Bike Lane Cranks Get Star Turn in Times Bicycling Feature

The Times devoted a feature story today to NYC’s new bike lanes and the people who dislike them. Hard to argue with the timing of the piece. The separated lanes that went in on the East Side, Park Slope, and the Upper West Side this year are highly visible, they shake up the way the street works, and people have opinions about them.

Photo: New York Times
An East Side bike lane protest as pictured in the Times today. (Disclosure: I am stroking my beard on the left side of the frame.) Photo: New York Times

The piece reads like an attempt to describe the extent of public support for new bike lanes and the extent of the opposition. We get to hear first hand from Former Deputy Mayor and current PPW bike lane opponent Norman Steisel, who says he got upset about the lane after getting stuck in traffic on the way home this summer. An accompanying info-graphic lays out a timeline of NYC bikeways beginning all the way back in 1894. The timeline emphasizes opposition to bike infrastructure, and J. David Goodman’s feature is heavy on the quotes from bike lane cranks. (Compare to Tom Perrotta’s bicycling feature in the Journal today, which is more of an attempt to describe how New Yorkers are adjusting to the city’s changing streets.)

Since the Times piece is mainly about support versus opposition, I found it curious that there was no mention of the only public votes on record regarding bike lanes. Readers won’t come away any wiser about the community board votes in favor of the First and Second Avenue lanes, the Eighth Avenue lane, the Grand Street lane, the Columbus Avenue lane, or the Prospect Park West lane.

While those community board votes don’t get any ink in the Times, we do get a dispatch high up in the piece from a bike lane protest that strains the definition of newsworthiness.

The photo at the top of the Times story comes from an October 15 event at the corner of 14th Street and First Avenue staged by a Lower East Side resident named Leslie Sicklick. The event drew more reporters than bike lane opponents so I decided not to run a story on it at the time. Here’s another angle:

Most of the people in this frame are reporters or bike lanes supporters. The bike lane protestors are in a huddle by the light pole. Photo: Ben Fried
Most of the people on this traffic island are reporters, bike lanes supporters, or passersby. The bike lane protesters are in a huddle by the light pole. Photo: Ben Fried

The Times quotes Sicklick to illustrate “a simmering cultural conflict between competing notions of urban transportation.” I spoke to Sicklick for a few minutes and her notions about urban transportation seem to be of a piece with her notions about any sort of change. If it personally affects her, she’s against it.

She has a problem with “a lot of things, and with people telling me that driving my car is bad for the environment.” She has friends who live outside Manhattan who are “upset because people are telling them they should go take a train or a bus.” She’s also upset because Bloomberg “wants to take the rights of smokers away.” A substitute teacher, she said it’s very difficult to get teaching work in the city schools these days and that she’s appalled by Bloomberg’s efforts to overhaul the city’s tenure system. She says she never jaywalks.

Why Sicklick’s protest should bear mentioning in this piece, while no reference is made to the community board votes in favor of the city’s new bikeways, is beyond me.

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