The peddling of pedaling and those pesky pedestrians

By Daniel Meltzer

We are still at war in Vietnam (excuse me, Afghanistan); the Dems have taken a shellacking in the election, and the politics are smarmier than ever; unemployment is still pushing 10 percent and the checks are running (or have run) out for many; the local murder and MetroCard rates are rising; for the second year in a row Social Security isn’t and may not for years to come; Season 4 of “Mad Men” has ended with another cliffhanger, nobody knows when Season 5 will appear, support groups are forming to deal with withdrawal issues; and Manhattanites are squaring off…over what?

Bike lanes.

Lines have been drawn in axle grease and thick, white, street-corner crossing paint. On the Upper West Side, for one, opposing factions have formed over the hard-fought Columbus Ave. bike lane that was green-lighted in the spring by Community Board 7. The lane, which will run, or pedal, for starters, between W. 96th and 77th Sts., has generated gallons of ink and toner and tons of pixels in newspapers and on Web sites, as well as numerous cubic feet of overheated air on the airwaves and across cyberspace.

I am on record saying I think the Columbus lane was a bad idea, was approved too quickly, and that it would likely cause trouble. I believe it still is, was, and has. (Don’t wave that bicycle pump at me unless you intend to use it.)

The mayor, the City Council, a flotilla of cyclists and none other than our generally right-on Borough President Scott Stringer — our most proactive and community-conscious B.P. in recent memory, defender of renters, mom-and-pop stores, good community causes in general, and promoter of progress — have all been enthusiastically supporting the project, the strip of exclusive real estate for the pedal-pumpers, from the get-go.

For starters, the bike path narrows car and truck lanes by as much as 2 feet each on the often-congested Columbus. And few cyclists are reported to be using the new amenity provided them. In addition, there are complaints that bad biker behavior continues to annoy and sometimes endanger pedestrians — ignoring red lights, going the wrong way, riding on the sidewalks as before — while drivers and walkers are disrespecting the cyclists by “getting in their way,” by cutting them off or walking or standing in front of them at intersections. And yet, the powers that be, as they are known, still think this is a good idea. Maybe not as good as they thought it was before, but still the way to go.

A key problem, it would seem, and Stringer seems to concur, is that there don’t really seem to be enough enforceable laws governing bike riders, few for which they can be legally stopped or ticketed. But if there were, and someone got too many summonses, what could the authorities do — take away their feet?

Bikes and cyclists aren’t licensed. Should they be? Should they have to pass a pedaling exam? Should they be registered and carry numbered plates so they can be traced after an incident? The good thing about licenses, of course, is that they can be suspended or revoked.

Also, the environmental argument in favor of the lanes is weak. It is doubtful that bikers are would-be motorists. They more likely would be transit riders, thus subtracting from the M.T.A., which keeps raising the fares.

B.P. Stringer (no connection with the oil company), while still backing the program, justly conceded recently to Brian Lehrer on WNYC that perhaps this was a bit hastily done, that the lanes were created before clear-cut rules and regs for their use had been established. He wisely is calling for the codifying of actionable offenses by the City Council to ensure safety for all concerned, if also more work for the N.Y.P.D. and the courts.

Let’s hope the Council will put this on a fast track, stop and look both ways before moving forward, and before someone gets hurt or all-out war is declared.

As the sage and ageless Elmer Fudd might say; “Wabbit, what we have here is a wheel pwoblem.”