On the wide, smooth concrete sidewalk of Court Street in Carroll Gardens in 2005, Elliott Arkin, 52, rode his bike in front of his five-year-old daughter, Ava, to teach her how to ride. The lesson soon came to a halt when Arkin was given a ticket for riding his bike on the sidewalk, an offense in New York City for riders above 12 years of age.
“How are you going to teach your kid how to bike?” Arkin asked as he recounted the story. While Arkin regularly rides his bike next to traffic, he said he would never put his daughter on the street with a bike. “It’s way too dangerous with a kid.”
But that might be changing. Brooklyn is becoming a bike haven as bike lanes continue to pop up. Though Brooklyn still has the highest number of fatal bike accidents of any other borough, it also has the fastest growing number of bike lanes in all five boroughs; 35 percent of New York’s total bike lanes built between 2010 and 2012 were installed in Brooklyn, according to the Department of Transportation. This year, about 9.1 of the 14.9 planned total bike miles for the city will also be built in Brooklyn.
And those numbers do not even include the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative’s project, the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, which, when the 14-mile bike path is complete will extend from Greenpoint to Bayridge. Paid for by federal, state and city capital, the construction of the path started in 2008 at Columbia Street, and five miles of the path have since been built.
Last Thursday, the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative proposed to Community Board 6’s transportation committee to expand its greenway bike paths from the intersection of Van Brunt and Summit Streets to Valentino Park. The group supported the project, and the bike lane construction is set to begin this summer.
“That’s fantastic,” said Arkin. “The more we can encourage New Yorkers to bike, it’s great.”
Miller Nuttle, the campaign and organizing manager of Transportation Alternatives, a bike advocacy group in New York City, also gave the group’s approval of the project a thumbs up. “Anyone could feel safe riding a bike even if they are inexperienced,” Nuttle said. “That’s a wonderful part about the Greenway– is that an eight year-old could ride a bike.”
But while bike paths like these are welcome with open arms by residents and bicycle advocacy groups, the ride to an ever expanding pike path paradise might not be smooth, especially as the city is on the cusp of a mayoral election. Mayor Bloomberg has been considered bike-friendly, but his successors might not be.
“There’s uncertainty always,” said Brian McCormick, the director of development and administration of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. “There’s always a concern when politics turn over.”
The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. McCormick explains, relies on support from all of levels of government, from the local to the federal level.
“It’s our job to make aware the benefits of the Greenway to as large of a constituency as possible through our programs, and that ultimately affects the politics,” he said.
As of August 2012, a New York Times poll found that 66 percent of New Yorkers support having bike lanes in the city. “It’s an issue that candidates would do well to champion,” Nuttle said. “It makes streets safer for pedestrians, improves traffic flow, and it gives New Yorkers more choice. And, we love choice as New Yorkers.”
One of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative’s supporters at the board meeting last Thursday also indicated that because the project has been met with such positive feedback from the public, there’s not much concern about its future.
Meanwhile, bike riders say they will continue to enjoy the bike lanes.
“It’s not gonna stop me,” said Arkin after he was asked if fewer bike lanes would affect his everyday riding. “I’m kind of a daredevil.”
But the same cannot be said for his daughter, now 12 years old. “She’ll skate board more often,” Arkin said. “She can do that on the sidewalk. Riding in the street is not welcoming for someone that age.”