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Bicycle Safety

Daily News Tries Race-Baiting to Gin Up Controversy Over Safer Streets

Are either of these Inwood cyclists invincible in traffic? Ask the Daily News. Photo: Brad Aaron

It's truly amazing how much work the tabloids put into opposing measures that save lives. Take today's Daily News, which resorted to race-baiting to gin up controversy over hard-won bike lanes in Upper Manhattan.

Residents of Inwood and Washington Heights have been working for safer neighborhood streets for a long while. My first story on such an effort was published on Streetsblog back in September 2007. A few months later the folks who would eventually form the area's first known livable streets group proposed separated bike lanes for Dyckman Street.

So for at least six years, my neighbors have waited for Community Board 12 and DOT to come up with a plan for new bike infrastructure, even as DOT whittled away what little exists. Last week, DNAinfo reported that a handful of new bike lanes could finally be coming to Washington Heights (and Fort George -- an area south of Dyckman/200th Street which, depending on whom you ask, is part of Inwood).

On cue, the Daily News sent three reporters to get quotes from two people with negative reactions, which the paper presents as evidence that locals are divided. Here's what reporters Michael Feeney, Stephanie Lacy, and Amber Goodfellow came up with.

What’s unclear is how more lanes would be received in northern Manhattan. Residents and merchants queried by the Daily News on Tuesday said they saw no reason to paint additional lines on the pavement.

"It’s not a good idea at all, unless they have good medical insurance and helmets,” said Rafael Rodriguez, an uptown resident. "This is Washington Heights, it’s not a place for white boys on bikes,” he added. "It’s not a good idea."

Merchants also pooh-poohed the policy, saying the bike lanes could only hamper their business.

"Bike lanes will take away space for parking on the streets and bother people," said Berkis Guillen, who works at Apocalipsis Variety Shop on Broadway at W. 175th St. "Most of the bikers are mainly delivery guys, and they are used to riding the streets. It will affect out business with less parking."

This crack reporting team doesn't point out that some 75 percent of households in Washington Heights and Inwood don't own cars, or that volunteers have gathered thousands of signatures indicating broad community support for safer streets. And rather than report how it took years for residents to get DOT to commit to adding bike lanes in the area, as DNAinfo did, the News makes it seem as if the city -- and the historically car-crazed Community Board 12 -- is poised to impose them by diktat.

With these cherry-picked quotes, the Daily News wants readers to think that, while Upper Manhattan is a dangerous place to bike, only "white boys" need bike lanes. As for delivery workers who ride the streets at all hours and in all conditions, well, they're naturals who have no need for infrastructure that reduces traffic injuries and fatalities. The tab succeeds in invoking race and class tensions, but in a way that says more about the biases of the Daily News than the attitudes of Upper Manhattanites.

We'll have more on DOT plans for Upper Manhattan bike lanes in a future post.

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