Last week, two groups of New Yorkers who live “on or near” Prospect Park West, a prestigious address in Park Slope, filed a suit against the City to have them remove bike lanes installed on the street 9 months ago.
Opponents have criticized the two-way bicycle lane for reducing room for cars and restricting the views of pedestrians crossing the street. The basis of the legal complaint is rooted in a state statute that allows challenges to government actions deemed to be arbitrary or unfair.
They've gone to the lawsuit because attempts to remove the lanes through the political process have been a complete failure. This is likely due to the fact that 70% of the people in their district support the bike lanes, which have reduced speeding, crashes and injuries. The bike lane opponents dispute the safety statistics, saying they're distorted and accuse DOT officials of working with bike lane advocates. [Heaven forbid they should work with people who have similar goals as them].
This all came up shortly after the Times had a profile on Janette Sadik-Khan in which Rep. Anthony Weiner was quoted saying "“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing?” Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. “I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.” That was a joke - though the Times didn't cover it that way. The article presented her as a Rhee-esque leader more interested in getting things done than seeking public input. It also wonders if some of the blowback she's received is because she's a woman. Part of the issue may be that she was brought in when Bloomberg was planning on leaving office, then he won another term. She was running a 2-year program that became a 6-year one. And she has been changing her ways.
The mayor, who found himself booed over bicycle lanes at a town hall meeting in Queens in January, spoke with Ms. Sadik-Khan, and they agreed she would solicit more opinions from neighborhood leaders. Since then, she has been making conciliatory phone calls to City Council members, adopting a friendlier tone and proposing more collaboration.
That can't hurt, but if you change things dramatically and rapidly, I think you're going to encounter strong opposition. Look at how integration was opposed in the south. I don't think anyone would argue that we should have gone slower and talked more. At some point you just have to move forward. And many people do support her.
The complaints about Prospect Park West are similar to the few complaints I've heard from drivers on 15th NW - traffic moves slower. As if that is reason enough for it to be wrong. It ignores the fact that many people were speeding before the change, and that the faster traffic was illegal traffic.
“They think it’s dangerous because of people opening doors into bikes,” she said as she parked her car in the lane next to the bike path. “But it has slowed the traffic which used to be really bad, like 50 miles an hour. My daughter, who is 10, feels safe riding on the lanes.”
Just when it seemed like that would be it until the lawsuit goes to court, John Cassidy of the New Yorker pulled the band-aid off the wound with a fiery op-ed that accuses Bloomberg of trying to turn New York into Beijing (which no one could support because, y'know, they're Communists!). [Note: I swear I wrote the last line and the following line before I read this. Great minds?]
As is requisite in an article like this he starts by pointing out that he loves bikes and used to ride them all the time - so y'know this isn't about hating bikes. He does admit that as a driver part of his beef is "an emotional reaction to the bike lobby’s effort to poach on our territory." [Which kind of encapsulates the problem. He sees the road as his territory]. He then makes an economic argument against them - that the cost doesn't match the benefit. But he says nearly nothing about either the cost or the benefit - only that on streets with bike lanes that he frequents, traffic is bad and he hardly sees cyclists. And the cyclists he sees are scofflaws.
I won't go through a point-by-point rebuttal, because the weather is too nice and someone did it for me - including these characterization of Cassidy's op-ed:
Biking in New York City was more thrilling in the old days when cyclists were killed by taxis and other vehicles with greater frequency. Now cyclists seem to want it easy.
Now that the city has striped 200 miles of bike lanes on its 15,000+ miles of roadway, we have clearly reached the point of diminishing returns for bikes and bike lanes. As for cars and car lanes — sky’s the limit. As an economist, I see no end to the number of cars and car lanes we can cram in to New York City.
But I will reply to what I see as his central thesis
I also question whether the blanketing of the city with bike lanes—more than two hundred miles in the past three years—meets an objective cost-benefit criterion.
By 2040, investments in the range of $138 to $605 million will result in health care cost savings of $388 to $594 million, fuel savings of $143 to $218 million, and savings in value of statistical lives of $7 to $12 billion. The benefit-cost ratios for health care and fuel savings are between 3.8 and 1.2 to 1, and an order of magnitude larger when value of statistical lives is used. Conclusions: This first of its kind cost-benefit analysis of investments in bicycling in a US city shows that such efforts are cost-effective, even when only a limited selection of benefits is considered.
Other people responded as well.
I see the Bloomberg administration’s aggressive pursuit of bike lanes and related alternatives as an almost radically pro-car position. If driving is to remain half as pleasant as Cassidy wants it to, it will only be because most New Yorkers decide against purchasing cars. And they’re only going to do that if the other options seem attractive.
