More Than Just Same-Old at Upper East Side Bicycle Forum

From the first (and only) town-hall meeting of the Manhattan Borough President’s Planning for Pedestrians Council in 1987, to Manhattan Community Board 8’s “Bicycle Forum” this week, I’ve sat through innumerable gatherings on cyclist-pedestrian conflicts.

KomanoffCrowd96thParkAve_7Jan2007.jpgCycling and pedestrian advocates, with Charles Komanoff at left, gather on the UES in 2007. Photo: Jonathan Barkey

Each session has been suffused with elephant-in-the-room
syndrome. Somehow, the agenda never includes motor vehicles, even though cars,
cabs and trucks do 99.5 percent of the traffic maiming and also commandeer street
space and mindshare to the point where clashes between bikes and peds become

The CB 8 forum on Tuesday evening did have hopeful elements,
however. Local residents wanting more bike and pedestrian infrastructure and
fewer cars outnumbered those who wanted cyclists put in their place. None of
the five elected officials in attendance played the anti-bike card; all seemed receptive
to the livable streets agenda. And one or two attendees who professed to
be terrified by bicycles even took pains to support bike lanes.

Some highlights:

  • Deputy Borough President Rosemonde Pierre-Louis “commend[ing] City DOT and Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan for their visionary work to make New York City more walkable and bikeable.” (City Council Member Jessica Lappin had a more guarded version of the same message.)
  • Council Member Daniel Garodnick deflecting criticism from a pro-congestion pricing audience member by insisting he had been a “strong, outspoken supporter” of Mayor Bloomberg’s toll plan and, by implication, could be counted on to champion traffic pricing in the future.
  • A diverse collection of Upper East Siders — a 50-something male attorney who has cycled to work for decades, a young woman who recently took up bike-commuting, a female African-American community board member, and a husky pedestrian who pronounced himself too un-coordinated to ride a bike — passionately and eloquently speaking up for cycling and cycle facilities. Here are some of their

“Cycling makes me healthy.”
“After biking to work, I feel good all day.”
“Cycling is saving my life.”
“Broadway is really great, Second Avenue is awful.”
Summer Streets was fabulous.”
“There’s been nothing to teach people how to use these new streets.”

“A message should be sent by the community board to the District Attorney and the NYPD that there needs to be a re-evaluation of our priorities to protect cyclists and pedestrians.”

Okay, it wasn’t all a lovefest. There were these complaints from several women of a certain age, CB 8 members all:

“Transit is a priority, cars are a priority, bikes are not a priority.”

“The thought of having double, triple, quadruple the number of cyclists terrifies me.”

“The bicyclists have become the darlings of the [Bloomberg] administration, even though the number of bicyclists is a rounding error compared to the number of fire engines, buses and taxis.”
“One day we woke up to find all these circles and lines on our streets.”
“You’re afraid to go outside … You can’t be sure you’re not going to be killed [by a bicyclist].”
“I’d like to see bicycles registered and bicyclists licensed.”

None of the electeds took up the call for registering bikes.
NYS Assembly Member Jonathan Bing and NYS Senator Liz Krueger did call on Albany to stiffen penalties for restaurants whose delivery cyclists flout laws against riding on sidewalks. Lappin has a local law in the works to allow the city to penalize the owners of restaurants and other businesses whose delivery staff ride on sidewalks or violate one-way rules or red lights. A hearing on her Intro. 624 is set for 10 a.m. next Thursday.

Garodnick has a bill pending, Intro. 813, to require the NYPD to post delivery-bicycle violations on line “to help send a message and give restaurants a reason to improve their practices.” Garodnick is also drafting legislation to increase penalties for operating motorized bicycles, which in his view are becoming more common (I agree), on sidewalks.

My verdict on the forum? The pervasive tonedeafness toward bikes (e.g., transportation committee co-chair Jonathan Horn categorizing all cyclists as either recreational or delivery) would have dumbfounded a visitor from Portland or Copenhagen.
Any practitioner of risk management or harm reduction would have been appalled by the electeds’ indifference to motorized mayhem. And it’s still possible that the make-the-bikes-go-away ladies will carry the day at the October 7 CB 8 Transportation Committee meeting, when issues raised at the forum get turned into resolutions.

