NPR

Park Or Ride: A Bike Lane Divides Brooklyn

On the Prospect Park West bike lane, in Brooklyn. (Daniel S. Burnstein)

When the weather's good, Aaron Naparstek likes to pedal his two young kids to Hebrew school on a special Dutch-made bicycle. It has a big wooden box in the front where the kids ride.

The ride takes Naparstek across Park Slope, Brooklyn, to Prospect Park West — and what might be the most controversial bike lane in America. Naparstek, who's also the founder of the website Streetsblog, supports the new lane.

"The bike lane on Prospect Park West is introducing a lot of new people to the idea that it's possible to use a bike in New York City for transportation to run an errand," he says. "This is what 21st century New York City looks like."

Prospect Park West looks like a grand 19th century boulevard — Brooklyn's answer to Central Park West. But where it used to have three lanes of car traffic, now it has two — plus a protected bike lane.

Opposition

Backers say that makes the road safer for everyone, including pedestrians, by slowing down cars and taking bikes off the sidewalk. But some longtime residents disagree. Lois Carswell, president of a group called Seniors for Safety, says the two-way bike lane is dangerous to older residents, who are used to one-way traffic.

"We wanted a lane — the right kind of lane — that would keep everybody safe, that would keep the bikers safe," she says. "But we want it to be done the right way. And it has not been done the right way."

Carswell has joined other prominent residents of Prospect Park West — including the wife of Sen. Charles Schumer — in suing the city over the bike lanes.

They may be the most powerful opponents the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has faced in its effort to add bike lanes. But they're not the only ones. Craig Palmer builds bars and restaurants in Manhattan. During an interview for a different story, he brought up the bike lanes all on his own.

"I think the biggest problem is that Bloomberg put all these bike lanes in," he said. "You took what used to be a full street, and you're shrinking it."

Then there are the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who forced the city to remove a bike lane that ran through their neighborhood.

But the majority of New Yorkers support bike lanes — by a margin of 56 percent to 39 percent, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. Bicycle advocate Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives calls that a mandate.

"If this was an election, we would've already had our landslide victory," she says. "The public has spoken. More importantly, the public's starting to vote with their pedals."

Samponaro says bike riding in New York City has more than doubled since the city started aggressively adding new lanes five years ago.

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Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today is National Bike to Work Day. And on New York City's congested streets, people are cycling on hundreds of miles of new bike lanes. But New York's widespread efforts to make streets safer for bikes have also left some locals grumbling. They complain about the loss of parking spots and lanes for cars.

And as NPR's Joel Rose reports, a few New Yorkers are suing over a bike lane in Brooklyn.

JOEL ROSE: When the weather is good, Aaron Naparstek likes to pedal his two young kids to Hebrew school on a special Dutch-made bicycle with a big wooden box in the front where the kids ride.

AARON NAPARSTEK: We've only broken Arlo's elbow once.

Unidentified Child: How did he broke his elbow?

NAPARSTEK: You don't remember falling before you were...

ARLO NAPARSTEK: No.

ROSE: The ride takes Naparstek across Park Slope, Brooklyn, to Prospect Park West, and what might be the most controversial bike lane in America. Naparstek, who's also the founder of the website Streetsblog, supports the new lane.

NAPARSTEK: The bike lane on Prospect Park West is really introducing a whole lot of new people to the idea that it's possible to use a bike in New York City for transportation or to run an errand. This is what 21st century New York City looks like.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES)

ROSE: Prospect Park West looks like a grand 19th century boulevard, Brooklyn's answer to Central Park West. It's still one-way, but where it used to have three lanes of car traffic, now it has two, plus a protected bike lane. Backers say that makes the road safer for everyone, including pedestrians, by slowing down cars and taking bikes off the sidewalk.

But some longtime residents disagree. Lois Carswell is president of a group called Seniors for Safety. She says the two-way bike lane is dangerous to older residents who are used to one-way traffic.

LOIS CARSWELL: We wanted a lane - the right kind of lane that would keep everybody safe, that would keep the bikers safe. But we want it to be done the right way. And it has not been done the right way.

ROSE: Carswell has joined other prominent residents of Prospect Park West in suing the city over the bike lane. Its critics, including the wife of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, may be the most powerful opponents the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has encountered in its effort to build more bike lanes. But they're not the only ones.

Craig Palmer builds bars and restaurants in Manhattan. I was interviewing him for a different story when he brought up the bike lanes all on his own.

CRAIG PALMER: I think the biggest problem is that Bloomberg put all these bike lanes in. You took what used to be a full street and you're shrinking it.

ROSE: Then there are the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who forced the city to remove a bike lane through their neighborhood.

But polls show that the majority of New Yorkers support bike lanes by a margin of 56 percent to 39 percent, according to the latest poll. Bicycle advocate Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives calls that a mandate.

CAROLINE SAMPONARO: If this was an election, we would've already had our landslide victory. The public has spoken and they're going to keep speaking. And I think, more importantly, the public is starting to vote with their pedals.

ROSE: Samponaro says bike riding in New York City has more than doubled since the city started aggressively adding new lanes five years ago.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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