Home > Chatter, Complete Streets, Cultural Movement > Dinosaurs: We Have Nothing Against Bikes, Just Get Out Of Our Way (Weekly Chatter)

Dinosaurs: We Have Nothing Against Bikes, Just Get Out Of Our Way (Weekly Chatter)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week’s weekly chatter blew-up on me and is dominated by a bike-lane debate in New York City. There are links to other items of interest below.


If you read the New York Times or follow other cycling blogs, you likely know about the current bike-lane debate heard around the world (The Guardian). Apparently a well-connected group is suing New York City (NYTimes) over the installation of a new bike lane in Prospect Park in Brooklyn . The high-profile of the location and opposition is attracting more attention than is likely warranted (Google News Search: Prospect Park Bike Lane). However, it may have a lot to say about the future discussion about all of our public spaces and mobility issues: are cities for cars, or people.

NYCDOT's Janette Sadik-Khan (Photo: Randy Harris for NYMag)

The personal issue is caught up in an ideological debate between the previous NYC transportation commissioner (and his proponents) and the current commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (and that she rides a bike) whose leadership is credited with a 45% increase in commutes by bicycle since 2006 (NYCDOT). Sadik-Khan celebrates the direction of The City and is often celebrated herself; she made  New York Magazine’s top reasons to love New York list back in 2007 (NY Magazine).

At this week’s Bike Summit in Washington D.C. she defended her vision by pointing out how bicycling infrastructure benefits everyone:

When we put down a painted bike lane, there’s a 50-percent reduction in fatalities for all users of that street: cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. So when you put these bike lanes down, you are improving the safety of everyone that uses that street.

(Source: Bike Portland)

The debate is instructive because the big city political scene differs only in scale and glitz to what other communities are going through. It has begun to attract opinions from national pundits (The New Yorker) claiming that cyclists are “poaching on our territory” (The Economist) and even Nobel Laureates chipping into the debate (NYTIMES, Krugmnan blog) who see the insanity of attacking bipeds (Reuters). The rhetoric has led to city cyclists being placed in “a strange purgatory” (Wall Street Journal).

Bike lane debates: Everywhere

There are lessons to be learned as the NIMBYs make very predictable arguments (NYTimes). Their argumentative template matches up well with Traverse City’s own celebrity opposition to bike-lanes (TC Business News). Points like, “I was a teenage cyclist, but then I grew up” are the norm. As written before, this blogger also grew-up and realized it’s stupid to drive a mile for a gallon of milk (MyWHaT).

The Guardian sums up the importance of the story well:

How New York – the city that still has a uniquely low level of car ownership and use – manages its transport planning in the 21st century matters for the whole world: it is the template. If cycling is pushed back into the margins of that future, rather than promoted, along with efficient mass public transit and safe, pleasant pedestrianism, as a key part of that future, the consequences will be grave and grim.

And, a final link to this well discussed debate, where the writer takes us to 2025 when his daughter asks, “Why did New Yorkers fight so much about bike lanes when I was a baby?” (The Naparstek Post).

Good question, no matter where you live.

Weekly Chatter

If you still have the energy..


  • RT (@johntunger) There is no excuse for mediocrity. Mediocrity is *NOT* the same as democratic design.

Whew….Have a Weekend.

  1. Brian
    March 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    A good quote from The Economist article cited above:

    “Now, if drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, then it might be worth asking what the optimal level of bike lanes to have is and discussing whether the lanes themselves are subject to rising congestion and need to be priced. Of course, if drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, there would be fewer drivers complaining about bike lanes and more people using them. As things stand, given that cyclists help alleviate some of these externalities (a cyclist takes up dramatically less road space than a car, doesn’t use on-street parking, does not emit ozone, and does not contribute to climate change) it seems quite sensible to allocate a larger share of New York’s roadways to lanes for cyclists. From an economic perspective.”

  2. March 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Excellent pull quote.

    UPDATE to this comment at 4:30PM:

    Didn’t see this until after this post was published, but Seattle’s Crosscut has another piece to the NYC’s bike lane debate. It has links to some interesting studies showing how popular the livability improvements are and why they should continue, including a survey in Prospect Park, but it also has this observant perspective:

    “So, what’s going on here? What is it about a program to make New York a better city for transit, walking, and biking that so inflames the city’s political class?
    To answer this question, one must look at how the political class gets around town. Politicians, press, police, and other privileged members of the political class all very often have one thing in common: an official parking placard on the dashboard of their personal vehicles.
    The majority of New York City households don’t even own a car, and the vast majority of New York City commuters do not drive. But for New York City’s political class, transportation is a problem to be solved for cars.”

    It sources a study that found New York City could generate $46 million/year if they got rid of these free on-street parking privileges.

    Second, Final Update: How did I miss this rift off of the debate? “Love driving? Buy your neighbor a bike.” And, representing the “rationale” side of the argument, John Cassidy responds to many of the critiques. It’s obvious, he feels attacked and is turning the real vulnerability on its head by sarcastically declaring what he’s learned, “Bicyclist = Urbane, enlightened, sophisticate. Car Driver = Suburban, reactionary, moron.”

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