Bill Thompson Was for Bike Lanes Before He Was Against Them

The current iteration of Grand Street, by most any objective measure, has to be considered a success. In the year since it was reconfigured to host the city’s first parking-protected bike lane, with the blessing of Community Board 2, injuries are down 30 percent, with about 1,000 cyclists using the lane daily.

thompson_grand2.jpgThompson tells NY1 he’ll "review" recent safe street projects.

Other recent street safety projects are paying off with similar dividends, according to DOT data:

  • After the Ninth Avenue protected bike lane was installed in 2007, injuries among all users dropped 56 percent.
  • The protected Broadway bike lane between 42nd and 35th Streets brought a 50 percent drop in injuries.

Given quality of life improvements like these, it would make sense for mayoral challenger Bill Thompson to promise to at least stay the course, if not to one-up the incumbent. And in his responses to the Transportation Alternatives Candidate Survey, Thompson comes across as a big believer in the benefits of livable
streets. New MTA revenue streams, expanded BRT service, ramped-up
traffic enforcement, on-street parking reform — when playing to the TA
crowd, the candidate is nearly pitch perfect.

But depending on whom he’s talking to, Thompson is either eager to expand
on the safe streets initiatives of the past few years or eradicate them
on day one — starting with a shake up at DOT and removal of the Grand
Street lane

If increased safety and community board approval wouldn’t be enough for
a project to be judged a success by Mayor Thompson, what criteria would
he use? Though we were assured several times that the candidate supports bike lanes, our conversation with a Team Thompson spokesperson did little to
clear things up.

"It’s a wide range of factors," said the spokesperson. "It’s not just the small
businesses in the area, it’s also the community. I can’t comment on
something in the future. I mean, obviously you have to look at each
bike lane separately, right?"

Despite a lot of talk about "community," the spokesperson did not mention health or safety as factors in determining worthy projects.

"We’ve heard from the
community. Not just the community board, but from small business
community members, neighbors in the area that felt like the bike lane
has actually hurt business in the area. Obviously with the economy the
way it is, you want to do all you can to help the small businesses of
New York. Again, I just want to make it clear that he does support bike
lanes. He’s said it over and over again."

So when it comes to livable streets initiatives under the Thompson administration, the litmus test won’t be public health, or even environmental impact, but feelings and anecdotes. When you single out one of the city’s most effective cyclist safety improvements for immediate demolition based on who’s screaming loudest, a promise of theoretical support simply doesn’t hold water. No matter how many times you say it.

  • It is a shame that he says he wants them to take community input, but he doesn’t seem interested in input that would be beneficial to the community. Honestly Grand especially between Lafayette and Bowery is an intense shopping district, which has considerably more pedestrian traffic than car traffic. If the concern is deliveries and Shop owners the real solution would be to not remove the bike lane, but make it a pedestrian plaza, with shared bike access and have a designated delivery time. All of China town and little Italy would greatly gain from having more pedestrian plazas.

  • “After the Ninth Avenue protected bike lane was installed in 2007, injuries among all users dropped 56 percent.”

    This fits with my experience as a pedestrian. I feel safer crossing Ninth now.

  • I don’t particularly like Mayor Bloomberg. I think he’s a bit heavy handed and dictatorial. I think his plan for the MTA is full of hot air and rhetoric and light on action or monetary contributions. I think what he did with term limits was pretty out of bounds.

    That said, I am not going to vote or support Thompson in any way unless he wakes up to the realty of a pedestrian- bike- and transit-oriented city and community development. These statements are fairly outrageous, and this man should not even be in a position to be our next mayor.

  • Car Free Nation

    I think the reason that the Grand Street lane is so controversial, is that unlike most bike lanes which are available to cars at any time, if necessary, the Grand Street bike lane is 100% for bikes. If a car needs to stop for a second, he doesn’t inconvenience cyclists, but rather other cars, so from a windshield perspective, Grand Street represents a true encroachment on car space.

