Weiner on Bike Policy: Small Talk, Small Stick

Yesterday, riders at the sixth annual Tour de Queens got a preview of Anthony Weiner’s proposal to introduce new city tax breaks for businesses that help employees bike to work. It’s one of the meager transportation proposals in his policy book, “Keys to the City.” There are already plenty of financial incentives to bike — walking is the only mode of transportation that’s cheaper — so, understandably, riders were much more interested in hearing from Weiner about how he’ll make streets safer. But his ideas about street design were similarly underwhelming.

Anthony Weiner has a Citi Bike key fob, but he lacks a coherent plan to make biking safer. Photo: ##http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/05/anthony-weiner-changed-man-rode-a-citi-bike.html?mid=twitter_dailyintel##NY Mag##

After taking a turn at the mic to hype the tax benefit, Weiner jawboned with about a dozen Tour de Queens participants, including myself, about how he’d make streets safer for biking. He was amiable throughout, but while he insisted he was only joking when he told Mayor Bloomberg, in 2010, that he would “have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your f—ing bike lanes,” he also made it clear that he would, in fact, rip out bike lanes if elected, starting with the Broadway bike lane that runs close to his current residence in Gramercy.

Whereas fellow mayoral aspirant John Liu has said that bike lanes make sense in Manhattan but not elsewhere in New York, Weiner staked out the inverse position: He’ll remove bike lanes in Manhattan while adding them in the other boroughs. When I mentioned the dramatic reduction in injuries on major avenues following redesigns for bike and pedestrian safety, he said that all of his decisions would be “data-driven.” But he wasn’t swayed by the well-documented improvements in safety that I brought up.

In his view, projects like the Times Square pedestrian plazas and Manhattan protected bike lanes aren’t calming traffic, they’re delaying motorists. “When you create an enormous amount of congestion,” he said, “you’re going to have fewer injuries.” Any safety gains, he said, have to be weighed against the added congestion.

Of course, if you look at the numbers, these redesigns aren’t delaying motor vehicle traffic. They’re reducing the incidence of speeding and compelling drivers to take turns more carefully. Manhattan remains a terrible place to drive — same as it ever was. The difference with the new plazas and bike lanes is that now it’s a better place to walk and bike.

Throughout the conversation, Weiner tried to portray himself as a reasonable guy, someone who would take the “divisiveness” (his word) out of bike policy. But listening to him frame successful street redesigns as radical interventions, it seemed like a Weiner mayoralty would mainly take the effectiveness out of bike policy. He never articulated a clear position about how to make streets safer beyond the promise to add more Barnes Dances (all-way, exclusive pedestrian signals).

It felt like a step backward for Weiner since his appearance at the first Tour de Queens in 2008, when he told the crowd, “We still have to make this city a much more bike-friendly town.”

Weiner’s failure to think big became all too apparent when the conversation shifted to Queens Boulevard. He’d said he would add bike lanes outside Manhattan, and Queens Boulevard is arguably the single most important bike route in the other boroughs, but it’s a dangerous, traffic-plagued disaster. Would he add a bike lane on this incredibly wide east-west thoroughfare? Watch Weiner struggle to envision such a possibility:

Amazingly, Weiner glancingly mentioned his support for a major transportation policy reform that’s generally considered to be much more difficult politically than bike lanes: He wants to reduce parking minimums. But that’s not in his platform yet.

  • Ben Kintisch

    After the big blowback from his unfortunate joke, you’d think he’d have the sense to not talk about removing any bike lanes. He was also heard complaining about how protected bike lanes are too expensive. When I rinsed him that those lanes are paid for with federal dollars and not city dollars, he returned to this tired “Manhattan centric” complaint about Bloomberg. I told him about the 8 and 80 rule, explaining that the only truly safe bike lanes in the city, where I feel safe with my baby daughter or riding with her grandma, are the “expensive” bike lanes. Congestion is expensive. Vehicular violence is expensive. Bike lanes which make us safer are a life saving investment.

  • Kevin Love

    Bike infra is the cheapest transportation infra that exists. Expressways and other car infra costs how much?? Repairing the roads that motor vehicles rip up, pothole and destroy costs how much??

