The proposal by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide Fourth Avenue with a parking-protected bike lane was supposed to be voted on during Community Board 7’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, December 20, but was tabled due to a small turnout.
Instead, the board will vote on the proposal during the first meeting of the New Year, slated for Wednesday, January 17. It will also be the first board meeting at which Cesar Zuniga, formerly first vice chairperson, will serve as chairperson now that Dan Murphy has stepped down.
“The long and short is that we tabled the vote because we didn’t have a really good turnout and we felt that it’s too important an issue to vote on and not have folks really weighing in on what their perspectives are so we’re going to pick it back up the 17th during our first meeting of the year,” said Zuniga.
The plan, which incorporates the stretch from Barclays Center to Bay Ridge through Sunset Park, includes taking some space off of the median and shifting it to the sides to create a parking-protected bike lane. Two travel lanes would also be slightly narrower.
The plan also calls for adding pedestrian refuge islands with landscaping, removal of some parking for islands and loading zones as well as wide parking lanes with lost width possibly impacting traffic, and the addition of landscaping on islands.
The DOT has hosted many workshops around the neighborhood, including one in May, to get input from locals.
Despite some concerns, Zuniga expects the board to approve the proposal in January.
“From what I understand, the (transportation) committee was pretty unanimous,” he said. “I think mostly, the board members are in favor and this is why we tabled it. We want to hear people that have conflicting opinions and concerns before we actually take a vote. I have a sense, for the most part, that it should pass with a majority of votes. I think most people on the board want to have that sense of doing something to make conditions safer for everybody.”
He is also in favor of the proposal.
“For me, I’ve been clear that an intentional effort to make the streets safer for everyone including bikers, pedestrians and travelers was something that shouldn’t be controversial,” he said. “I for one think it’s something that should be thought out and it certainly has input from folks.”
He also acknowledged those who are skeptical of the plan and the specific concerns they might have, including gentrification.
“Clearly not everyone is going to be happy,” Zuniga explained. “One of the issues that gets wrapped up or inflated is change in the community. I think a lot of people for whatever reason see bike lanes and the idea of traffic calming as something that gentrifiers or folks that are newcomers want to see and are pushing to change the community. Those are two separate discussions that brings complications on how our community is changing. We need to look at some of these proposals, particularly around bike lanes, traffic calming, pedestrian safety as being beneficial to the entire community regardless of how long you’ve been here or how recently you’ve arrived. For me, it’s a welcome plan. I don’t want to short-change people that have concerns about how the community is changing. I wish we could have two separate conversations on that.”
According to the CB 7 newsletter which cites stats from the DOT, the proposed design seeks to build upon the safety achievements of the 2012 plan, which resulted in 19 percent fewer automobile crashes with injuries, 34 percent fewer pedestrian injuries and 41 percent fewer cyclist injuries on Fourth Avenue between 15th and 64th Streets.
The letter also states that the enhancements will include a protected bicycle lane on either side of Fourth Avenue, the narrowing of the wide parking lane, rebuilt and planted medians, new safety markings, curbs and signs. Loading zones and parking meters will be added to some blocks to promote parking turnover and traffic flow. The plan will also result in the loss of more than 200 parking spaces between 15th and 64th Streets.
During the May workshop, Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, shared one of those concerns.
“My concern about this gathering is that it does not represent a cross section of this community,” she said. “This is a homogeneous group. This community is largely Latino and Asian, and that is the community that is going to be mostly impacted and needs to be represented in the outcomes.”