Bike-Share and the Mistake of Placing Too Much Stock in NIMBY Sentiment

The wisdom in Matt Flegenheimer’s bike-share NIMBY opus comes across nicely in the kicker:

Nearby, on University Place, Alfred Haffenden, 71, sat between a bike station and his table of available consumer items — two Al Franken books, a baby-care advice book, and VHS copies of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Wuthering Heights.”

The stations would be a change, he said, but who would want to live in a New York that refused to try something new?

“There’s not much you can do about that type, my friend,” he said, leaning toward the kiosk. “Some people can’t see. Some people just don’t want to see.”

But long before readers get to that point, if they ever do, they’ll absorb the headline (“Bike Sharing? Sure. The Racks? No Way.”) and the lede:

Bike share was easy for New York City to love in the abstract. It was not about adding bike lanes at the expense of something else; it was about sharing something that did not yet exist.

But with the program two weeks away, many New Yorkers have turned against bike share, and for one simple reason: They did not expect it to look like this.

Have a significant number of New Yorkers “turned against” bike-share, though, or is the roll-out of the system just a good time for opponents to assert themselves? After all, 19 percent of New Yorkers thought bike-share was a bad idea when Quinnipiac polled people about it last summer (74 percent approved). That’s a pretty small percentage of New Yorkers, but it’s also nearly two million people.

Which pretty much encapsulates the pitfalls of placing too much stock in NIMBY sentiment: With so many people in the city, a few are guaranteed to feel intensely opposed to something big and new like bike-share, but you can’t use their complaints to draw any hard conclusions about how most people think or feel.

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