There was also a disconnect between the officials’ insistence that “pedestrians’ grievances about bikes is one of our top complaints” (Garodnick) and the sparse turnout (around 50, many of whom were pro-bike). Still, I came away feeling that, unlike 22 years ago, the embattled
minority isn’t cyclists but the anti-bikes. We may never get them to turn against autos, but we might, finally, be outnumbering and out-organizing them.

  • mike

    sounds promising! good job whoever got the word out.

  • Jenn

    Just for the record, Councilmember Lappin’s hearing on the bike bill is scheduled not for Wednesday, but for Thursday at 10AM. [Fixed! Thanks. — ed.] Hope there will be a lot of people there to testify!

  • Sharkey

    One great way to encourage motorists, politicians, pedestrians to make way for bicycles is to normalize cyclists presence as traffic. In this spirit, you are invited to the…

    1st Friday 1st Amendment Ride!

    Exercise your right to operate your non-polluting vehicle in the streets of the City! This Friday, October 2nd, 7pm Union Square North. More people, more fun! Spread the word.

    Every month, the first Friday is the new last Friday!

  • Brooklyn

    Lappin’s proposed law would be excellent. Fine the businesses themselves and you would see wrong-way and sidewalk riding virtually disappear overnight. Delivery guys easily make up 90% of the public’s bad perception of cyclists.

  • Lucy

    I am a “woman of a certain age” and totally supportive of Complete Streets, JSK, bike and pedestrian infratructure, transit, and everything else needed to re-balance urban life away from the auto-dominant present.

    But I don’t know what my gender or age has to do with any of these ideas, nor do I know what it has to do with the critics you quote.

  • Glenn

    I warms by heart to hear that things are changing…the blue hairs aside…

  • NM

    I’m really struck by the delivery/recreational bike dichotomy. If bikes are just toys, then of course they don’t have the “priority” that cars do. How can we change that perception and get the word out that most(?) of us are trying to get somewhere just like the cars? Come to think of it, I don’t even know if that’s true, but it seems to be the case. So maybe answering that question is a place to start.

  • Glenn

    When Upper Green Side did a survey of UES residents, more than half owned bikes, while less a quarter owned cars. I think a lot of those folks just use their bike on the weekends in parks or field trips out of the city.

    But still, think of latent potential market for everyday commuters. Many folks in the UES work in midtown east. And contrary to the perception, a huge percentage of commuters are in their 20s and 30s. If there were a protected bike lane from 96th to 42nd on Second Ave I have no doubt you would see a quadrupling of everyday bike commuters nearly overnight.

  • Diana

    I can speak to the old biddies “of a certain age.” I happen to know two of them and they’re anti-bike, not because they’re actually anti-bike, but because they are women who cling to outdated stereotypes in order to justify the fact they’ve done nothing in terms of their careers. According to these stereotypes, bikers are male, minority or at least workingclass, and therefore dangerous.

    I’m also sure they live in rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments, and attend the community board meeting because such “involvement” in their community in their mind justifies their possession of a below-market rental.

    otherwise keep up the good work. I agree that if there were protected bike lanes commuting by bike would quadruple. There are a lot of routes in this city where there’s no good subway connection.

  • Bicyclists interested in seeing protected lanes installed on the Upper West Side should attend this evening’s Community Board 7 meeting, where the Community Board will consider a recent resolution by it’s Transportation Committee approving “in concept” the installation of protected lanes on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. Here’s the info for the meeting:

    6:30 p.m.
    Red Oak apartments
    135 West 106th Street (Columbus – Amsterdam Avenues)

  • daviduxresll

    I am planning a business trip to Norway, Sweden, and Finlandin April, 10. Might anyone kindly to tell me personally how many days it will likely be,usually, for Easter holiday in these 3 countries? Thank you!


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