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

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.

  • Glenn

    Don’t pay for the NYT until this garbage stops…might as well just get the NY Daily News or wait for the Guardian America to arrive…

    the comparison to Greenmarkets and street trees is apt.

  • Bolwerk

    Well, I’m glad bike lanes have popular support, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t controversial at some level too. Certainly in some circles, they very much are.

  • Anonymous

    What are the odds that Grynbaum has a parking placard? Based on this story I think this is not about bike lanes for him. It’s about the insider access he gets to the halls of power.

  • Jeff

    I’m not quite sure what we’re complaining about here. The article is simply reporting the news that City Hall is finally fighting back against a media-contrived misrepresentation of facts and public opinion surrounding bike lanes–a fact that few here on Streetsblog would deny. I did not detect any editorializing on the issue of bike lanes in the Times article. If anything, when I read the article in the print edition this morning, I was expecting a parallel article on Streetsblog, optimistic about the fact that, if media outlets that we usually consider the higher ground above the tabloids (NYT, WNYC, etc) aren’t going to do it, three cheers to the City for stepping up and setting the facts straight itself!

  • Re: 11 people. If I had just sued the taxpayers to undo a popular infrastructure improvement, I’m not sure I’d have the guts to show up at a meeting that was ostensibly about discussing improvements to said infrastructure, either.

  • Anonymous

    We are complaining about “a media-contrived misrepresentation of facts and public opinion surrounding bike lanes” that the NY Times is piling on rather than dispelling.

  • The two people named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit did show up and speak though.

  • The two people named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit did show up and speak though.

  • That’s what NBBL would like you to believe, but CB6 also received lots of letters and emails from people supporting the bike lane and very few from opponents. I believe the ratio of pro letters versus con was similar to the actual attendance of the hearing.

    If NBBL indeed has between 200 and 300 members, you’d think they could muster, say, 20 to 30 letters to their local community board. Especially if it was a safer option than getting up in front of a so-called hostile crowd.

    If NBBL members were indeed scared away from appearing in public for fear of being heckled, it’s curious that they didn’t realize the U.S. Postal Service and Internet service providers are neutral on the subject of bike lanes.

    This story is not the big deal NBBL, Grynbaum, and the media would like everyone to believe.

  • Alex

    Umm, since when is something automatically not controversial just because it has 54 percent support in a poll? I am all for installing as many bike lanes as possible and I recognize that they have majority support, but I don’t think we can fault the Times for referring to a “controversy” simply because a majority shares our point of view.

  • Cool Beanz

    Michael Grynbaum is trying to sell some papers.

  • Lois Carsbad

    “We warned people that if they didn’t want to be screamed at, they should not come tonight,” said Louise Hainline, an opponent of the Prospect Park West bike lane in Park Slope, after she was called a “Tea Party wing nut.”


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