    Building bike infra saves huge money by not building or maintaining car infra.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    I was there in that circle talking to him and think most of the crowd knew his “ripping out the f**king” bike lanes comment was just a joke. What Weiner failed to realize is that we simply don’t think our lives being at risk everyday should be a joke in his comedy routine. Making light of it is an insult to the memories of Matthew Lefevre, Diego Martinez, Hayley Ng, Jasmine Heron, Meg Charlop, and too many others that I reget I’ll never have the chance to see riding or walking in the streets of NYC anymore.

  • Ian Turner

    I would guess that bridle paths are cheaper, since you don’t have to pave them…

  • Mark Walker

    Note TO WHOM he made the infamous tearing-out-bike-lanes comment: Bloomberg. The mayor is his real target. In Weiner’s political calculus, he can score points by bashing Bloomberg’s livable-streets achievements. That puts pedestrian and bike improvements, both existing and planned, squarely in his crosshairs. Despite his record on congestion pricing, I was willing to give Weiner a second chance, but he is proving to be as mindlessly destructive as he ever was. He seems to believe that pledging to roll back progress will make him the next mayor.

  • Bolwerk

    Sheesh, data-driven my ass. All the data points to people liking their bike lanes, the streets being safer, and Weiner being a theatrical, yet ineffective, politician who should have stayed in Washington, where he would have less opportunity to hurt New York.

    Concur with @03f7e683447ae70bc62990d16a7c55f6:disqus too. Nobody wants to stick it to Bloomberg on his civil liberties violations or relatively mediocre level of fiscal reform. But in the places where he has actually helped people at least a little, Weiner, et al, want to roll it back. Really, I’d rather move to Copenhagen than have that guy here, and Copenhagen bores me. 😐

  • anon

    None of these democrat candidates will do what Bloomberg had the independence to do regarding bikes and bike lanes. They are all worried about votes, campaign contributions, and special interest groups they need to win election and reelection. More people drive than bike so they are bigger “special interest.” The trick is to make people realize that biking is a worthy alternative and can be safer with better rules and lanes for bikes and more bike volume. Bloomberg had that vision. The rest of them make me afraid. What do the Republican candidates say about the issue? I don’t see any reporting about them.

  • Robert Hale

    About 3:00, he says, “And let’s remember, there’s the same number of cars, theoretically…”

    This guy fundamentally doesn’t get it.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, still a moron about bike lanes, and this time not in the heat of anger at Bloomberg. The Broadway bike lane doesnt need to be removed, it needs to be extended to the South.

  • Anonymous

    According to the article in Capital New York, Weiner’s goal is “to increase bike commuting by 25 percent in the next four years.”

    What an unambitious goal. We should shoot for at least a 100% increase, and hope for 250%! 🙂

  • krstrois

    God, these candidates are such wangs.

  • Joe R.

    Build the bike highways I’ve been pushing from day one, and you’ll see a 500% increase in bike commuting. When the day comes that a fast cyclist can get from the fringes of the outer boroughs to midtown in not much over 30 minutes, cycling will be THE way to get around. All we need to make that happen is the right infrastructure.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, but then you have the costs of cleaning up the horse “emissions”.

  • Anonymous

    With all the misplaced vitriol aimed at bicycling and bike lanes in the NYC mainstream media is it really possible for any candidate to come out strongly pro bike during the election? I don’t think so.

  • SteveF

    Unpaved paths are harder to maintain. That’s why every city switched over from McAdam packed stone to asphalt and/or cement concrete around 1900. The Prospect Park bridal paths are forever in need of resurfacing. Very maintenance intensive.

  • Spence Halperin

    He speaks first and thinks later, maybe. (But the “short stick” headline is obvious and sophomoric.)

  • multi-modal

    to be fair, by reducing speeding, you may actually reduce travel times. In short, you could both have been correct

  • Anonymous

    You can definitely redesign Queens Blvd to make it safer and provide bike facilities for hundreds of thousands of Queens Residents, making biking a truly viable alternative to get to work and school, go shopping and visit the dentist and leave your car behind. Transportation Alternatives, its Queens Activist Committee and Planning Corps have been working to develop this vision and gain public and government support for a redesign We hope Mr. Weiner, the other candidates and any future Mayor of New York City will be open to the idea. The short version: Eastern Parkway – which is the same width as Queens Blvd at 200ft. The longer version: There is actually quite a lot of room on Queens Blvd, but that space is wasted.

