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Op-Ed: Don’t Forget Us, Bike Mayor!

New cyclist too slow? You’re ready to enlist in the War on Cars. Photo: Laura Shepard

The City Council is moving to create a position of “bike mayor,” and activists are voicing a laundry list of demands that would improve urban cycling for everyone — safe routes, parking, bike shops, bike-share expansion, seamless links to transit, and the promotion of bicycles for differently abled users.

But as a transit activist in Eastern Queens, I want the bike mayor to focus most acutely on bringing improvements citywide. Outer-borough residents have grown used to being deprived of quality, affordable transit. My hope is that a bike mayor will not let the same happen with cycling.

Samuel Santaella

The bike mayor must leave no neighborhood behind when it comes to quality cycling infrastructure. Why? Because there are New Yorkers who are already cycling — whether to save time, money, and/or it's just their best option — who often are overlooked when safety infrastructure is actually built. Plus, there are people who would like to cycle but are afraid of getting hit by traffic or having their bicycle stolen. And, of course, there are people who used to ride but stopped for the same reasons.

Also, cycling would make a car-light or car-free lifestyle easier for the more than half (55 percent) of New York households that don't own a car. Even in Eastern Queens! 

The disparity in cycling infrastructure is clear as day, in ways both large (the city bike map says it all) and small (for example, Queens Boulevard's bike lanes to Kew Gardens have been delayed for a year and a half, and the city refuses to commit to bringing them to Jamaica or beyond.)

The lack of bike infrastructure is most glaring in far-flung neighborhoods — but not only in poor ones. Eastern Queens, Staten Island, and Soundview and Riverdale in the Bronx have household median incomes above the city average, yet lack the density and availability of useful, safe bike routes and parking as equally well-to-do parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

People of all incomes use bikes, including white-collar folks on Citi Bikes, immigrants on $75 BMXs, and underpaid food-delivery people on e-bikes. The bike mayor must see beyond income, to be conscious that cyclists come from all classes and are everywhere, and that we deserve the same quality network as the middle of Manhattan.

Why would any outer-borough New Yorker cycle? To get to local destinations such as bodegas, strip malls, supermarkets, parks, libraries, movie theaters, and schools. It’s often too far to walk to such places, and biking is usually the fastest, most direct, and cheapest option. The $5.50 spent for a two-way walk-and-bus trip starts to seem like too much when the bike can get you there quicker and mostly for free. Bike racks and corrals should be consistent across shopping areas to attract customers and discourage people from locking to signposts and fences or bringing their bikes into shops.

Outer-borough resident also could cycle to work — at least some of the way. Two-thirds of central business district commuters in my district use the subway; replacing a bus trip to the subway or LIRR with a bike could save them time and a transfer, and allow riders to run errands more easily on the way home. Even among non-CBD commuters,  a third take transit, walk, or bike.

That’s why easy transit connectivity and secure bicycle parking are so important. People should be able to safely bike to their subway, LIRR, or Select Bus Service stop and securely park their bike without having to worry about it for eight hours or so.

Or they can cycle longer distances  — which can still be cheap, healthy, and happy. The Green Wave is a great start to making all of the above possible, with proposed protected routes truly covering and even leading out of the city and hinting of neighborhood networks.

In short, I want my bike mayor to see cycling as a serious transportation option in and of itself and as a compliment to public transit in every corner of the city. May his/her actions prove that (s)he regards cycling the same way as transit: as a great equalizer.

TransitNinja” blogger Samuel Santaella lives in southeast Queens and volunteers for Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives. Follow him on Twitter at @transitninja205.

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