Felix Salmon goes after his description of pedestrians and cyclists as a minority and adds
Cassidy is convinced that the addition of bike lanes has increased the time he spends stuck in traffic, or looking for his beloved free on-street parking. (As Naparstek notes, his argument can basically be boiled down to “Street space should not be set aside for bike lanes. It should be set aside for free parking for my Jaguar XJ6″.) But the fact is that impatient motorists will always want to blame someone else for traffic, when, clearly, they themselves are the main culprit in that regard.
The Economist points out all the economic arguments against driving and free parking
Driving, as it turns out, is associated with a number of negative externalities (Mr Cassidy, being an economics writer, will know the term). When Mr Cassidy drives, he imposes a small congestion cost on those around him, drivers and cyclists included. Because he and others do not consider this cost, they overuse the roads, creating traffic....Cars also release several harmful pollutants....And of course, surface parking in Manhattan takes up some of the world's most valuable real estate
Cassidy kind of reacted, picking up on the most trivial arguments and replying in the most narrow of ways. And he backpedals a little (he can backpedal, because he's a cyclist)
Since there is a limited amount of space on city streets, trade-offs have to be made. In making such trade-offs, a democratic polity should take into account the preferences of motorists, who happen to be far more numerous, as well as cyclists. That is all I am saying.
No that isn't. He's also implying that NYDOT isn't bothering to consider these trade-offs. That they aren't putting any thought into the costs and benefits of each road change. But that isn't true. They study things like speed, injuries and crashes before and after implementation, which is clearly a sign that they have metrics in mind. And, going farther, he's also implying that NYDOT is wrong about the cost/benefit, even though all that he offers as evidence is that he sometimes sees traffic backed up and doesn't see many bikes. He provides absolutely no numbers.
Funny. I always thought economics involved more math.
In a second response to the issue he starts by saying he thinks gas taxes and transit subsidies should be higher to address pollution and congestion. As if those are the only benefits. He brushes off global warming because he thinks "cyclists would still demand more bike lanes." Well then, no need to count it.
But he's right, cyclists would still demand bike lanes.
Because bike lanes are also about giving people choices. Many people want to bike but feel they can't. Bike lanes are a way to address that. It isn't about "inconveniencing" drivers to force them out of their car. It's about giving people options to free them from their car. Cassidy loves his car, and doesn't want to be freed from it, and that's great. But not everyone feels the way he does. Earlier he stated that "Americans love their cars". No, they don't. Some Americans do, but not all Americans. 28% of Americans consider driving to be a chore. 75% think of their car as a just a "means of transportation." Sorry, that doesn't sound like love to me. 8% of Americans don't even own a car - and many don't want to. He seems completely incapable of understanding that other people could feel differently about their cars than he does.
Do the putative gains in convenience, safety, and fuel-economy from a particular bike lane outweigh the costs to motorists (and other parties, such as taxpayers and local businesses)?
He ignores the health benefits and the reduced operating and ownership costs that biking can provide, but nonetheless, the answer seems to be an overwhelming yes. He offers no evidence to the contrary.
I am merely suggesting that any further bike lanes be subjected to some sort of efficiency test beyond the rule of two wheels good, four wheels bad.
What efficiency test? Does every bike lane change need to go through this test? How much will that cost? Is that efficient? He doesn't say.
Does the new lane add a lot to the existing one [in the park]?
Yes, or else why would people use it?
He goes on to claim that road designs did not make the roads safer, despite evidence that it reduced speeding. He draws attention to the danger that cyclists represent to pedestrians (not much when compared to cars), without mentioned that the Prospect Park bike lanes have moved cyclists off the sidewalk. He wonders if an increase in cyclist deaths citywide can be blamed on the bike lanes, without mentioning the even larger increase in cyclists (again, I thought economics involved more math).
Felix Salmon responds again, with a cost-benefit analysis of his own.
The fact is, it’s the bicyclists who have all the data on their side. The car lobby just has inchoate rants.
And adds that cyclists would love for the issue to be pedestrian safety, because that is a pro-bike lane issue.
A meeting was held about the lanes that largely rehashed the same issues - cyclists felt safer, motorists felt inconvenienced. But it did diverge into some interesting tangents like whether a bike lane-supporter lived on the street (she did) and whether she owned her house (she did). I have no idea what either of those have to do with anything. And some opponents tried to seize the safety mantle.
“They want to slow down traffic,” he said. “Does that mean E.M.S.? Does that mean fire trucks?” Mr. Masella, 61, said he was concerned that in an emergency, rescue workers would have trouble reaching his parents.
This guy needs to go back to the training seminar. He should have said they'd have trouble reaching sick children - "has anyone thought about the children?!". Rookie mistake.
Finally, the Times tried to understand anti-green NIMBYism
Humans hew to the “normative” behaviors of their community. In places where bike lanes or wind turbines or B.R.T. systems are seen as an integral part of society, people tend not protest a new one; if they are not the norm, they will. Second, whatever feelings people have about abstract issues like the environment, in practice they react more passionately to immediate rewards and punishments (like a ready parking space) than distant consequences (like the threat of warming).