Bill Thompson: I’ll Rip Out Bike Lanes and “Review” Safer Streets

cb2_grand_street.jpgFact check: The Grand Street bike lane was presented to Manhattan CB2 and won overwhelming support [PDF].

Bill Thompson is making it pretty hard for New Yorkers who care about safe streets to get behind his campaign for mayor. With Tony Avella out of the way, Thompson has no bike lane-bashing rival nipping at his heels. There’s no anti-livable streets flank to shore up. But that didn’t stop the Democratic nominee from telling a NY1 crew that he’ll rip out the Grand Street bike lane at the first opportunity:

While campaigning in Chinatown, Thompson questioned whether a bike
lane on Grand Street and the other bike lanes across the city have hurt

Thompson said if elected, he would rip out the Grand
Street bike lane and review other ones put in by the Bloomberg

"I’m in favor of bike lanes but you can’t put
bike lanes in without speaking to the community," Thompson said. "You
can’t put bike lanes that are doing damage to local businesses."

The city just came out with horrible employment numbers across the board and we’re in the depths of a historic national downturn. Naturally, in his talking points about the local economy, the Democratic mayoral nominee turns to bike lane removal.

Pandering to anti-bike sentiment under the guise of speaking up for "the community" doesn’t pass the smell test when you’re talking about a project that the local community board approved 33 to 1. So if Thompson is really in favor of bike lanes, maybe he needs a refresher on what that actually means.

Street space is finite and creating a cohesive bike network that people will want to use entails giving some of that scarce space to cycling. Odds are, not everyone will be thrilled at first, even if the public outreach is impeccable. But streets will be safer, more people will ride, New Yorkers can lead more active lives, and our carbon footprint will be lower. Democrats are supposed to stand up for these things, right?

If the city "reviews" its new bike and pedestrian infrastructure and caves at the slightest sign of discontent from any quarter, New Yorkers can expect to say goodbye to Grand Street and many more safety improvements. At one point or another, naysayers have torn into the pedestrian plazas on Broadway, the Ninth Avenue bike lane, the Eighth Avenue bike lane, bus bulbs on Broadway, pedestrian refuges on the Lower East Side, the list extends to the most mundane and basic changes.

The Grand Street bike lane has about a year of service under its belt,
and the safety record is clear: Injuries are down nearly 30 percent since the
bike lane was installed
. Thompson has basically pledged to make
streets more dangerous under his mayoralty.

  • I haven’t seen a compelling reason not to vote for Bloomberg (personally, I don’t like term limits at all, and as a native Chicagoan, I tend to think the best mayors have been the ones there for the longest. Cities are too complex to be able to really pull all the pieces together in the short term.)

    But if Thompson keeps speaking like this, I definitely will vote for Bloomberg. Thompson is making a very compelling case against himself.

  • Ehh!

    He’s just trying to differentiate himself from Bloomberg and on this topic he does so to his own detriment.

  • Ken

    He’s clearly desperate and flailing. In the Democratic primary debate, Thompson was asked what his first act as mayor would be. After hesitating for an embarrassing 6 seconds, Thompson said he’d fire all Bloomberg’s commissioners. He lost me right then and there. This is just icing on the cake. Rev. Billy gets my vote.

  • Bill

    Not happy about this at all.

  • David_K

    I doubt that most New Yorkers know who Bill Thompson is, or what he is running for. Voter turnout will be minimal, and even still, Thompson will be crushed. I’m no Bloomberg lover, but I will vote for him, because I don’t want to see bike lanes disappear.

  • Jeremy

    Bike lanes should be on different streets than the major through-traffic for vehicles. Plain and simple. The grand street bike lane is a prime example of good intentions gone horribly wrong. Remove it. Please. Or, instead of dumping traffic into narrow neighborhood streets, put in a elevated through-way for cars.

    I’m more than happy to keep bike lanes only on certain streets– as a pedestrian and driver in the city, I’m fairly sick of bikers riding on side walks, riding the wrong way on one way streets, and running through red lights. I understand that we need more people biking. I also realize that good bike routes would alleviate some of the law-breaking that occurs when bikers do not have good routes. But I’d also ask that bikers start obeying the traffic laws. We should post cops on busy corners with the ability to hand out tickets to get the point across.

