Two years ago in an attempt to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce the mass pressure on the city’s public transit system The Department of Transportation and Mayor Bloomberg embarked on an ambitious plan to render New York City more bike friendly. As part of a larger “Sustainable Streets” project the DOT released a strategic multi-faceted plan that sought to triple the number of regular bicyclists on New York streets by 2017. Some of the means to be employed towards this end included the creation of over 200 miles of new bike lanes, and the installation of 5,000 city bike racks by 2011.
Flash-forward to 2010 where we have come to witness the fruition (in part) of this brain-child–along with the heated debates it has sparked. In a scenario few had anticipated these newly drawn bike lanes have become a point of contention between much of the citizenry and DOT, and amongst the populace itself. All around the city there has been a mixing- pot of backlash from residents mingled with appreciation from avid bicyclists.
On Kent Avenue in Williamsburg many businesses have complained that the new bike lanes are preventing them from legally using their loading docks. Karen Nieves, business services manager for the Greenpoint, Williamsburg Industrial Business Zone, said she is “deeply disappointed in the lack of outreach for this plan.” She thinks it could threaten the very survival of some of the manufacturers, all of whom together employ about 300 people. Commercial storefronts on Grand Street have raised similar concerns saying that the bike lanes are resulting in a loss of revenue as customers (pedestrians and drivers alike) avoid the street due to its newly narrowed structure and dense traffic.
Meanwhile back in Williamsburg perhaps the most interesting of all bike lane related upsets has materialized on Bedford Avenue. Here the DOT had inserted a new bike lane that runs directly through the most concentrated neighborhood of Orthodox Jews outside of Israel. Thus the problem; nearby Hipster Ville also in Williamsburg has many bicyclists thrusting through the Hasidic territory on a regular basis. Leaving the Hasidic community complaining of school children safety issues and, get this, women riders showing too much skin for the sensitivity of their religious morality. In response to the upset Mayor Bloomberg acquiesced and removed the Bedford Avenue bike lane (just before the last election, …nice). (Why it’s all the sudden the responsibility of the city to mold traffic laws to appease the tenets of a particular religion is a whole other eyebrow- raising issue which for the sake of brevity we won’t explore here.)
The removal of the bike lanes in turn incited a group of angry hipsters to illegally repaint the bike lanes in the cover of darkness. The bike- lane loving vigilantes were caught by a Hasidic neighborhood night- watch man and reported to the NYPD but no charges were brought against them. Phew! Some might wonder over such controversy over a few extra lines drawn in the street?! But when your dealing with a part of public property that effects the livelihood of many and the safety of all the city should have realized there would be a menagerie of reactions in this highly- diverse metropolis.
General resentment by drivers and pedestrians towards bicyclists charges that they won’t slow down, do not respect pedestrians, and will not obey traffic laws, whether or not they are in place. Proponents of the new lanes have responding in full force arguing that the opposite is true and that when bike lanes are in place bicyclists move in a predictable manner, making it easier for drivers to see them and safer for pedestrians to cross streets.
In the eyes of the supporters the benefits of a bike friendly NYC are to be seen in the long term when a large portion of commuters begin cycling to and fro their daily destinations and considerably less cars populate the road. If this fantasy does come to life one day perhaps the anti-bike lane sentiment will die down. But in the interim many New Yorkers are being inconvenienced and annoyed by newly drawn street divisions that favor a small minority who happen to have the support of a like-minded residing mayor. The attempts by the mayor and DOT to make NYC more European in this aspect have come to be seen by many as an unsavory play on democracy subverted.
Link to this article:
– Amanda Decker