The Beginning of the End—Or Is It the End of the Beginning?—of the Bike Lane Lawsuit

ppw bike lane 1 e1312493259873 The Beginning of the End—Or Is It the End of the Beginning?—of the Bike Lane Lawsuit

Slow down or speed up? (Park Slope Neighbors)

Opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane have had their day in court—a couple of them, actually—over the past two months. Yesterday may have been their last.

Mostly these court dates were concerned with whether or not the petitioners, two community groups known as Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes/Seniors for Safety, could engage in discovery, such as subpoenaing witnesses and depositions and document. An attorney for the petitioners, Jim Walden—who has been ridiculed by the bicyclists for taking time out from his work at white shoe law firm Gibson Dunn—had already filed a dozen subpoenas in July, and among the questions being discussed in Brooklyn Supreme Court yesterday was whether or not he should have. Among those targeted were DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, local Councilman Brad Lander and, in a follow-up round, community board members and bike advocate Paul Steely White.

City officials argued that this was little more than a fishing expedition, though there was also another purpose—news of the subpoenas made it into the papers and blogs, after Mr. Walden notified the press. At yesterday’s hearing, Justice Burt Bunyan asked that the first round of subpoenas be withdrawn, following a similar action the week before when the petitioners withdrew their second round of subpoenas. The petitioners must now get the court’s consent to file new ones.

The city and the petitioners dispute whether the judge was displeased with these subpoenas, and it is impossible to know because, as with the previous court appearances, all of the action took place at the bench, with the attorneys and the judge talking in private, their discussions only occasionally audible from the gallery. These differing opinions are also why the future of the case is in doubt.

After yesterday’s hearing, city officials said they expect a decision in the near future—the court is headed for a three-week recess, but anything could be issued after that. “We are pleased with today’s developments, which will go a long way toward ending the harassing theater that has surrounded this case,” Assistant Corporation Counsel Karen Selvin said in a statement. “We look forward to the judge’s decision and are confident that we will prevail on this important New York City project.”

The petitioners, however, believe these pre-trial stages are merely the beginning of the process and that they expect the judge to grant discovery and for a full trial to ensue. “There are issues of fact, so a court needs to hold a hearing to explore all the issues,” Mr. Walden said. “There is going to be discovery. The city has information that is material to this case, and the city desperately wants to withhold it.”

As the case drags on, polls continue to climb in favor of bike lanes, but Norman Steissel, one of the NBBL members, said the two have nothing to do with each other. “This is not a popularity contest,” he said. “This is about how the Bloomberg administration operates, not who likes the bike lanes.

While waiting the two hours for oral arguments to commence yesterday, The Observer could not help but notice an odd symmetry here, like that of the spokes on a bike wheel. In their critique of the lane, the petitioners see an imperial mayor acting overnight without local input while bike lane proponents and the city claim a years-long process with the backing of the community board. When it comes to the case, the positions are mirrored: the petitioners seem to be expecting a protracted trial, while the city wants swift justice. Whether this has any bearing on the case, who knows? But it’s fun to think about the next time you go for a ride or a stroll along Prospect Park West.

mchaban [at] | @MC_NYC


  1. IRMO says:

    . “This is about how the Bloomberg administration operates, ”
    Indeed it is. The Bloomberg administration doesn’t give these perfumed princes their usual privileges, and they are fuming mad.

  2. Larry Littlefield says:

    The city has gone through far more procedural hoops and public comment when installing bike lanes than it ever did when changing street patterns to speed motor vehicle traffic.  Where was the EIS for installing the pedestrain pens on 5th Avenue, or through streets?

    The opponents claim is that anything that helps bicycles and pedestrians should receive even more scrutiny,  take even more time, and cost even more in procedural delay while changes like those require none.

    Iris Weinshall is an opponent of the bike lanes, but was kept out of the lawsuit, to keep the issue of what the process was when DOT was speeding up motor vehicles when she was Commissioner out of the case.  But I hope it is there anyway.  Those who sued want two sets of rules.

  3. Eric McClure says:

    If the lawsuit is really “about how the Bloomberg administration operates, not who likes the bike lanes,” then should we expect to see the formation of “Neighbors for Better Payroll Systems” and “Neighbors for Better Building Demolition?”  CityTime and the Deutsche Bank fire were certainly more deserving of a “concerned-citizen” legal action than a street redesign that has calmed traffic, increased cycling, gotten bikes off the sidewalk and shortened pedestrian crossings.

    Or maybe the lawsuit is actually a case of who doesn’t like a bike lane on PPW, rather than how the Bloomberg administration operates.  Especially since several years of community process and heavy Community Board involvement preceded the redesign.

    1. Unconcerned Citizen says:

      Don’t forget “Neighbors for Better Term Limits Enforcement,” too.  Where were Norman Steisel and Louise Hainline when Bloomberg ran roughshod over the will of NYC voters?

    2. Unconcerned Citizen says:

      Don’t forget “Neighbors for Better Term Limits Enforcement,” too.  Where were Norman Steisel and Louise Hainline when Bloomberg ran roughshod over the will of NYC voters?

  4. PPWer says:

    You nailed it.  This isn’t at all about the merits or safety or anything of that sort.  It’s about how the Bloomberg administration operates, and Steisel and Weinshall can’t believe it actually operates using data, information, and input from the community.

    In Steisel’s day, City Hall did things by fiat; what happened or didn’t happen on your block was the direct result of what kind of connections you had.  If you had Steisel’s ear, you got what you wanted.  If you could get Iris Weinshall on the phone, you kept your parking and your traffic.  That’s just the way it worked.  If you didn’t have this access, you were outta luck.  Does anyone think that Giuliani gave two sh*ts about what community boards said?

    Now that there’s an administration that actually responds to the average Joe’s emails and phone calls and truly understands the value of collecting data, rather than favors, Steisel and Weinshall can’t believe it.  This is not How Things Are Done.  So they swoop in at the last minute, leapfrogging years of community involvement, and decide to do things the old fashioned way.

    The petitioners, NBBL and Seniors for Safety, stayed out of the game for years, more or less went straight to court — not to mention the pages of the NY Post and other media — and left the average Joe awaiting a single judge’s decision on a project that has involved hundreds of people and years of work.  But, yeah…Bloomberg is the one who’s imperial.  Okay, Norman.

    PPW might as well be a moat when one considers how disconnected Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes is from their neighbors.

    1. Community Member says:

      Whomever wrote this is very smart and exactly correct.