    The bike lane is always a bike lane, not sometimes a bike lane and sometimes a loading zone. It infuriates drivers to be stuck in traffic and see 20 bikers fly by in their protected zone.

    My guess is that at some point, the city will rip it out.

  • glenn

    Thompson needs to realize that the days of Democratic machine politics is over. This is one of those classic bits where he really thinks he’s doing the more popular/populist thing, but really it’s ultra-NIMBY thing that might satisfy a few vocal opponents of bike lanes, but paints him as largely anti-environment. Bloomberg will eat him alive on this in the debates.

    When my group, Upper Green Side did a community survey, Bike lanes were as popular as street trees and crosswalks. The silent majority are for bike lanes.

  • Haha, the days of Democratic machine politics are over.

    Democrats haven’t won more than one mayoral election in the last ten. This is /normal/. They still have a stranglehold on every single noncitywide elected position.

  • (Factcheck: I didn’t know that Koch actually ran on the D line as well as the R line in his first election. Beame was a machine politician, not Lindsay. I’d also forgotten how narrowly Giuliani lost to Dinkins in ’89: that indeed would’ve changed history.)

  • glenn

    Only 11% turn-out at the primaries is another symptom. Machine candidates are losing left and right in the Council and state races.

  • Moser

    The straightforward way to express what Car Free Nation is saying (I don’t share his or her abject defeatism) is that the bike lane is messing with the perceived right to double park. That has been an issue on 9th in Chelsea too.

  • It’s time to expose the myth continuously repeated on this blog that the Grand Street bike lane was approved “with the blessing of Community Board 2”.

    In fact, it was done very undemocratically and unfairly!

    If anyone wants to continue to compare acting unfairly with acting ‘with the blessing of’, then be my guest.

    But since most commenters on this blog rail about how undemocratic or unrepresentative CBs are, why are you not surprised?

    To wit: Although this plan for Grand Street was on the planning board for months, DOT kept their plans to themselves, never discussing it with any community or business group or CB member, although people I know with affiliation with TransAlt knew all about it. Odd manner of community outreach DOT has, hasn’t it?

    The plan was eventually taken from behind the shrouds of secrecy and presented in early July 2008 to the CB2 Transportation Committee, which has several TransAlt members on it, as well as the mother of DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Hardly impartial, wouldn’t you say?

    When it came to the Full Community Board for approval, it was on a July evening in the middle of the summer, towards the end of the meeting. I know because I am on the board.

    Commonly Boards can debate issues ad infinitum. However, CB2 is weighted towards the Village, and this area of the community, the lower quadrant, is woefully under-represented. There is not a single person from Little Italy on it, few from Chinatown, and no one from Grand Street. Whatever happened to the concept of ‘one man, one vote’?

    When debate started, the first speaker, a bike afficiando who lives on Prince Street and no friend of the SoHo Alliance, spoke out AGAINST it, saying that until DOT fixes the problems with the Prince Street bike lane, he wouldn’t vote for this new one. Fair enough.

    Then I had my hand raised to ask some sensible questions about the design, when a CB2 member from the Village pulled a parliamentary maneuver, she “called the question” because it was hot and humid outside, it was late in the evening and it was the middle of the summer and she wanted to go home. Calling the question shuts off debate.

    The Grand Street bike lane was NEVER democratically debated, questioned and weighed on.

    Of course, since most members of CB2 hail from the Village, and some I know rarely even venture to Grand Street, the question was called and approved, and the vote was abruptly taken after rational discussion and questioning was prohibited by a selfish person who lives over a mile from Grand Street. If this were for a bike lane in the Village, this would never have happened.

    Since there was no debate or questioning permitted, this was approved in a rather knee-jerk manner. Again, not very democratically.

    I abstained, not having had a chance to ask even a single question, and I believe the Prince Street cycling advocated voted against it in protest of the plan and the procedure that evening.

