Volume 21, Number 10 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | July 18 - 24, 2008


Greasing the wheels for better bike ways

This season may go down as the Summer of Cycling in the city. More and better bike paths are being built, a wide cycling and walking corridor will be created between Lower Manhattan and Central Park on three special Saturdays next month, and private groups have started a number of free bike rental programs.

Leading the fast charge is Mayor Bloomberg’s commissioner of transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan. Part of the pace is due to the fact that the administration is running out of time. But then again so is the city.

Crowds on the subways and buses continue to grow and Albany remains clueless as to how to pay for the desperately needed expansion. More cyclists mean less crowded trains and perhaps even — dare we hope — fewer taxi riders. This city will not grow and thrive unless we become greener.

Most New Yorkers fear cycling in the city for good reason — it’s dangerous. The efforts to separate bikers from cars should get more people pedaling and create momentum to expand the great new programs.

The Dept. of Transportation under Sadik-Khan clearly understands this point, but its “my way is the only good bikeway” attitude has been counter-productive. Case in point is City Hall Park, where D.O.T. rammed a bike path through a crowded section of the park before the community knew what hit them. The agency has gone through the motions of meetings, but shows no interest in discussing alternatives, answering questions or coming up with a way in which park users and cyclists will be able to peacefully coexist.

Even the many good bike ideas such as “Summer Streets” — banning cars on Lafayette St. as part of a giant path to Central Park on three Saturday mornings — are often sprung on the community at the last minute with little effort made to win support.

D.O.T. does not encourage local cycling advocates to attend these community meetings and add to the dialogue, and then officials tell community boards the proposed plan is going forward with or without their support. Is it any wonder community leaders end up fighting the new ideas? Exactly who are the new cyclists D.O.T. hopes to see on the streets?

The new ideas will ultimately end up in the scrap heap unless they are embraced by the public.

Some of the impatience is understandable and some of it is even forgivable. Cyclists are a minority in the city — a fact that the city is rightly trying to change — and people who use their cars and feet to get around are not always going to give up space easily for cyclists. Consensus can take too long, and there are limited times when experiments like “Summer Streets” can be pushed through, but we are surprised we have to say that the city should always work to add supporters to a new plan.

The cycling cause has many things to celebrate this summer – Grand St. is getting a safe bike path, the city is now encouraging large cycling efforts, and free bike rentals are available in Lower Manhattan and on Governors Island thanks to Bike and Roll New York, the Downtown Alliance and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Sadik-Khan is right on the big picture questions, but she and her staff should realize that the good ideas have to be sold retail. Even the great ones can get better if you listen a little.




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