Critics can’t roll back the progress on bike lanes


By Barbara Ross

After being cooped up inside, watching the snow that blanketed the city melt from my apartment window, I grabbed the trusty bicycle I use daily for transport, eager to hit the streets again. I headed toward the First Ave. protected bike lane that I’ve become accustomed to using on all my uptown errands, only to find it still piled up with snow and unusable.

Being forced to ride with the fast-moving vehicle traffic heightened my appreciation for all the new bike lanes and other effective safety measures the Department of Transportation has put into place over the past three-and-a-half years. Although there is a small but loud anti-bike lane chorus, our City Council must resist the temptation to cater to the car-centric past and instead support healthier, lower-cost mobility with permanent protected bike lanes that help people of all ages ride safely in New York City.

My thoughts returned to the City Council’s Transportation Committee hearing on New York City’s bike policy held last month. Hundreds of pro-bike lane enthusiasts attended the hearing to advocate for the healthy, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient and social aspects of cycling that benefit all New Yorkers.

The first two hours of the daylong hearing were devoted to city councilmembers questioning Janette Sadik-Khan, the Department of Transportation’s commissioner, about the increase of new bike lanes in New York City. The commissioner discussed the measurable safety benefits of bike lanes for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, such as a 40 percent decrease in crashes, as well as lowered rates of speeding by automobile drivers.

The commissioner assured the city councilmembers that all the new bike lanes were approved by the local community boards and were installed at little cost to the city. According to Sadik-Khan, “All of D.O.T.’s current bike projects combined have cost a total of $8.8 million… . When you factor in the 80 percent federal match, the city has spent less than $2 million from its own coffers on the major expansions to the bike network we’ve seen the last few years.”

The D.O.T. commissioner was followed by former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who seek to eliminate the hugely popular Prospect Park West bike lane.

Almost three hours into the hearing, when the public was finally allowed to give testimony, most of the city councilmembers had left the room, leaving the majority of bike lane supporters to address their empty seats. If councilmembers had stayed, they would have heard their constituents’ impassioned testimony about why they love using their bicycles for everyday commuting and their pleas for more safe places for families, senior citizens and new cyclists to ride, particularly more physically separated, protected bike lanes.

Anti-bike lane advocates tried to use the careless behavior of random cyclists to justify the elimination of bike lanes. Would the city consider taking away the car lanes because motorists dangerously speed, run red lights and park illegally? Would the city consider taking away sidewalks because pedestrians carelessly jaywalk in front of moving traffic?

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s well-researched testimony at the hearing included details of his “Respect the Lane / Clear the Path” campaign; Stringer’s initiative emphasized the need for more bike lanes and offered real solutions to creating safer streets for everybody, encouraging all street users to be more courteous when sharing the road — not singling out any one class of commuter.

A new year has begun. In 2011, let’s turn over a new leaf and start the year celebrating safe, protected bike lanes. Let’s listen to the sensible majority and keep expanding the bicycle lane network — especially the still-uncompleted First and Second Aves. bike lanes that will serve the communities all the way up to East Harlem.

At Time’s Up! Environmental Group, where I’ve been volunteering and advocating for safer streets for more than a decade, we focus on courtesy, education and appreciation in connection with the bike lanes as part of our “Love Your Lane” campaign. Join us in celebrating this February for our annual “Love Your Lane” bike ride and after-party! The ride will be on or around Valentine’s Day.

Cycling is on the rise in New York City, which is recognized all over the world as a great accomplishment. Let’s keep working together toward a greener, healthier, more environmental New York City.

Ross is a volunteer with Time’s Up! Environmental Group