Some commenters have accused me of distorting my claim that the reserved bicycle lane on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn is poorly planned and ideologically driven rather than based on careful practical planning. According to J Uptown, "Typically, the article makes a lot of accusations, with absolutely no data or evidence to back them up." Amanda Stosz wrote: "I ride on this street on a regular basis and have NEVER seen a traffic jam of cars. I always see other bikes on the path, even when I'm riding home at 2 in the morning from a friend's house. On weekends it's jam packed with cyclists."
I decided that the best response is to document my views by spot-checking the traffic on the bicycle lane and street and by comparing the Prospect Park fiasco with better-designed bicycle paths.
On Monday, August 1, 2011 from 9:15 to 9: 20 AM I walked east along Prospect Park West from 15th Street to 9th Street. It is a one-way street traveling west alongside Prospect Park. It was a bright sunny day and the temperature was still in the high seventies. During that five-minute time period, I witnessed the following "vehicles" either traveling on the street or in the reserved bicycle lane: two emergency vehicles, four trucks, three buses, 62 cars, eight vans, and eight bicycles. I do not know how many people were in each motorized vehicle, but there was only one person on each bicycle. At 5:30 PM I stood at the 9th Street entrance to Prospect Park for five minutes and observed 89 cars, five vans, three trucks, two buses, and seven bikes.
I drove home from work at 8:30 PM on Monday, August 8, 2011 and traffic was backed up from 15th Street to 9th Street because of a Fresh Direct delivery truck. On Thursday, August 11 traffic was slow but moving past 9th Street where something was going on in Prospect Park. On neither day did I see anyone in the bike lane. On Friday, August 12, it was a beautiful summer day, and at 10:30 AM I was the only one in the bike lane between 15th Street and 9th Street, although many people were biking in the park. Enough!
Brooklyn leads New York City in the current bicycling boom. An article in the weekly Brooklyn Paper (August 5-11, 2011) reported that a record high 18,809 bicyclists commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan every day. The largest group bikes across the Williamsburg Bridge, about 4,500 a day. However, a commentator representing Brooklyn Greenway pointed out that the Manhattan Bridge could handle twenty times the volume of bikes that are there now. The difference in bike traffic is not really a mystery. The Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge is much more dangerous and much less accessible. But really, none of the Brooklyn to Manhattan bridges has easy access.
I recently visited Washington DC and stayed at a hotel in Bethesda, Maryland. I traveled back and forth from the hotel to the capital mall on the Capital Crescent Trail, a shared use off-road path that runs from Silver Spring, Maryland, through Bethesda, to Georgetown where it connects with the C & O Canal bike path that brings you into Washington. The 11-mile trail is on the right of way of the former Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad and used by walkers, joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers. It was a Saturday and the temperature was in the nineties, but the trail was fully used both morning and afternoon.
In New York City, the West Side highway bike path is an example of a well-designed, very effective bike path. I have ridden from Washington Heights to Battery Park City without fear of hitting a pedestrian or being hit by a truck. On the other hand, the East Side drive is a disaster. People and bikes are always getting in each other's way and from the seventies to the thirties bicycles are routed to Second Avenue where you are supposed to defy death by sharing the road with trucks and taxicabs.
I would like real Brooklyn bike lanes that allow people to safely travel across the borough and commute to work, but that would require planning and money, as well as concern for cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians. These are three of my suggestions.
1. Connect the Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway bicycle paths to paths in Prospect Park. These could connect to a reserved lane that runs from Prospect Park to the Manhattan Bridge.
2. Run a protected bicycle lane along Kings Highway that connects with Linden Boulevard. This would create a bike path that runs from Sheepshead Bay to the Queens line.
3. Connect the Ocean Parkway bike path to McDonald Avenue/20th Street and run a reserved path to the waterfront and the Manhattan Bridge.
The problem with the Prospect Park West bike lane is that it runs from nowhere to nowhere. Successful promotion of bike community and recreation requires real planning and money.