    That is the truth of what happened at CB2 with the Grand Street bike lane.
    It is nothing to be proud of, ladies and gentlemen. It was not done with the ‘blessing’ of CB2, but rather with its ennui.

  • mfs

    Thompson is trying to have it both ways way too hard. Someone should try to get Thompson on the record saying what bike safety projects that have been implemented that he does support.

  • Marty Barfowitz


    If your point is that the Community Board process that led to the overwhelming vote in favor of the Grand Street bike lane was as flawed and lousy as most Community Board processes are, then I think we may be in agreement for the first time ever. But the fact is that the Board voted in favor of this project by a huge margin. The fact is that Grand Street is a safer street. The fact is that no one has put forward a shred of evidence to back up the argument that the bike lane is responsible for the global economic collapse of 2008. Show me photos of AIG, Moody’s and Lehman executives riding to work on the Grand Street bike lane and then we can talk….

  • “My guess is that at some point, the city will rip it out.”

    To pour concrete in the few places where determined scofflaw drivers sneak in, perhaps.

  • The Opoponax

    Really, Car Free Nation? You think it’ll eventually be taken out? I find that a little hard to believe considering that it now seems to be the model for new bike infrastrucutre. Wasn’t it the first protected lane, followed by 9th Ave, then Kent Ave, and soon Prospect Park West? I mean, I guess the fact that the DOT seems to be behind it as a viable option doesn’t cement the original on Grand Street in stone or anything, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a sketchy aberration so much as an inspiration for further development.

    What I don’t understand about Downtown and traffic issues in general is that the root of the problem is that none of these streets were designed for cars in the first place. So I think it’s a little bit backwards for the kneejerk reaction always to be prioritizing cars. The way I see it, you drive below Houston St. at your own risk, fully taking into consideration that most of the streets are glorified alleyways. Obviously this is going to be different for commercial traffic, and that is something that needs to be ironed out. But even limiting cars downtown to commercial vehicles would be an improvement…

  • I really resent Thompson being so awful about this that I’ll have to vote for a damn Republican.

  • Lora Tenenbaum

    I live a block from Grand Street. I don’t own a car (never did), nor a bike. For me, the goal for my neighborhood would be the free and safe flow of traffic, both pedestrian and wheeled, leaving room for deliveries and drop-offs. That is not happening on Grand Street.

    My solution? Keep the bike lane, remove the parking lane abutting the bike lane and expand the sidewalk a bit.


  • Lora, the problem is that if you remove the parked cars next to the bike lane, then people will park in the bike lane. That’s the whole point of this protected bike lane — it’s protected by parked cars.

    I agree that the sidewalks could use widening, though.

  • Car Free Nation

    Just to clarify, I don’t think it’s going away under Bloomberg’s watch. But the next regime will most likely remove it.

    Politicians, in general, drive through the city, so tend to see the world through a car’s window. There’s nothing more frustrating then sitting in traffic with no room for spillover. So eventually, someone with power, who is sitting in traffic while trying to get to a meet & greet in Brooklyn, will get on his cell phone to the DOT commish and say “get rid of this damn thing.”

    The only hope is to elect politicians who don’t drive. I don’t think we have too many of these, although the new City Council rep (should she win the general election) from the district with the bike lane says that she doesn’t own a car.

  • I was there

    I suppose it’s no coincidence that when Bill Thompson held a meeting with “community leaders” in Park Slope on March 27th, the venue was Aunt Suzie’s.

  • The Opoponax: The Ninth Avenue Bike Lane was the City’s first protected bike lane. According to the DOT brochurethe presentation was made to CB4 on September 2007.

    The Grand Street Bike lane is just about a year old and was the first crosstown protected bike lane. It replaced a painted bike lane that ran along the north side of the street, on the west side, and then abruptly switched to the south side of the street around Chrystie Street. According to the DOT brochure the presentation to CB2 and CB3 was in July 2008

    Oddly enough, Bloomberg seems to have helped Thompson save face today by switching the focus to education- a more prominent concern. Thompson would really look like a fool if he lost the election due to flip-flopping over bike lanes.