    We all share the same streets. Put bike routes on different streets and enforce traffic laws on busy corners. Pedestrians, bikers, and drivers will all be happier.

  • Thompson’s cluelessness is not just classic windshield perspective. It’s symptomatic of the Democratic Party’s tone-deafness on livable streets issues. If I hadn’t already planned to vote for Bloomberg — who is certainly vulnerable on the term-limits issue — this would have done it. But the person I’m really voting for is JSK. I hope her civic improvements continue at a rapid pace over the next several years and are set in concrete by the time another idiot Democrat slithers into Gracie Mansion. Oh, and by the way, I’m a registered Democrat.

  • I am pretty convinced Jeremy is trolling.

    What we should do is build this thing, and then staple an elevated bikeway to the underside of it:

    Grade-separation for all; bulldozers for some!

  • Does Thompson believe nobody actually uses bike lanes?
    Does he think people who use bike lanes don’t vote?
    Or does he simply not care?

    I don’t even understand why bike lanes should be an issue in the mayoral campaign. We have a city with a failing economy, a growing unemployment rate, AIDS, a growing homeless population, continued fears about terrorism. So in response Thompson pledges to fire commissioners appointed by Bloomberg, tear out the Grand Street Bike lane, and review all bike lanes created during the Bloomberg administration? It just doesn’t make sense.

  • Paul

    This is really unnerving, and certainly does much to sway my vote toward Bloomberg. Nonsense pandering of this sort isn’t just problematic because its message is wrong, but also because it reflects a lack of conviction on the part of Thompson.

    In response to Jeremy: I don’t know if anyone — particularly those, like me, that have daily bike commutes — would disagree with you when you say bikes need to respect traffic laws. But until a) there’s a critical mass of bikers reinforcing norms, and b) adequate and equal traffic enforcement, bad bikers will continue to do as they want. (And also bad drivers, and pedestrians — you’d be a fool to think that everyone is pedantically obeying traffic laws!)

  • Josh

    Why does Grand Street handle (why does Grand Street NEED TO handle) “major through-traffic for [motor] vehicles”? It’s not an interstate highway or anything.

  • Lars

    I thought I would never consider it, but I think I’ll go sign up to volunteer for Team Bloomberg now. Way to go Bill Thompson…

  • Jason A.

    Fine with me if Thompson wants to turn the election into a referendum on bike lanes. So what will it mean if he loses?

  • John S

    Argh, maybe we should get rid of the San Gennaro fair too since it creates traffic on Grand Street. Guess I’m voting for Bloomberg.

  • Glenn

    I can only imagine that after Bill Thompson’s review of bike lanes, there will only be a patchwork of bike lanes to nowhere scattered throughout the city.

    But maybe Bill’s on to something. Unpopular infrastructure should be removed from neighborhoods that have a handful of cranky folks object to them. Maybe we could do the same thing for highways in NYC. I don’t think the BQE is really popular in Redhook. For that matter, I’m not sure any highway in NYC is popular with a overwhelming majority of local residents it runs through. And we can just have a patchwork of highways to nowhere scattered throughout the city where they are overwhelmingly popular.

    Hey Bill!! Tear down the BQE!!

  • Paul

    I’m guessing no one asked to fill every square foot of the city with pavement for cars either. Can we please rip that out and replace with nice landscaping, foot and bike paths?

  • Car Free Nation

    I’m a registered Democrat, so I’m all for Democrats, BUT I’ll never vote for a pandering windshield perspective poll like Thompson.

    But the real question, I believe, is after Thompson loses this election (for reasons that have nothing to do with Bike Lanes, I’m afraid), is it possible to sway public opinion to the point that being against complete streets is like being for guns in NYC.

  • The Opoponax

    I didn’t realize mayors had the right to tailor city infrastructure to their will. I mean, what if the mayor we elect in 2013 has a bee in his/her bonnet about medians or strategically placed bollards? Does he/she get to just “yank” them at will? What if the next mayor doesn’t like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square? Can he/she decide to cancel them pending “review”?

  • The Opoponax

    “Bike lanes should be on different streets than the major through-traffic for vehicles”

    They are. Have you ever actually ridden a bike in New York City, or are you just trolling?

