Hey, Skeptics, Here’s Why We Need a Bike Mayor (And It’s Not Just Because 28 Cyclists Have Died)

Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Carlina Rivera celebrated the introduction of their bike mayor and pedestrian mayor bills on Tuesday with an old-fashioned bike lift. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Carlina Rivera celebrated the introduction of their bike mayor and pedestrian mayor bills on Tuesday with an old-fashioned bike lift. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

A bike and pedestrian mayor is not a luxury.

Responding to critics — in the media and in the mayor’s office itself — Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Carlina Rivera said at a rally on Tuesday that the city must create a new Office of Active Transportation and an Office of Pedestrians not merely to break the car culture that has led to a city built for cars instead of people, but because prioritizing cyclists and walkers are issues of basic equity and basic public health.

“This is not a luxury,” a fiery Rodriguez told a TV reporter who had asked if city money would be better spent on combatting “more important issues, such as homelessness.”

“People who make such comments want to maintain the city of New York as a city where inequality is the definition of who we are,” the Upper Manhattan council member said. “Getting onto a bike should not be something only the wealthy and the middle class have access to. When you ride a bike, you are protecting the environment by taking cars off the street, but it’s better for your emotional state, breathing clean air and reducing your stress. Who benefits now? Mainly the middle class and the upper class. We have 40 percent of New Yorkers who live in poverty. Those New Yorkers have the right to equity, too.”

For Rivera, the issue has taken on a new urgency as 28 cyclists have been killed this year. She believes that the creation of new offices will streamline inter-agency cooperation so that “granular” streetscape improvements don’t get lost in the larger bureaucracies.

Carlina Rivera bikes every day. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Carlina Rivera bikes every day. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

“This is someone who will work to champion safe infrastructure, coordinate efforts among key stakeholders and agencies, develop policies to improve education, safety, enforcement and equity for bike users; [and have] a seat at the table when long-term planning is being done,” Rivera said. “There has not been someone who could directly talk to the mayor about this vision. Commissioner [Polly] Trottenberg has been phenomenal, but the DOT has a lot of issues to take care of. And this is urgent. The cyclists’ deaths is a public health crisis. This new person can shake up a culture that is way too reliant on cars.”

And Rivera also took a shot at the mayor, who had told Streetsblog through a spokesman that “New York City already has a mayor who has prioritized cyclists second to none.”

“We know that many New Yorkers would like to ride, but are understandably concerned by dangerous streets,” she said. “And think of the effect it would have to see a leader in our city government riding on our streets day in and day out — and sadly that’s a rare occurrence in this City Hall.”

More specifics about the bill became clear at Tuesday’s rally and introduction. Rivera’s bill would create the Office of Active Transportation, overseen by the so-called “bike mayor.” Rodriguez’s bill would create a pedestrian office. But if both bills pass, the goal would be to merge the two positions into one — much as London has done with its Biking and Walking Commissioner position.

It is unclear how much the new positions would cost. But whatever the price, it’s a small one to pay, Rivera said.

“This is really urgent as a public health issue,” she said. “Other cities around the world have done this and they are a better city for it, with greener infrastructure and just better planning.”

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