    The Boulevard was eyed by Robert Moses as more of a highway than a street running through densely populated neighborhoods and so over the years it received several treatments that make it function more like a highway, encouraging high speeds and dangerous driving habits: wider lanes, a wide center median, and cross-over lanes much like highway exit ramps, between the local and express lanes. Each of these can be reconfigured to gain a lot of space to make the street safer, more environmentally and aesthetically appealing and provide room for bicyclists and improved mass transit. Narrowing travel lanes and the center median would provide space to widen the medians between the local and express lanes; along which trees, grass and benches could be installed. As along Eastern Parkway, an off-road bikeway can also be installed in these spaces. Removal of the cross-over lanes and re-installation of full intersections would help calm traffic, provide additional room for parking (which can also be used to help calm traffic), improve traffic flow in the adjacent neighborhoods and make the new expanded side median possible (the wider medians would provide storage for cars making turns from the express lanes – again as on Eastern Parkway).

    A dedicated bus lane may also be something that could be provided to improve mass transit and enable MTA to add buses, perhaps even an SBS service. Most subway stations along the Boulevard lack elevators and long stretches of the street are not serviced by subway, so improved bus service would greatly increase mobility along the corridor for the disabled and elderly Also, in the aftermath of Sandy, buses were stuck in massive traffic jams making them almost useless. In Sunnyside, where the 7 train runs down the middle of the Boulevard, the four travel lanes in each direction could be narrowed to calm traffic (this section of Queens Boulevard has some of the highest incidents of pedestrian/bike injuries) and room would exist to provide for a protected bikeway in each direction alongside the 7 train viaduct. It is possible to make Queens Boulevard Better & Safer.

    At forums held in Queens Community Boards 2 and 5 residents repeatedly highlighted the need for improving the design of Queens Blvd and adding bike facilities to this corridor In the last few months TA and the Queens Activist Committee have gathered hundreds and hundreds of signatures on petitions calling for a redesign. This is something our communities need and support. Please join us to help make this a reality and educate our neighbors, officials and candidates for public office about what can be accomplished: http://transalt.org/ourwork/neighborhood/queens/queensboulevard ; https://www.facebook.com/groups/betterqueensblvd/

  • Guest

    I’m just surprised after his personal family loss to traffic violence that he isn’t more sensitive http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/seth-weiner-39-brother-congressman-killed-article-1.871787

  • Bolwerk

    This may or may not be why, but Weiner strikes me as something of a narcissist. His populism aside, he just doesn’t have much empathy for other human beings. And, in my experience, people like that are just generally terrible at connecting dots in more ways than one.

  • Shemp

    That helmet suggests Weiner hasn’t done much riding since 1985

  • JK

    If Weiner’s other policies are as poorly considered, ignorant and arbitrary as his plans for biking, Weiner would be an abysmal mayor. Streetsblog let him off very easy. A reasonable alternate headline is: “Weiner Renews Pledge to Tear Out Protected Bike Lanes.” Yes, these are off-the-cuff remarks on the campaign trail, but he is a candidate at a bike event organized by bike advocates, and this is the best he can do? When does Weiner become “data driven,” after he’s elected? Apparently he thinks NYC voters are morons. Every protected lane in Manhattan and Brooklyn was approved by community board vote. So, Weiner will ignore community board approval to tear out lanes where they were approved, and install them where boards oppose them? Anybody believe that? And please, no tax credits for businesses for anything. Let’s phase out tax credits, not create new ones. Tax credits are the worst form of public subsidy. They are expensive and complex to properly oversee, totally non-transparent to the public, and often abused. Bicycling is about simplicity and efficiency, everything that tax credits are not.

  • Joe R.

    You could actually attach the bike lane to the #7 viaduct, thus keeping it at least 15 feet above street level. You can seamlessly connect this elevated bike highway to the Queensboro Bridge. On the parts of Queens Boulevard where there is no el, you can elevate the bike lanes using something similar to a pedestrian bridge. Queens Boulevard has too many intersections with arterials to allow for safe, efficient cycling at street level. Besides that, the pavement is in awful condition due to the heavy bus/truck traffic. My idea is to have a pair of elevated, bidirectional bike lanes above each of the service roads. This way cyclists can enter the lanes without needing to cross any traffic lanes. You can put entrance/exit ramps every few blocks. At the point where the #7 viaduct begins, you hang the lanes off the side of the viaduct. You connect these lanes to the Queensboro Bridge as mentioned earlier. You can also have another elevated bike lane branch off along the #7 line elevated structure all the way to Flushing Main Street. Long term, you can perhaps connect the elevated lane above Queens Boulevard to similar lanes above other major arterials, such as Hillside Avenue, Union Turnpike, The LIE, and Northern Boulevard. These major trunk routes, plus the existing network of slower, safer side streets, would provide a comprehensive way to get around Queens rapidly and safely.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Never forget this man’s role in the congestion pricing debate. He basically used the city’s transit riders, and the future of the metro area transit system and thus its economy, as a toy, laughing all the way.