  • I’ve started a Facebook group called “I’m voting for Bloomberg because I love Janette Sadik-Khan” if anybody is interested in joining you can do so at

  • Shemp

    It will be a welcome relief when BT’s political career is ended in early November.

  • The Opoponax:
    Back in 1980 Mayor Ed Koch spent $300,000 on two physically protected bike lanes. I remember one was on Sixth Avenue and lead to Herald Square. When he decided three months later that they weren’t working out, he spent $100,000 to remove them.,9171,952873,00.html

  • Felix

    Wow, he’s almost bad enough to make me forget about Joel Klein and actually give Bloomberg his illegal third term.

  • But maybe Bill’s on to something. Unpopular infrastructure should be removed from neighborhoods that have a handful of cranky folks object to them.

    You don’t understand, Glenn. In Thompson’s worldview, highways are serious, not up for “community” veto, and worth any negative business impact. Bike lanes are just not serious.

  • I was still thinking I might give Thompson a shot, but now I guess I’ll be passing out flyers for Bloomberg and doing what I can to keep Thompson out.

  • Dwight

    The outrage over Thompson’s comment is misplaced and seems to be coming from persons not familiar with Grand Street, including the writer of the article who’s conclusion seems outrageous at best.

    Sticking a bike lane on a busy and tiny street like Grand is a terrible idea and has its origins in Bloomberg walking all over the City and its neighborhoods as if people in those neighborhoods and their concerns don’t matter.

    As a biker more careful planning needs to go into building safer bike routs, which Grand is not. It appears as though New Yorkers have had too much of the Mike’s bursting ego to simply not show regard for anyone’s concerns but his. The fact is that the Grand lane is one of the most disruptive lanes in the City and very few bikers, after going through, don’t ride it. Having crashed there suffering a splintered rib, I know I wont. And it was a no fault crash.

    Bloomberg has shown callous disregard for what New Yorkers think and anyone blindly putting a stamp of approval on his failed Mayoral-ship is the worse thing New York can do.

  • Dwight

    Dear Writer,

    Can you name one Grand Street small business owner who’s on this “Community Board”?

    Surely if Bloomberg wanted to drop disruptive bike lanes in front of his rich friend’s businesses he would threat them with more respect and not just ram it down their throats, right.

    Its no wonder King Bloomy slapped all New Yorkers up side the head and got his way overturning term limits that New Yorkers twice voted for.

  • Shemp

    More people should join the Facebook page than blim (#20 above) was inspired to launch, and organize your friends to join it too:

    If there isn’t a strong response to Thompson’s attacks on the stuff we like, not only does it encourage our opponents in neighborhoods across the city, but it also sends a message to City Hall that this is a complacent constituency as the mayor considers priorities for the 3rd term.

  • The fact is that the Grand lane is one of the most disruptive lanes in the City and very few bikers, after going through, don’t ride it. Having crashed there suffering a splintered rib, I know I wont. And it was a no fault crash.

    Please tell us more, Dwight. This is the first I’ve heard of any crash on Grand since the lane was put in. How did this happen to you, and how do you feel the lane contributed to the crash?

  • J

    Dwight seems to be trolling as well, and shows a clear ignorance or neglect of the facts:

    1) Grand Street has had a bike lane for years, certainly well before Sadik-Khan took charge.
    2) The main change was that the parking lane and bike lane switched positions, which doesn’t represent that drastic a change to space distribution. Also, loading zones were greatly expanded to accommodate the deliveries which used to occur by double parking in the old bike lane.
    3) Crashes are down 30% since the changes were implemented.
    4) The lane is well used by cyclists (relative to other lanes).
    5) The economy is in the worst recession since the Great Depression, so blaming a bike lane is a red herring for the real economic problems. Further, there has been not a shred of evidence that the businesses next to the bike lane are any worse off than other business.
    6) CB2, as shown above, voted nearly unanimously in favor of it. Even the ever-cranky Sean Sweeney declined to vote against it, by abstaining. Clearly, this wasn’t rammed down anyone’s throats.
    7) DOT has worked with the CB ever since, giving business-owners ample opportunities to participate in the process and voice their opinions. Do you honestly expect ever single person affected by every single change to be consulted? Even if they were, how do expect to improve the city, since there will never be consensus for or against a project?

