James Vacca, Welcome to Sweeneyland

With his skeptical reaction to the latest poll showing majority support for cycling infrastructure, James Vacca has established himself as the city’s most authoritative voice for anti-bike nonsense.

To deniers like Jimmy Vacca, these folks don't count. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov

This week Transportation Alternatives released the results of a telephone survey of 603 likely New York City voters, conducted by the firm Penn Schoen Berland. Along with support for preserving transit and stepping up traffic enforcement, pollsters found that 60 of respondents support bike lanes.

As the Penn Schoen Berland findings are in line with that of recent polls by Quinnipiac and Marist, the chair of the City Council transportation committee could reasonably be expected to make a statement of some sort lauding the city’s progress in making streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But here’s Vacca, as quoted by City & State:

“I would think that many people who speak in favor of bike lanes may reserve judgment based on where the bike lane would be, and on whether it was affecting their community, their business strip or their small businesses,” said City Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the Transportation Committee. “On a case-by-case basis, while people are in favor of bike lanes, they may say, ‘Wait a minute, on this street it may not work.’ ”

On first read you might interpret Vacca’s remarks as a series of unsubstantiated assumptions strung together by weasel words — and you’d be right. But look closely. Not only does Vacca dismiss poll data with his bike lane-bashing straw man, he repeats the canard that bike lanes, and the traffic-calming effect that comes with them, are bad for business. And he again implies that residents have no say in where lanes will or won’t go in their neighborhoods, when in reality projects are subject to an extensive public review process. (Since the council has codified much of what DOT has been doing all along, it will be interesting to see what criticisms Vacca and company think up now that they’ve vanquished the transparency bogeyman.)

More poll respondents said they wanted to add bike lanes (43 percent) than maintain the status quo (33 percent) or decrease the number of lanes (17 percent). Rather than align with council members like Mark Weprin and Melissa Mark-Viverito, who have responded in thoughtful and productive ways to support for lanes in their districts, Vacca is tacking toward the NIMBY fringe. The only other critic of the TA survey cited by City & State was tried and true hater Sean Sweeney, who declared that “the people of New York have had enough of bike lanes.” With allies like Sweeney, Vacca is looking like less like a leader than a reactionary who refuses to be convinced on the merits of cyclist and pedestrian safety.

  • Sean Vacca

    How terrible to be a City Council member and be so cut off from the data, studies, and facts that are available to anyone with Internet access!  Vacca should retire to private life so he can enjoy the freedom of intellectual honesty and curiosity afforded to “real” New Yorkers.

  • carma

    im a REAL new yorker.  born and raised in NY for 34 years.  i use the PPW lanes twice a week.  mostly at night, and believe it or not, there are still cyclists out at 11pm huffing away on those lanes.  So hows that for a real new yorker.

  • Anonymous

    I strongly dislike Vacca, but he may have a point.

    Asking someone “do you support bike lanes” and “do you support a bike lane on your street/neighborhood” might get dramatically different results.

    NIMBYism is always a factor.

  • Anonymous

    My new favorite pastime is calling Vacca’s office, and asking them to clarify his ALWAYS confusing quotes in the press.  

    On this issue, his aide couldn’t point me to any data indicating that bike lanes are in any way damaging to business.  She suggested I read press about 9th Avenue merchants who are “mad about loading.”  I suggested the Transportation Committee visit this very issue, city-wide, in the New Year.  The day I see that committee make a difference on something real, I will call to thank them.

  • Anonymous

    I am proud to have Jimmy be the voice of the alta cocker.  He’s got my vote, and the vote of my friends!  Life up here in the Bronx is great except for those darn irritating bikes!

  • No Vaccancy

    Vacca just moves his mouth.  Norman Steisel pulls the strings and does the ventriloquism.

  • krstrois

    It’s always sort of amazing to me that people like Vacca and Sweeney live in cities. 
    People are only too glad to have their immediate needs met by services that are particular to dense cities — like, say, food delivery by bicycle. But when they’re required to consider what the collective good might be they balk. Should there be a bike lane on MY street?  My answer would be: guess what? You don’t get to decide. If you want to decide everything that happens on your street, move to a place where you’re the only person on your street. Until then, we should probably make the streets safer for the greatest number of people possible in the cheapest way possible using the best available and most studied options. Bike lanes are a conservative answer and a deliberate one, which makes the faux populism of tabloids and Vaccas and Sweeneys all the more frustrating.  

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