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‘Bike Mayor’ Job Seekers, Brush Off Those Resumes! Council May Create Key Position

1:07 PM EDT on May 29, 2019

At Wednesday night’s TA panel (from left) Camille Raneem of Kween Kargo Bike Shop; Doug Gordon, bike advocate and blogger; Hindy Schachter, member of Families for Safe Streets; and Shabazz Stuart of Oonee bike storage spoke about the need for a bike mayor. Photo: Joe Cutrufo

Look out, Mayor de Blasio — you may be getting a bike mayor whether you want one or not!

A staffer to City Council Member Carlina Rivera (D-Lower East Side) said the lawmaker will introduce a bill to create the new mayoral position — an office common in European cities such as Amsterdam, where cycling is a more respected part of the transportation mix.

Rivera's legislative director Jeremy Unger said the council member's office is still "gathering input" from bike advocates and other stakeholders about what would be in the portfolio of New York's bike mayor.

Rivera sees “biking as a great opportunity for transportation in the city and the bike mayor is going to be a really big part of that," Unger said at a forum on the position held Wednesday night by Transportation Alternatives. It's unclear whether Rivera could muster a veto-proof majority of the Council, but the legislature has increasingly defied City Hall on street safety issues. Nonetheless, Unger's revelation that the Council might act before Mayor de Blasio — who has not created such a position and is believed to oppose it — was the biggest news of the night.

Other participants focused on the important matter of establishing why New York City needs a bike mayor in the first place — an effort undertaken by TA with a petition drive and a "blue ribbon" panel to set out the job description and purpose.

The group's proposal says a bike mayor is a key to transforming New York "into a better and more equitable place for cycling" — a process that began in earnest under Mayor Bloomberg, was greatly expanded by Mayor de Blasio in his first term, but has settled into inconsistent expansion, experts say. Ten cyclists have already been killed on the roads this year — the same number as all of last year. Total road fatalities are up near 32 percent this year, too, according to police stats.

Sydney, Mexico City, São Paulo, Amsterdam, London and other cities have “bike mayors.” London’s is called the Walking and Cycling Commissioner, which was created in 2013 as a part-time, three-day-a-week post, according to Janine Rasiah of the London city government. Mayor Sadiq Khan named Will Norman to the position — and then made the post full-time, “recognizing the scale and importance of the job,” Rasiah told Streetsblog. Norman is paid $125,000 per year (albeit in British pounds).

Since the creation of the bike commissioner, cycling in London has expanded and now represents around 2.5 percent of all journeys in London, roughly 730,000 a day, Rasiah said. In New York, cycling represents just 1 percent of trips.

Note the box in red.
Note the box in red.

A Bike Mayor, as envisioned, would work under the mayor to promote an agenda to encourage more and safer cycling — and carry out that agenda by coordinating among city agencies. 

“When issues don’t have people whose entire career depends on helping those issues go forward, those issues get swept under the carpet,” said Hindy Schacter, member of Families for Safe Streets. “And with bikes, we’re sweeping bodies under the ground.” 

Having someone within city government whose sole job is to improve cycling would at the very least eliminate the current lack of accountability on bike-specific issues. The mayor, for example, will no longer even comment on whether he will restore protected bike lanes on Dyckman Street, which were removed last August. The mayor also says he is committed to finishing his signature safety project on Queens Boulevard, yet the work is stalled.

The current lack of coordination among agencies regarding cycling infrastructure continues to undermine Vision Zero. Cops routinely park in bike lanes; DOT offers some neighborhoods fully protected bike lanes, but leaves others with nothing but paint and prayers; and for most other agencies that interact with the streets, bike safety is barely an afterthought (cops in bike lanes are a thing for a reason, despite NYPD Commissioner O'Neill's constant refrain that he is a cyclist). Depending on what rank the bike mayor ends up getting, he or she could force department heads to listen and take action, supporters say.

“Things have only gotten worse,” said Camille Raneem, who has been commuting and delivering food by bike for nearly a decade. The infrastructure that the city gives does not “fulfill the needs of a vastly growing cycling population.”

Despite its potential, a Bike Mayor won’t be the silver bullet, panelists stressed. Doug Gordon reminded the crowd of activists that bike advocates still play a role showing up at community boards and reminding elected officials that the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support protected bike lanes.

And no Bike Mayor could be effective with an unwilling mayor. A "Bike Mayor is a catalyst, and a course corrector," said Shabazz Stuart of Oonee, the bike parking company. But he added that no official can make much change unless the mayor wants it.

After initial publication of this story, de Blasio spokesman Seth Stein told Streetsblog:

The Mayor’s already the Bike Mayor. Under his administration, cycling has exploded in popularity. With a half-million rides per day, cycling is now growing faster than any other mode of travel. He has also installed a record number of protected bike lanes and dramatically expanded Citi Bike. We will review this legislation.

— with Gersh Kuntzman

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