  • da

    “the CB2 Transportation Committee, which has several TransAlt members on it..”

    Sean, how many members of AAA are on the Community Board?

  • mike

    “the CB2 Transportation Committee, which has several TransAlt members on it.”

    Hmmm .. We have a city and a neighborhood with a super-majority of pedestrians, bicyclists and mass transit riders. Yet this city and neighborhood is aggrieved by motor vehicles and outdated policies that promote them. So I don’t find it odd at all that the CB2 Transportation Committee has several TA members on it.

    In fact, I’d ask why they ALL aren’t TA members. Are you? Why not?

  • da asks: “Sean, how many members of AAA are on the Community Board?”

    As far as I know, da, currently none, and none in at least the past twenty years.

    Now let me ask you, da: “What was your point?”

  • Lora Tenenbaum

    Mike, I kinda think cars are an awfully wide barrier to use….and, frankly, I see no reason to prohibit residents and businesses from using this public space for loading and unloading…just not staying there. For them, access is more than a convenience…it is necessary. That being said, wouldn’t a narrower barrier do?

    On another note, I am curious as to the science behind the 1,000 bikes a day number. How was it derived? Anyone count the #of cars?


  • “I am curious as to the science behind the 1,000 bikes a day number. How was it derived? Anyone count the #of cars?”

    Ah, dear Lora, you can always be relied upon to ask the question no one cares to ask; e.g., is the Emperor wearing any clothes today?

    Of course, the number 1,000 cyclists per day is pure conjecture!

    For example, read further about the ‘science’ behind the assertions that 185,000 now cycle daily:

    Or read the ‘science’ behind the most recent DOT survey:

    Indeed, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

  • Gee, thanks for wasting my time with that crappy site, Sean! If you take it at all seriously, it gives me an idea of how seriously to take you.

    Let’s see, Judd Wiley saw a figure given by T.A. based on DOT screening counts. Rather than ask how they derived one figure from another, he wrote 734 words worth of guesswork, sarcasm and hyperbole.

    Then Lewis Derkins looks at a neighborhood walkability checklist that is offered to activists to suggest possible ways that their neighborhoods could be made safer and more accommodating to pedestrians. He somehow gets the idea that this is a survey, and that the answers are being collected and tabulated, and then spends 1,201 word explaining why that is a bad idea – with some gratuitous nastiness thrown in. Well, yes it would be if it were actually anyone’s intention, but Derkins doesn’t give any basis for his assertion that it is.

    So there’s no serious critique of T.A.’s methodology, because Wiley doesn’t even ask for an explanation of the methodology. And there’s no reasonable critique of the survey, because there doesn’t actually seem to be any survey. Just a couple of guys jumping to conclusions and making shit up. But apparently you’ll believe anything that fits your driver-good, cyclists-bad worldview. Who’s got no clothes on today?

  • OK, what WAS their methodology, as well as what was the data that produced 1,000 bikes a day using Grand Street?

    Or are you just annoyed that Wiley’s blog revealed that your blog censors unwelcomed opinion.

    Censoring?? Tsk, tsk Emperor Transit.

  • I have no idea what the methodology was. Have you asked them?

    I’m annoyed because you linked to an annoying blog. That’s not controversial; they’re very up front about being annoying. You think there was some kind of scoop that I “censor”? I’ve said all along that my blog is not a public forum, and I reserve the right to remove unproductive or disruptive posts. I suppose I am the Emperor of my free google blog, although I honestly don’t get a big rush out of it. What’s the big reveal?

    Nice ad hominem though, there, Sean, and mixed with gratuitous name-calling! I guess you’ve got to play dirty when you’ve got no real case.