    It is no coincidence that he dropped out of the Mayoral race after his assertion that a Democratic Congress and President would provide $billions more in federal aid after CP was voted down was exposed as a lie. And the Times called him on it.

    Now if he had been right, of course, it would have been different. But as it was, he was basically laughing in the face of the majority of people in the city and everyone who cares about his future.

  • Anonymous

    An interesting idea but entrance and exit ramps can be a pain to climb up and take a lot of space that could be used for other design improvements. It also becomes a limited access system so in some cases you would have to go out of your way along an unimproved road to enter or exit the elevated bikeway. Also the point of the redesign is to do more than just provide a bikeway, so we would still need other redesign elements to make the street safer for all users. With a redesign along the lines we are suggesting the size of intersections will shrink and road damage caused by trucks and buses will not matter as much because there would be a separated off road bikeway. Again, this is already being done on Eastern Parkway and works.

  • Joe R.

    The problem with anything at street level is the very long traffic light cycles wherever Queens Boulevard hits a major arterial. That could add quite a bit to travel time, especially considering most of those intersections just have too much traffic for cyclists to run the light.

    The exit ramps could be 10% or more to reduce the space used. As far as access goes, if you have the ramps every few blocks you’re not on the unimproved road for long. You could probably even have the ramps at every intersection, or at least at all the major ones cyclists are most likely to use. The Eastern Parkway bike lane has the same access problems here in that cyclist access to the median isn’t available at every cross street. In any case, I would love to see some type of grade-separated bike infrastructure, and I think Queens Boulevard might be an excellent place to try it as it could drastically reduce travel times. You also provide protection from inclement weather by roofing the lane over. Remember Queens is pretty windy. You can channel those winds into tailwinds, speeding up travel times even more.

    When I have time I may write a complete proposal for this concept in the hopes it’ll garner favor with people in power. Remember one major issue every time we’ve built cycling infrastructure has been loss of motor vehicle travel lanes and parking. I wish it wasn’t so, but at least my idea doesn’t give ammunition to the usual foes.

  • Arsenal Striker

    I had no idea. he just lost a vote.

  • Are all the candidates terrible on these issues?

  • Anonymous

    Definitely an interesting idea. Would like to see maybe some graphics showing how it would work. Hopefully we get this to a point where the DOT begins a proper study of the corridor and solicit public input. That may provide a forum for you to present this. Not sure i agree with you, but no one has a monopoly on good ideas, so i hope you develop this so it can be examined in detail. The character of QB changes quite a bit from neighborhood to neighborhood so in some places this might work better in others.

  • Not as terrible as Weiner

  • Who is less terrible? They all seem pretty awful.

  • Anonymous

    Like his activities on Twitter, Weiner is saying all this on impulse. I get the feeling that he’s making up all his public policy statements as he goes along, hoping some dupes will fall for it. Sadly, he may be right.

  • Sb

    Somebody needs to sort out the lack of bike lane south through Times Square. 7th ave is super dangerous and congested.

  • Joe R.

    Remember we don’t have to go with just one idea or the other here. There may be parts of Queens Boulevard where a median bike lane will work just fine. On others grade separation may be the best idea. Eventually I’ll make graphics and see if I can come up with some ideas for entrance ramps which use a minimum of space. I know they’re talking about similar ideas in both London and South Korea. I think as cities get denser, we’ll have to seriously look at putting modes on separate levels simply because running everything on one level will be unworkable. Indeed, I feel that’s largely the case now for Queens Boulevard. It’s great for cars, but awful for everything else.

  • Honest Rob

    anybody but quinn!

  • Zeb

    If he’s anti shitibike, then I’m anti-weiner!

  • He’s anti all bikes. he’s a scum-sucking dog.

  • DiBlasio is for real. Check him out.

  • citydem

    scum-sexting dog?

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