One City, By Bike: Getting It Done, or Why the Bikelash Is Behind Us

This is the final piece in a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part onepart two, part three, and part four.

New bike lanes geared to Citi Bike expansion, bringing safer and more appealing cycling conditions to more neighborhoods, integrating the Harlem River bridges into the city cycling network: It all sounds great. But is it on the radar of new leadership at NYC DOT? Does the consensus-oriented de Blasio City Hall have the chops to make it happen in New York’s NIMBY-rich environment?

Antonio Reynoso, Brad Lander, and Carlos Menchaca are part of a large and influential bike-friendly cohort on the City Council. Photo: StreetsPAC

To a surprising degree, NYC’s cycling future looks bright regardless of the answers to these questions.

The main reason for that is today’s City Council. The Council slates elected in 2009 and 2013 included strong advocates of safe and bike-friendly streets, and their ranks grew from one election cycle to the next. Most of these Council members represent areas that are natural territory for the next phases of bike network growth. Many of them have already been vocal this year in demanding Citi Bike expansion to their districts.

Equally important, the de Blasio administration wants city agencies to work closely with and meet reasonable requests from local elected officials. If Council members want bike-share and additional bike lanes, City Hall will listen.

And finally, the cycling community today enjoys strong relationships with City Hall and much of the Council. The deft work of Transportation Alternatives led directly to the inclusion of Vision Zero and ambitious cycling goals in Mayor de Blasio’s campaign agenda. StreetsPAC, a new force in the city’s electoral landscape, endorsed and stays in touch with most of the Council’s bike-oriented cohort.

Last month, the Daily News chronicled the cycling habits of Brooklyn Council members Antonio Reynoso, Carlos Menchaca, and Robert Cornegy. In addition, consider the Council members representing areas spotlighted in parts twothree, and four of this series:

  • The impending Citi Bike expansion would include all or part of the districts of Steve Levin, Jimmy Van Bramer, Ben Kallos, Costa Constantinides, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mark Levine, Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca. They have been vocal about bringing the benefits of Citi Bike to their districts. The areas they represent promise to be high ridership areas, provided Citi Bike deployment is accompanied by good cycling infrastructure.
  • The Council representatives of the central Queens bike lane desert are Danny Dromm and Julissa Ferreras. Dromm has championed traffic calming, new pedestrian plazas, and other street reclamation projects in Jackson Heights and was an early endorsee of StreetsPAC. Ferreras has a similar record, and has been asking for bike lanes in her district for some time, noting that many people bike there but those doing the pedaling are not the politically noisy variety of cyclists.
  • In the southwestern and central Bronx, where opportunities abound for strengthening the bike network, Council members Vanessa Gibson and Ritchie Torres have been outspoken supporters of Vision Zero, street improvements and, in Torres’ case, bike lane development.
  • Mark-Viverito’s district includes the Manhattan ramps for the Willis and Third Avenue bridges and the Bronx ramps for the Willis, Third, Madison, 145th Street and Macombs Dam bridges, as well as the isolated greenway stub in Harlem River Park. The Manhattan side of the northernmost bridges are in Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez’ district, and could connect to new bike network segments in Upper Manhattan. Strong advocacy from the speaker and transportation chair for making the Harlem River bridges and waterfront the backbone of a world-class Harlem/Bronx cycling network could be a breakthrough development en route to expanding the benefits of cycling throughout New York City.

In addition to the strong likelihood of support for bike lane expansion in key Council districts, two more potentially game-changing factors should be noted. First, Citi Bike and its rapid uptake by New Yorkers changed the local media’s tone on cycling markedly. Its expansion to new areas will generally be covered as good news. Second, Vision Zero has also shifted the terms of discussion regarding how city streets should be designed: Witness the recent turnaround at Harlem’s Community Board 10, which went from stonewalling the redesign of Morningside Avenue to supporting it.

