Despite some efforts by the Department of Transportation to ameliorate the situation, businesses along Kent Avenue still say they are suffering as a result of bike lanes the DOT installed in October as a prelude to the eventual Brooklyn Greenway.
The bike lanes took away lanes on both sides of the street that were once dedicated to parking and loading zones, which many of the light manufacturers along Kent use to haul heavy supplies in and out. The accompanying “No Standing” regulations in the lanes mean that many of the approximately 30 businesses along the stretch cannot operate as they have for years without technically running afoul of the law.
“This whole thing has been a disaster for the businesses. I can’t get deliveries without worrying about tickets,” said David Reina, owner of David Reina Designs on Kent Avenue near Grand Street, which manufactures paper-pulping equipment.
Reina said that he has not been issued a ticket, but said a ticket agent confronted him once before letting him off the hook when he pleaded his case. He said other businesses, including the nearby Meals on Wheels, have been issued tickets.
Last week, Karen Nieves of EWVIDCO, an advocacy group for the businesses, took business owners to a meeting with the DOT in the hopes of hashing out a solution.
Although no specific solutions were settled upon, Nieves characterized the meeting as positive.
“I feel that now they have a better sense of the problems, that they understand how severe this is, that it’s not just the businesses blowing smoke,” she said.
Nieves said the DOT offered to meet with business owners in pairs to see what solutions were possible for individual businesses.
A DOT spokesperson did not get into specifics, but confirmed the agency will continue to meet with stakeholders.
Shortly after the newly installed lanes were vociferously opposed by some at various community meetings, the DOT installed a side-street loading zone on Grand Street, around the corner from both Reina’s business and Carriage House Papers, a business his wife, Donna Koretsky, owns.
But both Reina and Koretsky say the loading zone — the only such loading zone installed by the DOT — is useless because of safety issues raised from taking heavy and cumbersome cargo around the corner.
“When I manufacture hydraulic presses, I get steel in 20-foot lengths. It wouldn’t be safe to take something like that around the corner on a slow-moving forklift,” said Reina.
“Plus, I don’t even have a forklift that’s street-legal because I usually just take it into the shop, so buying one would be a huge expense.”
Regarding the loading zone, Koretsky recalled: “Nobody [from the DOT] really came to us and said, ‘What are your needs? They just said, ‘Here’s what we can do.’
“I said, ‘OK, it’s better than nothing.’ But I knew it wouldn’t solve anything. We’ve never used it. Not once,” she continued.
Nieves, from EWVIDCO, said side-street loading zones would be impractical for many of the businesses for similar reasons. She cited the example of Williamsburg Metal (263 Kent Ave.), whose owners are reluctant to carry long steel poles similar to the ones Reina described. She also cited Artful Transport (55 Kent Avenue), which transports high-end art and would be reluctant to carry it around the corner.
Additionally, she said businesses would incur extra costs — such as buying new equipment and hiring additional workers — if they were forced to use side-streets.
“For a lot of these businesses, it’s impractical to take stuff 100, 200 feet around the corner. It may work for some of them but the only solution that would work for a lot of these businesses is having the loading zone out front,” Nieves said.
Because of this, Nieves said she hopes the DOT could come up with a solution that would enable this. One possible option is removing the southbound lane of traffic of Kent Avenue. This would allow for the restoration of a parking/loading lane on the east side of the street, where most of the businesses are.
The same day she met with the DOT, Nieves and business owners met with Rep. Nydia Velazquez. The next day, Velazquez told this paper that she supports eliminating the southbound traffic lane to restore the parking/loading lane.
While this proposal might constitute a palatable solution for businesses in a few years when the Greenway occupies the western portion of the street, a short-term solution — for as long as the bike lanes flank both sides of the street — remains elusive. The DOT has expressed deep reservations about moving the lanes to one side of the street, citing safety concerns.
In the meantime, business owners say they are suffering.
“It’s been horrendous,” said Steven Rosenberg, the owner of Pops Popular Clothing near Meserole Avenue on Franklin Street, where the lanes continue north of Kent.
“We shouldn’t make other people suffer for people riding bikes. It needs to be thought out better than how the city has thought it out. We can make this work, but they’re not even looking at the problem. It doesn’t seem that anybody minds that this is destroying my livelihood.”
©2009 Community News Group
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