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Alan Gerson

Gerson on Grand Street Safety: Never Mind the Facts

5:33 PM EDT on August 21, 2009

City Council member Alan Gerson didn't have much new to say at his sidewalk protest of the Grand Street bike lane. But a handful of reporters and a few cyclists pressed him to defend the idea that projects designed to improve street safety should be subject to greater City Council review.

Gerson's assertion of "dangerous conditions" on Grand Street basically amounted to this: The row of parked cars on the south side used to protect only pedestrians; now it protects pedestrians and cyclists, so there's a perception among some of the older residents that they're at greater risk because cyclists are riding next to the curb.

But do the data back up the perception? In a word, No. According to DOT's study of Grand Street, injuries are down 28.8 percent since the protected lane was installed nine months ago. Which only makes sense, because the parking-protected bike path has narrowed the traffic lane, sending cues for drivers to slow down and making a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists.

Gerson was not swayed by statistical evidence. "Sometimes anecdotal testimony reflects the reality," he said. For bike lane opponents, however, reality intruded rather inconveniently this afternoon.

A couple of speakers employed the time-honored "no one uses the bike lane" argument. Since they were standing right next to the bike lane in question, it was plain to see the dozens of people riding by during the course of the event. (A DOT traffic count last month tallied 990 cyclists in one 12-hour span.) Other well-worn assertions -- that the bike lane has hurt business and worsened congestion -- were similarly offered without supporting facts.

All the while, Gerson attempted to portray himself as an advocate for street safety who just wants to get everyone on the same page, by taking into account such factors as "the needs of traffic flow." When a reporter suggested that this was a recipe for inaction, Gerson argued that it is ultimately futile "to pit local neighborhoods against cyclists."

Set aside, for the moment, that the Grand Street bike lane is probably quite well-used by neighborhood residents (Gerson's district is nearly 80 percent car-free). Who's doing the "pitting" here? Fewer people are getting hurt on Grand Street now than before the protected bike path was installed. Wouldn't a public servant committed to safer streets try to preserve those gains? If there's some tension between pedestrians and cyclists, Alan Gerson could use his "town halls" to get people talking about how they can get the most out of a much-needed safety enhancement. Instead, he's simply escalating the conflict.

Video: Elizabeth Press

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