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Bicycle Safety

Moses to LaGuardia: Bikes Have No Place on the Street

2:30 PM EDT on March 19, 2008


Dave Lutz of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition has been digging through the Municipal Archives and look what he found: a 1938 memo from Robert Moses to Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia about the need to create a network of dedicated bike paths in city parks. Moses's reasoning looks odd to modern eyes, in part because he argues for bike paths as a purely recreational amenity. His rationale for bike infrastructure fails to see cycling as transportation (sound familiar?), choosing instead to segregate bike facilities from the street network.

In this section, where Moses makes a public health argument against having bikes on the street, you can see the streets-are-exclusively-for-cars mindset that famously led him to construct rights-of-way that excluded rail and even buses:

The need for taking children off of public streets where they are constantly threatened with serious injury, and are themselves a hazard to motorists is imperative, and is evidenced by the increasingly numerous letters received from parents and others interested in the welfare of the youth of the city. Every motorist is aware of the hazard created by children of the adolescent age exploring the whole width of the roadway...

Recognizing that bicycles have no place on public highways, and fully aware of the marked rise in enthusiasm and growing interest in bicycling on the part of the general public within the city limits, park executives have for some time been studying the entire park system to ascertain local unsatisfied cycling needs, and where proper facilities can be located advantageously to furnish the opportunity for bicycle riding without too long a delay and without involving large expenditures for construction.

Lutz's sleuthing inspired another tipster, Daniel Bowman Simon, to cull together a collection of press reports from the time, including this coverage of the bike path plan in the New York Times. To Moses's credit, when discussing the impact of the Central Park bike path on cars driving through the park, he offers a surprisingly prescient argument for a road diet:

"All of these pavements," Mr. Moses said, "are now unnecessarily wide, and reducing their width by one lane will have no material effect on the movement of traffic though the park."

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