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Bike Lanes Still Controversial to Michael Grynbaum, Opinion Poll Be Damned

12:37 PM EDT on March 30, 2011

If a bike lane gets striped and no one is there to report on it, would it still be "controversial"?

Less than two weeks after a Quinnipiac poll revealed that 54 percent of NYC voters support the expansion of the bike network, New York Times transportation reporter Michael Grynbaum led off a story in today's City section with this little nugget:

Struggling to control the controversy over one of its signature transportation policies, the Bloomberg administration is embarking on an unusual kind of political campaign: convincing New Yorkers that bicycle lanes are good for them.

If we learned anything from the Q poll, though, it's that New Yorkers don't really need to be convinced that bike lanes are "good for them." Voters in the city already support the expansion of bike lanes by a healthy margin.

The nut of Grynbaum's piece is all about the memo on city bike policy that Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson sent out last week, but the memo was aimed mainly at reporters and, one assumes, members of the political class. Those are the people who need convincing.

If you look at the Wolfson memo, it's not, in the main, about why you should like bike lanes. It's about rebutting commonly repeated falsehoods in the press: that bike lanes are being imposed from above, when in fact they've been approved by community boards and requested by neighborhood groups; that bike lanes are getting striped on too many streets to count, when in fact a major expansion of the bike network still consumes a small fraction of the city's street space; that bike lanes are somehow making streets more dangerous, when they are in fact making streets safer.

In fairness to Grynbaum, the tabloid dailies and local TV news outlets have been the main offenders, but I think he's still in a bind on this one. Writing a more complete account about why the administration put out this memo would get a little too meta for the Times.

To do that, Michael Grynbaum would probably have to mention the Michael Grynbaum story where he portrayed transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan as politically isolated, even within the Bloomberg administration. He might have to get into why the Times and other print outlets so rarely mention the community board votes that have preceded the installation of the city's protected bike lanes. He might have to explain his habit of using the word "controversial" in stories about bike policy, and why those Q poll results didn't even get written up in the print edition of the Times.

Another thing about the use of the word "controversial." At the recent community board meeting about the city's most talked-about bike project, where opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane had their moment to voice their position for the public record, they mustered all of 11 people to come and speak against the bike lane. Eleven people.

Bike lanes are about as controversial as farmers markets and street trees.

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