The Battle of The Bikelanes Is The Talk Of New York


Images credit Lloyd Alter, from New York City: A Cyclists' Paradise?

The installation of bike lanes, and the bikelash against them, has been grist for the mill of bike and urban design blogs for a while now, but in the last few days it has gone truly mainstream. It all started with a post on the New Yorker blog by economics writer John Cassidy, who complains that he can't park his Jaguar as easily, as bike lanes "poach" his territory.

When the city introduces a bike lane on a given street, it removes dozens of parking places. All too often these days, I find myself driving endlessly up and down Hudson, or Sixth Avenue, or wherever, looking in vain for a legal spot--and for cyclists. What I see instead is motor traffic snarled on avenues that, thanks to bike lanes, have been reduced from four lanes to three, or three to two.


Aaron Naparstek wrote the article after noting that "Cassidy has done us the great favor of producing what may one day be regarded as a seminal document of New York City's bike lane backlash era." He creates a bullet-pointed interpretation of the essay:


  • I have owned six, enormous cars in New York City. They've averaged somewhere around 11 miles per gallon.

  • Thanks to my cars, I've visited virtually every neighborhood in the city. I never could have done that via subway or bike, or... really? I could have?

  • Street space should not be set aside for bike lanes. It should be set aside for free parking for my Jaguar XJ6.

  • I take great enjoyment in my driving, except for the 90% of the time that I am stuck in traffic, searching for parking and growing ever more bitter as cyclists whiz past my immobilized gas guzzler.

  • I acknowledge that this is all just an emotional reaction. What I am writing makes no sense whatsoever. I am an economist.


Then Economist Felix Salmon of Reuters jumps in, and loves this line from Cassidy:

I view the Bloomberg bike-lane policy as a classic case of regulatory capture by a small faddist minority intent on foisting its bipedalist views on a disinterested or actively reluctant populace.

Yes, you read that right: the New York populace, it seems, is basically comprised of cars, to the point at which bipeds are "a small faddist minority".

Now it so happens that I've met Mr Cassidy a few times and he's always looked perfectly bipedal to me. And for all that he enjoys parking his Jaguar XJ6 on Manhattan streets -- he's just written 1,250 words on the subject, after all -- I'm quite sure that he always gets out and saunters happily among the other New York pedestrians as he makes his way to his dinner in the West Village.

Salmon also makes a great point about bike lanes' effect on number of riders:

Bike lanes attract bikes no less effectively than roads attract cars and the number of cyclists in New York has been growing just as fast as the city can create new lanes for them.


Adam Sternbergh of the New York Times also attempts a line-by-line deconstruction in a piece entitled 'I Was A Teenage Cyclist,' or How Anti-Bike-Lane Arguments Echo the Tea Party he nots that rhetorical tactics include:

Reference to ominous encroachment of cycling-based anti-Americanism: "City Hall ... sometimes seems intent on turning New York into Amsterdam, or perhaps Beijing." (You know, Beijing: where the communists live!)

Invocation of America's long, sun-dappled love affair with cars: "Since 1989, when I nervously edged out of the Ford showroom on 11th Avenue and 57th Street, the proud leaser of a sporty Thunderbird coupe, I have owned and driven six cars in the city."

Sternbergh notes that the discussion over bike lanes has taken on the tone of the culture wars: "passion first, reason later, (or in most cases, never)". Where I live in Toronto, this is certainly the case.

Cassidy responded to all of this in the New Yorker, I think stupidly, inflaming the culture wars with this:

Finally, thanks to the commenters in general for providing me with a handy guide to the cultural politics of the twenty-first century. I'll keep a copy of it in my walnut glove compartment:

Bicyclist = Urbane, enlightened, sophisticate.
Car Driver = Suburban, reactionary, moron.


Finally, I give the last word to my favourite economist, Ryan Avent of the Economist. He writes in The World Is His Parking Lot:

Now, if drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, then it might be worth asking what the optimal level of bike lanes to have is and discussing whether the lanes themselves are subject to rising congestion and need to be priced. Of course, if drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, there would be fewer drivers complaining about bike lanes and more people using them. As things stand, given that cyclists help alleviate some of these externalities (a cyclist takes up dramatically less road space than a car, doesn't use on-street parking, does not emit ozone, and does not contribute to climate change) it seems quite sensible to allocate a larger share of New York's roadways to lanes for cyclists. From an economic perspective.

Or, one can just fall back on Adam Sternbergh's rallying cry for drivers: Road-swipers! COMMUNISTS!

More on New York bike lanes:
Video Guide to New Bike Lanes in New York City : TreeHugger
Battle of the Bike Lanes in the New York Times : TreeHugger
Bruce McCall on Bike Lanes, Horse Lanes and Baby Carriage Lanes : TreeHugger

Tags: Bikes | Biking | Ride Your Bike

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