    I’m sorry if you had an accident there, Dwight, but I don’t see how one no-fault accident and a handful of loud opponents is grounds for removing one of the best bike lanes in the city.

  • My Letter to Mr. Thompson:

    Unless Mr. Thompson changes his position on “ripping out bike lanes” I will be forced to vote for a non-Democrat for the first time in my life. Please understand that this is an important public safety issue for the tens of thousands of NYC bike commuters. Without bike lanes, more cyclists would be injured or die, Mass transit trains and buses would be more crowded and our dependence on oil would continue. What’s Mr. Thompson’s environmental vision? What’s his plan to make the streets safer? What’s his plan to decrease our dependence on oil? What’s his plan to stimulate “green jobs” in the city? Instead of opposing Mayor Bloomberg on these issues, he should try to beat him at it and raise the stakes. Environmental advocates are waiting.

    I urge everyone on this board to contact his campaign

    A swift negative reaction to public comments like this will send a clear message on this issue. Remember that both Mark Green and Freddy Ferrer (and even congestion pricing’s arch villain Anthony Weiner) support increasing biking in the city. Many Councilmembers must be embarrassed by his anti-bike lane stance (I’d love to get Yassky’s reaction). I think Bill Thompson is fairly alone on this issue, but he needs to know it.

  • The last two paragraphs should not be in the blockquote, that was just my little call to action to S-blog readers.

  • Ken

    Thanks, Glenn. You inspired me. Here’s my letter to No-Bikes Bill:

    As a lifelong Democrat, I was going to vote for you until I heard: 1) you would fire all of Mayor Bloomberg’s commissioners (including our great transportation and health commissioners); and 2) you would rip out the Grand Street bike lane and review the suitability of all bike lanes. Either this is pure pandering or you lack any vision at all for making our streets safer and more livable places. Sadly, I will now be voting for a non-Democrat for mayor for the first time since moving to the city in 1981. From what I’m hearing, you have similarly lost the votes of most progressives who believe that we can and must do better than the status quo on our streets.

  • Isn’t it a bit hypocritical on Thompson’s part to accuse Bloomberg of tampering with democracy and yet pledge to over-ride Community Board decisions regarding bike lanes without any formal hearings?

  • Also, apparently Thompson is Twittering:

    Send him a few notes over the next few days…

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Letters and Facebook and Twitter are all good but, really, I think T.A. or someone needs to show the Thompson campaisn that it can put some bodies (preferably belonging to registered voters) out on the street in response to this crapola. Thompson needs to be put on notice that people aren’t going to stand for a mayoral candidate who doesn’t support basic safety and sustainability initiatives. Streetsblog or someone should also be trying to get the word out nationally: Thompson and NYC’s sclerotic Dems are staking out anti-environmental positions here. It’s a straight-up embarassment.

  • Nydia Velasquez just endorsed Thompson:

    Perhaps we should be writing to her (and other allies of livable streets) who are supporting his campaign as well?

  • Good idea, Jason. Even better: identify livable streets allies who haven’t yet made an endorsement and let them know what the Thompson’s promised to do.

  • > Isn’t it a bit hypocritical on Thompson’s part

    I think this particular bit of Thompson asininity depends being convinced that the community board consultation didn’t happen in the first place.

    Democratic politics teaches us if that if you lie hard enough loudly enough to enough people, it becomes true.

  • Nicole

    Thompson sings a different tune on the TA survey:
    Perhaps safe street advocates saw his load of BS there, before he showed his true nature.

  • JK

    Facebook support for the DOT commissioner? What because the mayor doesn’t know she is popular with bike types? How about marches, meetings, rides and public turnout for issues ranging from car-free Prospect and Central Parks to the Kent Avenue bike lane to safer 4th Avenue to bike parking in buildings? Yes, these are all things T.A. is already doing and could be doing more of — especially outside of Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn.

  • Shemp

    No, what evidence does the mayor have of a worthwhile constituency when Thompson says “Rip out” and the only public response is a single Streetsblog posting?


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