In Park Slope, mayoral candidates teeter on a bike lane

Quinn, at a synagogue in Park Slope. (Reid Pillifant)
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On Monday night, seven candidates for mayor cycled through a synagogue in Park Slope to talk about polarizing issues affecting south-central Brooklyn: Barclays Center, affordable housing and, of course, the Prospect Park bike lane.

"The answer is no," said John Liu, the first candidate on stage, when the moderator, WNYC's Andrea Bernstein, asked whether he would have installed the bike lane as mayor.

(The question itself drew a knowing laugh from the crowd of a few hundred.)

"I would not have done so, claiming there was wide public support for it, when in fact it was very questionable—" Liu continued.

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"There is wide public support for it," Bernstein interrupted, to applause from the crowd. "There have been polls that show the public supports it."

"I'm not talking about polls," said Liu. "This will not be the only position I take that will be against the tide of public opinion polls."

Park Slope straddles the geographic and demographic divide between pro-bike transit advocates and an established, outspoken constituency of Brooklyn drivers. Most of the participating mayoral candidates, who each got about 20 minutes on stage (except for Christine Quinn, who had about 30), came down somewhere along the lines of "increased community input."

"I think it's a problem, with the way the Bloomberg administration proceeded with bike lanes, and I don't think the Prospect Park one was any different," said Bill Thompson. "They put them in and then they talk to the community after the fact. That's not the way it should have gone."

Bernstein pointed out that the community board had in fact voted to approve the bike lane.

Thompson responded by saying, again, that the administration tended to talk to affected communities after the fact.

Quinn, the Council speaker, said "overall, the expansion of bike lanes has been a positive thing," and took credit for changing the law to require the Department of Transportation to consult with community boards about issues over bike lanes.

Quinn said the process should have had "as much community board input as you possibly can," and "honor the community board's voice and make sure it's heard."

Bill de Blasio, who lives in Park Slope, said he "was dubious of it from the beginning, I want to be very straightforward."

He said he found the lane "perplexing" because of its two lanes (to accomodate bike traffic in both directions) and that he had objections to the process by which the city approved it, preferring "deeper consultation" with the community.

But, he said, he thought having the bike lane was better than having bikes on the sidewalk: "I think in practice it has worked. In the end, I think it has worked."

Two of the candidates were less equivocal.

Sal Albanese, the former Brooklyn councilman who is probably the most pro-transit Democrat in the race, said he "absolutely" would have been installed the bike lane, and that there was "enough community input."

Also emphatically, but in the other direction, John Catsimatidis, the Republican oil and supermarket magnate, took the opportunity to defend the rights of drivers.

"God bless them if they want to drive, that's what America is all about!" said John Catsimatidis, who said his youthful desire to own a Pontiac GTO fueled his desire for commercial success.

"So Americans should not have dreams of owning cars?" he said, when pressed about whether driving is a right.

(Catsimatidis also said he voted against congestion pricing, though it's unclear where that vote would have taken place.)

The most baffling response came from Republican candidate George McDonald.

Asked how he would have handled the bike lane as mayor, McDonald said, "Well, you know, I'm not."

Bernstein asked him to suppose he had been.

"I mean, what if? What if?" McDonald said, while the crowd laughed.

McDonald said it should be "up to the community," and touted himself as a founding member of the new bike share program.

The question about Barclays Center, which had been at the center of a long controversy over the larger Atlantic Yards development, turned out to be something of a lay-up. Nearly all the candidates expressed general satisfaction with the arena itself, but disappointment with the lack of affordable housing and jobs that had been promised as part of a non-binding community benefits agreement, an answer that drew applause each time a candidate said it.

Albanese said he would push for clawbacks from developers who didn't meet predetermined commitments, and said he's push for a new formula to expand affordable housing to 30 percent of developments, while Quinn said the "paramount" goal in future negotiations should be making the affordable housing permanent, and not have it phased out over time.

Catsimatidis said the center was a "great thing, I saw Barbra Streisand there and she did a great job."

The Barclays question actually seemed easier for some of the candidates than Bernstein's introductory softball, when she asked each of them whether the Brooklyn Nets were right to fire their interim coach, P.J. Carlesimo.

Quinn, who had an aide present for the two hours preceding her arrival, seemed ready for the Carlesimo question, giving a "political answer but not the kind of politics you'd think," saying her wife went to Seton Hall, where he used to coach, and so she had to support him.

De Blasio said it was an injustice since the Nets had made the playoffs, and Thompson said it wasn't right, but would be OK if they got Phil Jackson.

McDonald laughed and then stared straight ahead until Bernstein moved on.