Bike Lanes Not All Sunshine and Lollipops

From a sustainability stand point, bike lane infrastructure in any city would seem like an obvious  positive. Bikes are an environmentally sound way to get around, they decrease the number of cars on the road and the offer health benefits to riders. Bike lanes make cycling a safe and viable transportation alternative for city residents. Win, win right? Wrong.

Recently, the New York Times posted an article about the battle that has been happening in the city over Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to make NYC more bicycle friendly. “New York has added 250 miles of bicycle-only lanes in the past four years”. The new and planned bike lanes have been met with fury by a myriad of different groups in the city. Last year in Williamsburg, a bike lane down Bedford Avenue was removed because of growing tension between Hasidim and cyclists. In November of this year, a Manhattan community board held a special hearing for residents to voice their concerns over a proposed lane on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. And just a couple of weeks ago, due to neighborhood opposition, the city began removing a lane along Father Capodanno Boulevard on Staten Island.

Opposition for the city’s bike lane plans mostly come from drivers, concerned about narrowed lanes, increased traffic, and lost parking. For others, it’s cultural-bike lanes represent a change, an evolution to the cities landscape -and it’s happening way too quickly. Not touched upon in the article, but critical nonetheless, is the potential gentrifying affect of bicycle lanes. Many low income neighborhoods, lack bike lanes. And they often only appear after neighborhoods become gentrified. Additionally, bike lanes can be an impetus to gentrification in a neighborhood.

According to the Times article, New Yorkers have not been polled on their attitudes towards bike lanes. Currently, there is one being sponsored by the City Council focusing on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. Could the intense bike lane plans of the city be another top-down order with no broad scale citizen support? Or is this approach a necessary evil to make the city more sustainable?  Who wins and who loses?

Image of 9th Avenue Bike Lane, Manhattan

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  1. Will Sherman says:

    I don’t think your characterization of the city’s bike lane policy (“another top-down order with no broad scale citizen support” or else a “necessary evil”) is fair or reflective of reality. It’s the same dichotomy that the NY Times article is pushing and it ignores all the people who support the pedestrian and bicyclist improvements on their streets. Ben Fried of Streetsblog succinctly raised this point back in November:

    “Since the Times piece is mainly about support versus opposition, I found it curious that there was no mention of the only public votes on record regarding bike lanes. Readers won’t come away any wiser about the community board votes in favor of the First and Second Avenue lanes, the Eighth Avenue lane, the Grand Street lane, the Columbus Avenue lane, or the Prospect Park West lane.”

    I think it’s important to think critically about the social process, equity and impact of planning. But more important is finding ways to contribute positively to this broader discussion. In my experience, divisive stories don’t really do that.

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