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Broken glass and sharp words over L-shutdown bike lanes

13th-St.-graffiti
Small piles of broken glass were left in the new bike lanes on 12th and 13th Sts. on Thursday night and Friday morning. The photographer swept this glass out of the lane before taking the photo. Photo by Driversofnyc

BY RICO BURNEY | The L-train shutdown may no longer be happening, but the flap surrounding the Department of Transportation’s plans to mitigate the effects of the repair work continues.

Cyclists posted photos on Twitter on Thursday night and Friday morning of glass shards in multiple locations in the new 12th and 13th Sts. bike lanes and anti-bike-lane graffiti and signs next to the lanes.

“12/13TH St Bike Lane CANCELED. West Village Parking Only: Bike Lanes Benefit Only OTHER People,” said one sign taped to a white plastic delineator. “Bring Back OUR Parking!” read a graffiti message in the buffer zone.

“We are very disturbed about the reports from the Village, where new protected bicycle lanes were recently defaced and rendered dangerous by broken glass,” said Chief Thomas Chan, of the Police Department’s Transportation Division, and D.O.T. Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in a joint statement.

The New York Police Department said it will “vigorously investigate” and “hold the perpetrator(s) accountable for these disturbing acts to the community.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, whose district includes 14th St., issued a tweet condemning the action:

“This is unacceptable,” he wrote. “In my district. Shame on whoever did this. All New Yorkers are entitled to safe spaces, on two wheels or on foot.”

Another pile of glass in one of the new bike lanes. Photo by Jonathan Warner

Some cyclists believe that groups, such as the 14th St. Coalition and Advocates for Justice — two of the most prominent opponents to the 12th and 13th Street bike lanes and the larger D.O.T. plans for 14th St. — and their supporters bear some responsibility for the hostile act against the bike lanes.

“Advocates for Justice knows that their supporters are prime suspects to do such a thing,” said Jonathan Warner, who works along the 14th Str. corridor and was the first to photograph the glass and anti-bike-lane signs on Twitter. “This group has no respect for orderly process, and I would not be surprised if someone affiliated with them did this, as it is exactly in line with their members’ disrespectful and aggressive behavior in the past.”

A sign someone posted on a flexible plastic delineator on the edge of the buffer zone outside the new bike lane on 12th St. said the bike lane had been “canceled.” Photo by Jonathan Warner

Members of the 14th St. Coalition, for their part, dismissed any assertions that anyone directly involved with their cause would do such a thing.

“While the 14th St. Coalition has rejected the need for dedicated bike lanes on 12th and 13th Sts., the Coalition has had no involvement in, nor condoned, the defacing of the bike lanes,” they wrote in a statement.

“It’s absolutely appalling that people would do something like that,” said Judy Pesin, the co-chairperson of the 14th St. Coalition.

Arthur Schwartz, an attorney with Advocates for Justice, also condemned the attack, but argued that Transportation Alternatives — the pro-cycling group that also supports the 14th St. “busway” plan — is also guilty of using “guerilla tactics.”

“What I don’t like about T.A. is that, first, they link me with the graffiti and the glass in the bike lanes,” he said, speaking on Friday afternoon. “Then, they gave out my address and phone number… . Somebody rang my doorbell and yelled at my wife 10 minutes ago.”

Someone graffitied in the buffer zone bordering the 13th St. bike lane near Avenue A. Critics say the buffer zone is just used for parking. Photo by Chelsea Yamada

Last year, Schwartz, representing the Coalition and others, filed two lawsuits against the L-shutdown plan, charging that it required a full environmental impact study. One of the lawsuits is still active.

Both Pesin and Schwartz insisted that neither of their groups are anti-cyclist. They contend that their issue with the 12th and 13th Sts. bike lanes is their design, plus their belief that D.O.T. did not properly listen to community concerns prior to installing them.

On Thursday, Schwartz wrote to Phil Karmel, an attorney with the Brian Cave law firm, which is defending D.O.T. against the Coalition’s lawsuit.

“[D.O.T.] should know,” Schwartz wrote in the letter, “that those bike lanes and buffer zones have simply become truck parking and construction zones. When there is traffic on 12th or 13th Sts., emergency vehicles cannot use the bike lanes or buffer zones.”

He went on to write that he and the Coalition will continue to fight D.O.T. until it enters “genuine negotiations” with neighborhood stakeholders.

Like cycling advocate Warner, supporters of the D.O.T. plan and the 12th and 13th Sts. bike lanes disagree with Schwartz’s arguments.

“Unfortunately, these opponents have no respect for the political process in the city and have thrown yet another temper tantrum,” Warner said. “The implication that the city is not listening to the community, or that this group represents this community is insulting”

A D.O.T. spokesperson said in a statement that the agency plans to keep all aspects of its initial Manhattan L-train shutdown “alternative service plan” in place as it continues to review the new proposal put forth by Governor Cuomo.

“The city’s effort for the L-tunnel closure will remain in place as we continue to review the plan presented last week,” the statement said. “As we get more information from the M.T.A. on the new L-train plan, we will look at our planned efforts to make sure we are implementing the right elements.”

Transportation Alternatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

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