  • “I have no idea what the methodology was.”
    Thank you for proving my point. There was none, my friend. None. It is pure conjecture. Or, as I said earlier: lies, damned lies and statistics.

    (Lora Tenenbaum is apparently still waiting for streetsblog to reveal where it got the 1,000 cyclists a day on Grand Street. Don’t hold your breath, Lora.)

    ‘Emperor Transit’ is ad hominem? Even though you admit to it? (“I suppose I am the Emperor”) You do have an ironic sense of humor, I must say.

    ” that fits your driver-good, cyclists-bad worldview. Who’s got no clothes on today?”
    Congratulations, old boy. You managed to fabricate lies and do ad hominem in one breath.

    Suffice to say that I have done more to regulate traffic excess and prevent cars in lower Manhattan and South Brooklyn more than you ever will with your little censored blog.

    Have a nice life.

  • Just because I have no idea what the methodology was doesn’t prove anything.

    An ad hominem argument is one where you attack the other person (e.g. with spurious accusations of “censorship”) rather than refuting their argument.

    If you aren’t pro-car, why on earth would you insist that the only right thing to do on Grand Street is to go back to the disastrous 2000-era configuration with a single, double-width lane that encouraged speeding and double-parking and made pedestrians and cyclists feel unsafe and unwelcome? Just about any possible configuration would be better than that, but that’s the one you want, right?

  • nobody

    Looks like Sean Sweeney is the latest person to be suckered by that blog. Sean, you should do a little homework before you link to questionable sources.

  • Lora Tenenbaum

    Thanks for your surprisingly fondly-worded support of my question, Sean, although I must admit I found those sites you linked truly awful. As you know, I’ve always advocated for less cars in Manhattan.

    My question had not been a rhetorical one, and am sorry it seems to have been used as a springboard for angry dialogue. I truly expected someone to be able to provide backup to the numbers given. I’m patient…and am still waiting.


  • Lora, I realize your question was not rhetorical. That is why I responded.

    As I said, and as commuteroutrage said, you won’t find backup or a rigorous model for most of the TransAlt/Streetsblog/DOT stats or figures, because they don’t exist!

    For example, remember how DOT said there was so much traffic on Houston Street that there was the need to destroy trees and tear up the median in order to install two dedicated left-hand turn bays, one on Mercer and one on W. Bdwy – to funnel more cars into SoHo?

    For two years, I demanded the stats that DOT claimed they possessed to justify their autocratic decision. None came.

    Only when the SoHo Alliance hired an attorney who FOILed DOT did we immediately see a bunch of surveyers on those two corners counting the left-hand turns. Within three weeks after our legal action, after years of polite discourse, DOT came out with the stats. Ha!

    The stats, of course, confirmed what the Alliance was saying all along: a minuscule number – less than 3% – of the cars traveling west made the left-hand turn, not a not to justify spending a million dollars on that destructive and environmentally unfriendly project. Nevertheless, DOT went ahead and destroyed trees and installed two dedicated bays to make it easier for cars.

    TransAlt/Streetsblog/DOT just have to say it, the papers print it, and the people believe it. Welcome to Newspeak, 2009!

  • Geck

    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’

  • Phil M

    Many, many more people would bike if the cars were tamed; cars are allowed so much space and to drive so fast, that many people die due to accidents, not to mention the pollution they cause. There is so much more we could do. First of all, tame the way drivers drive in the city; have the police police them, rather than harass bikers, who do not kill pedestrians, as cars do so very often. Make the city safe for both pedestrians and bikers. And do much more to make this city bike friendly. The bike lane on sixth avenue ends when one reaches midtown — the moneyed in midtown are allowed to rule in midtown. The pedestrian bridge on 103rd street on the East River, to Randall’s Island, which cuts the trip between this part of Manhattan and Queens by half, is often blocked by keeping this bridge up; have it always open. We need wide bike lanes on all avenues in Manhattan, and in other arteries, such as on the service roads on Queens Blvd. and on Bruckner blvd.


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