Monday, September 22, 2014

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City Health Dept. Continues Push to Bring Bike Lanes to Central Brooklyn Communities

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The Department of Health has been looking into whether laying down bike lanes in neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn that have some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the city will help change the social norms. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

There are many factors that contribute to the glaring health disparities in areas like Central Brooklyn, including poverty, unsafe streets, and less access to active transportation. It's something that the New York City Department of Health has been working with the Department of Transportation and community groups to address.

"We have to ensure that our residents of all communities have access to bike lanes and have access to spaces that are safe, that promote physical activity," says Dr. Aletha Maybank, assistant city health commissioner at the Brooklyn District Public Office.

It was unclear, though, until now, whether the push to expand bike lanes throughout the city would be successful in lower-income neighborhoods. The New York City Department of Health has been tracking the use of lanes in Bedford-Stuyvesant and found that 70 percent of cyclists using the lanes were residents and identified themselves as being healthy.

Billups: How often do you use the bike lanes?
Ali Williams, Bedford-Stuyvesant resident: Every day. Every day, coming from work, going home.
Billups: And how is that for your health?
Williams: It's good. I could do maybe about 100 push-ups right now, you know what I'm saying?

Getting the bike lanes into underserved communities, though, was not an easy process.

"A lot of times, bike lanes are seen as a form of gentrification that are coming in and that bike lanes are not necessarily for the residents that live here," says Robert Henry Jones of the Partnership for Healthy Brooklyn and Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration.

Roosevelt Philippe uses the lanes often for recreation and to exercise with his kids, but he agrees that his neighbors may see them as a bad omen.

"It's just like with the shootings," he says. "There have been shootings out here forever, but since gentrification has been coming on, it's like, now we see more police. It's kind of like an insult," he says. "It's like, we weren't worth it before?"

The Department of Health worked with organizations like the Partnership for Healthy Brooklyn to bring community members into the process. Adding more bike racks and stop signs, and engaging in discussions about curbing violence, helped with acceptance of the lanes. Now, there are 10 miles of bike lanes in Brownsville and East New York, with a total of 28 to be added by 2016.

"Social norms are always changing, so what we do hope is that when people do see others cycling, and that they're comfortable with doing it, that we'll get more people to cycle," Maybank says.

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