Depending on which side of the bike lane debate you fall on, you may see it as a simple matter of self-absorbed yupsters trying to force their radical anti-car beliefs on salt-of-the-earth New Yorkers. Or maybe you view the issue as another case of close-minded old cranks standing in the way of progress?
An online urban journal recently documented the ongoing struggle between bike lane advocates and long time residents over control of the traffic lanes that crisscross all five boroughs.
Next American City reporter Brian Browdie used last year’s fight over a proposed bike lane on Bay Ridge Parkway – one which ended with Community Board 10 voting against it – as a textbook example of just how wide transportation preferences can vary among residents of different neighborhoods. And while those opinions may indicate larger socioeconomic and generational gaps, they are often formed as a result of geographic rather than cultural factors, such as the population density and the distance from Manhattan of a given area.
From American City:
While 66 percent of Manhattan residents back bike lanes, majorities of residents in Staten Island (61 percent) and Queens (53 percent) say they do not want to see more of the paths, which, they argue, take needed road room away from cars.
The disparity in opinion between people in the outer edges of the city and those in its denser core was highlighted in an online exchange on the website of the New York Daily News in August. When cycling advocates weighed in during an online chat about a letter printed in the newspaper expressing fear that bikers were making streets more dangerous, a member of the paper’s editorial board snapped back.
“Our letter-writers are ordinary New Yorkers who live and work here, especially in the outer boroughs,” Alex Nazaryan, the editorial board member, told the advocates. “You discount their opinions at your own peril.”
On the isle of Staten, opponents have managed to kill bike lane plans. Even in progressive hamlets like Park Slope, the issue has exposed rifts, pitting car protectionists against a vocal bloc of bike devotees. Last year, a fierce fight over a two-way bike lane along Prospect Park West found the city and bike activists facing off against a group of opponents headed by a former transportation commissioner.
Last spring, opposition from Bay Ridge’s appointed advisory board, Community Board 10, killed a New York City Department of Transportation plan for a bike lane along Bay Ridge Parkway, which cuts across southern Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Bensonhurst. Only one of the 10 people on the Community Board’s Transportation Committee spoke out in favor of the idea.
Quotes from CB 10 members seem to suggest that, while the prevailing opinion of the board is decidedly anti-bike lane, individual members’ thoughts on the subject may be far more nuanced than the current narrative would have observers believe.
“There’s always a lot of talking, but not much getting done on the bike lane front,” said Bob HuDock, CB 10′s only self-described bike lane proponent. “It’s going to be a long struggle.”
Alan Bortnick, who serves on the community board with HuDock, says that while he has no problem with installing bike lanes on one-way residential streets, he opposes placing them on heavily trafficked two-way roads such as Bay Ridge Parkway. He says a bike lanes on the busy avenues of NYC just lead to more traffic congestion and less parking.
“This is not Holland,” said Bortnick. “Bicycles are wonderful. For New York City, they’re terrible.”
“I would give you bike lanes anywhere you want them, but not on traffic thoroughfares,” Bortnick told American City. “And I would not allow you to reduce parking or to move cars off the curb.”
Whether residents are for or against conceding parking and driving space to bikes, most would agree that Bay Ridge’s streets could be safer.
According to the bike lane advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, Bay Ridge is one of the most dangerous areas in New York City for pedestrians as well as cyclists. The group says that Between 2000 and 2009, motor vehicles in Community Board 10 injured 1,449 pedestrians and 293 cyclists.
The quiet, less crowded streets of Southwestern Brooklyn may seem like an ideal place for bike lanes to Manhattanites and Brownstoners. But Bay Ridge’s driveways and parking lots, as well as its distance from Manhattan and proximity to highways, leads many of its young families and retirees to view cars as both a convenience and necessity, while concepts such as commuting by bicycle are often seen as impractical.
What do you think?
Would bike lanes make the streets of Bay Ridge safer, or will they simply add to the congestion?
Also, do you prefer seeing bike lanes on sleepy side streets or heavily-trafficked arteries?