The bike lanes are in the news again. This week two groups of residents filed suit against the Bloomberg administration over the Park Slope bike lane. Today the Times contrasts this legal action with Park Slope’s supposedly liberal leaning reputation and offers some professional psychology as to why the beloved Park Slope liberals are playing against character. After all, bike lanes are green, aren’t they? But not everybody rides a bike, not all of us has the strength and reflexes needed to ride a bike in NYC, and how many of us can ride a bike to work, or take one to pick up a case of dog food?
We keep hearing about the glorious bike lanes of Europe and how we could be that civilized, but, as many have said before me, and I have said here the automobile is a part of our national identity and we’re not giving that up for the sake of just any “Green.” Cars were a keystone in our country’s history and are still essential to our economy today. From the manufacture of cars and a hundred other related industries (It is estimated that 1 out 10 jobs are automobile related.) to the connections cars and roads made to the most obscure corners of this country, nothing since the pony express had so united and defined America. The mass production of cars launched an economic boon that lasted for a century. Roads were as important and powerful as rivers and they could go anywhere. Automobiles connected and enriched this country. Car became image. Just like cell phones are now.
Nothing the Times has reported is likely to be wrong, including last weeks’ article on DOT Commissioner Jada Khan’s “I know what’s good for you” approach to dealing with a city council and residents who are used to having a say in how it’s city will operate. The story just may go further than that. It’s not that we won’t change. It’s that we want more than a handful of elected (and not so elected) officials making decisions about our character. Where was the community discussion and debate about bicycle lanes? Why not open up the debate to the public and let’s hear what other green ideas are put on the table. For instance, someone might propose that instead of bike lanes, we install bus lanes (and not just on a few avenues with camera ticketing revenue possibilities). As someone who has raised a child in this city on a budget, I can say that nothing is more New York than a bunch of grown people talking baby talk to an infant on a bus, something I’ve never seen in a sunless, noisy, occasionally hostile subway tunnel. Bike lanes are slowing buses down and some city plazas are eliminating routes altogether.
Whether you like this idea or prefer your own, the simple psychology here might be that the backlash created by force feeding these changes into our neighborhoods over and above their impact on businesses or residents or transportation could sour the whole concept of a more green city before it get’s started.