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

Opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane have had their day in court—a couple of them, actually—over the past

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 At yesterday’s hearing, Justice Burt Bunyan asked that the first round of subpoenas be withdrawn, following a similar action the week before when the petitioners withdrew their second round of subpoenas.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

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