Avid Cyclist Chuck Schumer No Fan of Prospect Park West Bike Lane, Says Neighbor

One of the curious things about the ongoing fight over the Prospect Park West bike lane is how one of its biggest opponents is a former city transportation commissioner whose husband is one of the most visible, even conspicuous, cyclists in the city. Yes, we are talking about Iris Weinshall and Chuck Schumer. New York’s senior senator has remained publicly mum on the issue in his backyard, even while he purportedly lobbied behind the scenes to have something done about the bike lane.

Now Streetsblog has email proof of Senator Schumer’s opposition to the lane—or at least that’s what his neighbor claims.

For months now, Streetsblog has been fighting fire with fire, subjecting anti-bike lane group Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes (yeah, we know) to the same scrutiny they have leveled at DOT. To create the impression the department was hiding something, attorney Jim Walden and others charged the press with FOILing the department to get to the truth about the bike lane data. Perhaps there is something there, but the numbers the department provided The Observer, sans FOIL, seem to add up. The claims are like pointing to someone and saying, “prove to me you’re not a murder.” Whatever happened to presumption of innocence.

Anyway, Streetsblog has pulled the maneuver on the NBBL folks, many of whom work for the city, the borough president or CUNY, and are therefore themselves FOILable. All week, Streetsblog has been filing their findings, including a report Monday that alleges Ms. Weinshall used her influence (and possibly that of her husband) to get free legal representation from powerful white shoe law firm Gibson Dunn, followed on Tuesday by news that the bike lane opponents pursued their lawsuit even while they questioned its success, thinking that between the media mudslinging and (again) political connections, they might have a shot.

Now comes the bombshell—O.K., maybe it’s just a smoke grenade—about our fair senator.

Schumer apparently revealed his opposition to the bike lane to NBBL leader Louise Hainline, who lives in the penthouse of the same Prospect Park West apartment building the senator calls home. “Schumer can’t help much with this issue, but I have seen him and he doesn’t like the lane,” wrote Hainline to two bike lane opponents on June 29, 2010. Though Hainline said Schumer “can’t help much,” NBBL repeatedly attempted to use his connections and clout to aid their efforts.

[...]

No written evidence of Schumer’s direct lobbying on the bike lane has surfaced, but one email is quite suggestive. On December 3, 2010, bike lane opponent and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel wrote to Weinshall: “Also heard abt a purported conversation betwn the mayor and our sr. senator you might find of interest.” In all the documents obtained by Streetsblog, the extent of Steisel and Weinshall’s communications was limited to the Prospect Park West bike lane, suggesting that the conversation “of interest” between Schumer and Bloomberg was likely about the same topic.

Weinshall, Hainline, and Jessica Schumer also tried to enlist a veteran of Chuck Schumer’s press shop. On July 12, 2010, Jessica Schumer reported on the latest ally her family had recruited in their fight against the bike lane: one of the state’s top media consultants. “My mom talked with Risa Heller on Saturday night – she used to do my dad’s press and then went on to work for the governor and now does PR work,” she wrote. “She said she would be willing to help us out a little – so I can get in touch with her if you would like.” Hainline said that she’d be interested, and Schumer agreed to contact Heller.

By no means is this conclusive evidence the senator opposes the lane, but it is interesting. Then again, blogger Brooklyn Spoke caught Senator Schumer marveling at a bike share station over the weekend, as he traversed, but did not use, the nearby bike lane. Maybe he’s just in bed with the wrong bunch.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC

Comments

  1. Doug G. says:

    Matt, thanks for shining some more light on Streetsblog’s outstanding reporting.  It’s worth noting that even though Senator Schumer didn’t actually ride down the bike lane, he did take advantage of the shorter crossing distance and greater visibility offered by the pedestrian island.  As it was also part of the overall traffic calming project, the pedestrian island would have been ripped out along with the bike lane had his wife’s efforts been successful.

    Chuck provides a perfect example of the idea that one doesn’t have to like traffic calming projects or use bike lanes to benefit from them.  Two years ago, if he had been standing in this spot enjoying an apple, he would have been hit by a car:

    Post ride apple

  2. Dave Bonan says:

    then chuck’s an idiot. virtually 25% reduction in speeds and crashes in the first week and month. then he’s have to hate the Kent Street bi-way and others.

  3. Registered Democrat says:

    Schumer, in fact, could help quite a lot with the issue.  He could tell his wife to stop using her taxpayer-funded office to send emails to undo a popular and successful traffic calming project.  He could read the statistics about safety and the bike lane’s popularity, since I gather he’s into data and polls.  He could call Randy Mastro and tell him to get Jim Walden off of this case.  He could go up to Louise Hainline’s apartment and tell her that she tread dangerously close to perjuring herself, considering what her emails reveal about what she knew and what the lawsuit she signed onto alleges.  He could make a few calls to City Council members telling them to start getting behind safety.  And when the next reporter asks him what he thinks of the bike lane, he could man up and say something other than “I’m not commenting. I’m not commenting.” 

    Heck, he could go for a spin on the bike lane with Matt Chaban.  That might put this whole thing to rest.

    This guy is supposed to stand up for New York, but he can’t stand up to his wife?  Please.

  4. Community Member says:

    Jessica Schumer has embarrassed herself here.

    Why would she want to start off her professional legal career — or whatever she’s going to go off and do after her internship with Larry Summers — by fighting against a popular, community-driven, life-saving, traffic-calming, sustainable streets project? What was she thinking?

  5. Weinshallophile says:

    Iris Weinshall could have faded into obscurity, her time as a largely ineffectual DOT commissioner mostly forgotten.  Instead, she got upset about Sadik-Khan, took marching orders from Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel, and now we all know who she is.  I bet that before this most people would not have been able to name Chuck Schumer’s wife at all.  Now she’s probably lucky if people don’t stop her on the street and ask her what the hell she is doing fighting against a bike lane!

    So way to go, Streetsblog!  You’ve done more to make Iris Weinshall’s a household name in transportation circles than she ever did.