Bike network development and bike-share planning are now well-established core competencies for NYC DOT. It’s up to City Hall, individual City Council members, and the organizations representing city cyclists to work with the department to shape clear, ambitious plans to bring the benefits of cycling to all of New York City.

  • Jeff

    Things look great at the City Council level; it’s the Community Boards I worry about.

  • Eric McClure

    Great series, Jon. And thanks for the impossible-to-overstate role you’ve played in getting us to this point.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Glad they are advisory only.

  • Wait, don’t tell Aaron & Doug that bikelash is over. They’ll lose their multi-million dolllar world tour they have lined up!

  • J

    Thanks for the hard work, Jon! The composition of the council gives me hope for the future. Ideally, this large increase in political backing gives DOT the confidence to boldly push forward in expanding the bike network.

  • Like all things, NYC is a few years ahead of the rest of the country. We’re happy to milk those big bikelash dollars anywhere they’ll have us. Some cities haven’t yet begun to fight bikelash.

    Many thanks to Jon Orcutt for this series. It should be printed, bound, and delivered to every City Council member and City Hall staffer immediately.

  • Brad Lander and Steve Levin are great examples of why the changing City Council tide is so important. When the 4th Ave road diet and ped enhancements looked like it was going south thanks to the community board, Brad and Steve wrote directly to the DOT and recommended that the project go forward anyway. Same thing happened when SBS on 125th St met resistance. Mark Levine contributed to a letter to DOT asking for the project to be restarted.

    If we want good Community Boards, we need good City Council members!

  • JamesR

    Except that in all reality, CB recommendations carry a ton of weight with the powers that be. You wouldn’t see so much coverage of CB decisions here if it wasn’t so.

  • Orcutt

    Speaker Mark-Viverito similarly provided critical leadership in getting protected lanes installed in East Harlem

  • Orcutt

    The Bike Lobby has their backs…

  • CB watcher

    When it comes to liquor licenses and outdoor cafes, community board votes are strictly advisory. But when it comes to deciding matters of life and death on our streets, their views have been treated as conclusive. Go figure.

  • Kevin Love

    You forgot the words “all-powerful.”

    🙂

  • Larry Littlefield

    If the bikelash is gone, it shouldn’t be forgotten. Those who sought to suffocate the rise in bicycle transportation in the cradle shouldn’t be allowed to pretend they didn’t when it is no longer politically expedient.

  • MD

    Wow, I remember the days when we thought Steve DiBrienza was the coolest council member simply because he might show up at a car-free Prospect Park rally.

  • millerstephen

    We also need good borough presidents, since they actually appoint CB members: http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/06/04/cb-3-stalls-on-bed-stuy-slow-zone-as-residents-turn-to-eric-adams/

  • Yes, I remember that too.

  • ADN

    It might be over in NYC but as long at the Baby Boom generation is with us, there will always be a bikelash happening somewhere. That PPT is good for at least another dozen years…

  • City Hall Staffer

    We are reading! Thank you for this.

  • Meltyman

    One important policy tool: charge reckless motorists. How can we live with this
    http://gothamist.com/2014/09/08/nypd_bike_hit_run_bushwick.php kind of thing?

  • San Francisco is facing a combined bikelash and transitlash:

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2014/08/06/new-no-on-l-campaign-combats-cars-first-restore-balance-measure/

    Fortunately, Dr. Naparstek traveled to S.F. and gave this presentation.

  • @ADN – Sweeping statements about age groupings are mostly nonsense. There is an element of truth in this statement, though, namely that post-WWII is when the nation made the fateful decision to base as much of its development as possible on the premise that everybody would have a car and plenty of space to park it.

    Boomers, by definition, grew up in the post-WWII world their parents tried to build, so this is their expectation. So many of them hold onto this perspective as a deeply-held assumption and have a hard time envisioning something else.

    However, no such grouping is a monolith, and the Boomers’ parents also brought us the Freeway Revolt and Boomers fought to actually tear down freeways (Earth First!), and for space on the streets for bikes (Critical Mass).

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