One City, By Bike: Getting It Done, or Why the Bikelash Is Behind Us
This is the final piece in a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part one, part two, part three, and part four.
New bike lanes geared to Citi Bike expansion, bringing safer and more appealing cycling conditions to more neighborhoods, integrating the Harlem River bridges into the city cycling network: It all sounds great. But is it on the radar of new leadership at NYC DOT? Does the consensus-oriented de Blasio City Hall have the chops to make it happen in New York’s NIMBY-rich environment?
To a surprising degree, NYC’s cycling future looks bright regardless of the answers to these questions.
The main reason for that is today’s City Council. The Council slates elected in 2009 and 2013 included strong advocates of safe and bike-friendly streets, and their ranks grew from one election cycle to the next. Most of these Council members represent areas that are natural territory for the next phases of bike network growth. Many of them have already been vocal this year in demanding Citi Bike expansion to their districts.
Equally important, the de Blasio administration wants city agencies to work closely with and meet reasonable requests from local elected officials. If Council members want bike-share and additional bike lanes, City Hall will listen.
And finally, the cycling community today enjoys strong relationships with City Hall and much of the Council. The deft work of Transportation Alternatives led directly to the inclusion of Vision Zero and ambitious cycling goals in Mayor de Blasio’s campaign agenda. StreetsPAC, a new force in the city’s electoral landscape, endorsed and stays in touch with most of the Council’s bike-oriented cohort.
Last month, the Daily News chronicled the cycling habits of Brooklyn Council members Antonio Reynoso, Carlos Menchaca, and Robert Cornegy. In addition, consider the Council members representing areas spotlighted in parts two, three, and four of this series:
- The impending Citi Bike expansion would include all or part of the districts of Steve Levin, Jimmy Van Bramer, Ben Kallos, Costa Constantinides, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mark Levine, Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca. They have been vocal about bringing the benefits of Citi Bike to their districts. The areas they represent promise to be high ridership areas, provided Citi Bike deployment is accompanied by good cycling infrastructure.
- The Council representatives of the central Queens bike lane desert are Danny Dromm and Julissa Ferreras. Dromm has championed traffic calming, new pedestrian plazas, and other street reclamation projects in Jackson Heights and was an early endorsee of StreetsPAC. Ferreras has a similar record, and has been asking for bike lanes in her district for some time, noting that many people bike there but those doing the pedaling are not the politically noisy variety of cyclists.
- In the southwestern and central Bronx, where opportunities abound for strengthening the bike network, Council members Vanessa Gibson and Ritchie Torres have been outspoken supporters of Vision Zero, street improvements and, in Torres’ case, bike lane development.
- Mark-Viverito’s district includes the Manhattan ramps for the Willis and Third Avenue bridges and the Bronx ramps for the Willis, Third, Madison, 145th Street and Macombs Dam bridges, as well as the isolated greenway stub in Harlem River Park. The Manhattan side of the northernmost bridges are in Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez’ district, and could connect to new bike network segments in Upper Manhattan. Strong advocacy from the speaker and transportation chair for making the Harlem River bridges and waterfront the backbone of a world-class Harlem/Bronx cycling network could be a breakthrough development en route to expanding the benefits of cycling throughout New York City.
In addition to the strong likelihood of support for bike lane expansion in key Council districts, two more potentially game-changing factors should be noted. First, Citi Bike and its rapid uptake by New Yorkers changed the local media’s tone on cycling markedly. Its expansion to new areas will generally be covered as good news. Second, Vision Zero has also shifted the terms of discussion regarding how city streets should be designed: Witness the recent turnaround at Harlem’s Community Board 10, which went from stonewalling the redesign of Morningside Avenue to supporting it.
Bike network development and bike-share planning are now well-established core competencies for NYC DOT. It’s up to City Hall, individual City Council members, and the organizations representing city cyclists to work with the department to shape clear, ambitious plans to bring the benefits of cycling to all of New York City.