Thompson: Baseless Speculation Trumps Safety Gains on Grand Street

Mayoral contender Bill Thompson continues to elaborate on his opposition to the city’s expanded bike infrastructure. In an interview published Friday, Thompson told the Downtown Express that just because injuries are down on Grand Street since the installation of a protected bike lane last year, doesn’t mean those improvements should be preserved.

According to Dept. of Transportation statistics, accidents of all types are down by nearly 30 percent on Grand St., but Thompson said those were not enough reasons to keep the lane.

“Then you move forward,” Thompson told the Express. “So you’ll have a safer street where the businesses are going to wind up closing? That’s not what you’re looking to do. You’re looking to strike that balance so it works.”

He said last week that he would have his transportation commissioner take a new look at any lanes that seemed to be problematic, such as along Grand St. and in Astoria, though he did not promise to definitely close any. He favors bike lanes and suspects ones on wider streets such as on Eighth and Ninth Aves. are working better.

So in Thompson’s view, safety gains on Grand Street, proven by measured reductions in injuries, are no match for unfounded accusations that, all evidence to the contrary, bike lanes are bad for business. The implication: car traffic propels commerce even in dense, walkable lower Manhattan. Also, let’s not forget that the vast majority of Grand Street’s curbside parking has been retained. Eliminating the bike lane would simply allow motorists to resume driving faster and double-parking without blocking vehicles behind them. How is that good for business?

I’m not sure whether candidate Thompson can be swayed by studies, common sense, and the vision of a city where better streets for pedestrians and cyclists attract more foot traffic for local businesses. At this point, it seems pretty clear that his ear is more attuned to whoever whines the loudest.

  • J

    Well said. According to Thompson’s logic we must consider the following with equal merit:

    1) Documented safety improvements, which can have no other logical cause, apart from the recent Grand Street bike lane improvements.
    2) Anecdotal evidence of declining business, which might have many causes, including, perhaps, the massive economic recession that we are in.

    If this thing gets ripped out, there better be a formal study that shows that businesses along Grand Street are doing worse than their neighbors on other streets. Otherwise, he’d simply be saying that he’s against safety improvements. On the other hand, it would be sadly funny if he ripped out the lane and business remained stagnant. I guess we’ll never know, since he’ll never have the opportunity.

  • Glenn

    It’s so great to have that statement on the record. It just further points out the reason that Bloomberg is so effective: He looks at data. Data driven decision-making is makes urban policy effective vs. the touchy-feely approach.

    New Yorkers like no-nonsense Mayors that aren’t afraid to make tough decisions over the objections of people who come across as having their feelings hurt. Bloomberg has done a much better job of dispassionately supporting his tough decisions with data on health outcomes, educational performance, etc versus Guilinani’s bluster.

    A 30% reduction in crashes should trump any economic considerations even if it was a trade-off (which it’s not). Doesn’t Thompson understand that just one trip to the hospital could cost more than some of those businesses pull in a whole year?

  • It’s not touchy-feely approach, and it’s not who whines the loudest. It’s who Thompson personally identifies with and who has the best access to him. There is no touchy for those who just want to get across the island without getting creamed, and no feely for those who know that the lawless behavior of double-parkers puts pedestrians at risk.

    This is why Thompson is such a bad choice for New York: to get his ear, it’s all about who you are and who you know. How vulnerable you actually are is irrelevant, and so is any vision for a sustainable future.

  • “According to Dept. of Transportation statistics, accidents of all types are down by nearly 30 percent on Grand St.,”

    Would someone be good enough to post a link where these DOT stats on Grand Street are posted. Thanks in advance.

  • Geck

    I think Thompson is simply trying to be the anti-Bloomberg. Bloomberg has taken bold steps on livable streets and ruffled some feathers. Thompson is courting those whose feathers have been ruffled. He has apparently made a calculated decision that he is more likely to gain their support than those in favor of livable streets and bike lanes who are happy with Bloomberg. He may be right from a political point of view but he is showing no vision or leadership as a result.

  • ED

    Thompson is an asshat. Even if it’s true that Grand street’s bike lane is responsible for businesses closing (read bullshit and recession) what he’s saying is that commerce on grand is more important than public safety.

  • Paul B

    I’m with Geck; I listened to every word of the debate last week and, except for his unspecific blather about being the defender of NYC’s “middle class,” I couldn’t figure out what bait Thompson was offering me for my vote–except that I’ve been “betrayed” by Bloomberg.

