicyclists, but all did call for better road safety in a city where 23 cyclist died on the roads last year — up 200 percent, said Thies.
The former Community Board 1 member also added that there are only 4.8 miles of protected bike paths in Brooklyn.
“I would like to see more money spent by the Department of Transportation on bike education programs and also the DMV to hand out [safety pamphletes] with [automobile] licenses,” he added.
Interestingly, not one candidate rode a bike to the debate.
Biviano said he has a bike in the back of his car, even though he did drive to the forum.