    Then I came up with a hypothesis. Call me a cynic, but I’m wondering if “middle class” has become simply a code phrase for “municipal employee.” The public-employee unions. Thompson’s never been anything but a city employee himself, except for one or two years as a self-described consultant.

    A guy who works in a transmission rebuilding shop on Atlantic Avenue. He supports himself; I’m comfortable calling that guy middle class. Is he a Thompson constituent? He, or the she in the shop office answering the phones and scheduling customers and handling the billing, might be pretty undisciplined politically; he/she might not even vote. He/she might have Rush, or a Latin or West Indian station on the shop radio during the day. He/she might think all politicians are turds. I’m uncertain Thompson would be comfortable in a tete a tete with that guy or woman. I have a freelance sideline and work full time in retail. I consider myself middle class. What’s Thompson offering me? I don’t own a car, and he’s promising to take away the bike lanes I use to ride to work. Thanks!

    Look around New York city, where is America’s “middle class?” The private-enterprise product managers, the sales managers, the customer service representatives. They don’t exist here. “Middle class voters.” Who does Thompson visualize when he intones those words? A freelance lighting designer? A personal trainer at a gym? Sales associate at Barnes & Noble? Teller at the bank? Plumber? Dental tech? I’m dubious. I’m thinking more likely public school teacher, hospital employee, city social worker.

    I have my own opinions about the public-employee class in NYC, and the reason I bring this up is, I’m uncertain whether what benefits them, politically, benefits me, too. And when Thompson invokes the middle class, I think he means them, not me.

  • Glenn

    Sean

    I think I first saw the quote on the NY Times City Room page:
    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/as-bike-lanes-proliferate-so-do-disputes/

    Others voiced concern that reckless cyclists were putting pedestrians, especially the elderly, at risk. Those concerns have not been backed up by studies by the city’s Transportation Department, which found that total traffic accidents along the lane decreased 29 percent, despite a significant increase in the number of bicycles.

    “The Grand Street bike lane provides critical protection for the nearly 1,000 bicyclists who use it daily and also for motorists and pedestrians along the corridor,” Seth Solomonow, a department spokesman, said in a statement.

    Maybe there’s a formal presentation that someone at DOT could share?

  • J:Lai

    Echoing Paul B’s point, as well as Geck, Bloomberg is percieved as Manhattan-centric, has the misfortune of having publicly made the “NYC as luxury product” analogy, and the best strategy for any challengy is probably to attack him as a plutocrat who is out of touch with the outer-borough middle-class of the city.

  • Glenn,

    Thank you for that NYT reference, but it is not really what we are looking for. I would love to see something in writing from DOT.

    Since my original post#4 here on Monday,
    a) I checked out DOT’s website and could not find these statistics, and
    b) contacted the Downtown Express editor to locate his source.
    He said that some DOT spokesperson uttered it without any backup at a rally that Councilmember Gerson held on Grand Street in early September.

    I question the stats, not because I necessarily doubt them, but because the DOT, like many bureaucracies, has been loose with statistics for years.

    For example:
    a) DOT’s stated refusal to build a Houston Street bike lane was based on ONE ridiculous study from, of all places, Wyoming. Hardly unscientific and pretty disingenuous, to be sure.
    b) Another misuse of statistics was their refusal to build a bike lane on Broome Street in SoHo that the CB requested, again, based on an anecdotal, unsubstantiated statement from a DOT official that “Broome Street is dangerous”. (If that is true, wouldn’t a bike lane make it safer?) Needless to say, a bike lane from Broome Street connecting to one on Delancey would be a benefit, connecting the Wiliamsburg Bridge to the West Side Highway.
    3) Another example was DOT’s lies that they needed to destroy several trees on the Houston Street median recently in order to build two dedicated left-hand turn bays at Mercer and West Broadway “to make it safer for autos” (I kid you not!).
    For years, the SoHo Alliance demanded to see the DOT survey and stats to justify this arborcide and major highway-construction project, and for years DOT replied, “At our next meeting, we’ll remember to bring them.”

    Only when the SoHo Alliance lawyer filed a FOIL request to see the stats, did DOT suddenly produce several guys at the corners taking traffic counts. Within two weeks after that, suddenly and miraculously did DOT come up with the survey that we had been requesting for years.

    The results, not surprisingly, contradicted everything that DOT had been saying to justify their project, but that did not prevent the DOT from moving ahead anyway with this ill-conceived boondoggle. Why am I not surprised? In other words, DOT was BSing us and only a legal action produced compliance.

    So, if anyone from DOT is reading this, we would all appreciate your posting or releasing your survey, methodology and results on the Grand Street Bike Lane.

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