Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pedestrians, Cars, and Bikes, Oh My!

The Bloomberg initiative of shoehorning bike lanes into city avenues is becoming a difficult reality and battle lines over our shrinking share of prized NYC pavement are being drawn. So far, they are an incomplete solution for bicyclists, deprive drivers of parking spaces, hurt small businesses and bog down our already congested automobile traffic. Oh, but that is one of the points. One of the least funny quotes I have heard out of the Dept. of Transportation recently is in the context of the new bike lanes controversy, the benefits, and the backlash. The benefits would seem to be a kinder, gentler city life with couples casually strolling alongside bicyclists breezily flowing by and the occasional B-R-R-R-I-N-G! B-R-R-R-I-N-G! to warn of their passing.
I am sure Bermuda is very charming at this time of year, but we are talking about New York where competition for parking is fierce, unemployment is high, money is tight, small business needs their delivery trucks close and their customers’ parking spaces closer, bicyclists still have a host of dangers to contend with, harried pedestrians now have an extra obstacle to overlook, and traffic is worse than ever by design. That’s right the DOT has openly admitted that they are trying to forcefully constrict traffic patterns with these new bike lanes in a little exercise they have adorably labeled “traffic calming” (New York Times Article). No matter what you may think about the forced importance of bicycles as a principle form of transportation, deliberately causing traffic snarls in the name of “traffic calming” sounds more like a comedy sketch than public policy which begs us all to ask the obvious question, REALLY, Mr. Mayor?
REALLY? Does anyone in this administration actually drive their own car in this city or even drive their own car? Do they live in the neighborhoods where their theoretical “traffic calming” is being so rudely felt. Have they heard the yells, the car doors slamming? Have they noticed the very bikes they are promoting weaving around the blocked traffic like a pinball bounced by each startled pedestrian or car bumper scraped? REALLY? Have they ever tried to parallel park a car in a “Floating Parking Lane” that pushes them out into the high speed rapids of a major tributary of city traffic. Even my 9th grade daughter knows that the entire Greek Tragedy of Oedipus got started as a road rage because Oedipus’ carriage could not get past his father’s (unknown to him) carriage. He killed his father on the spot and married his mother and the rest is high school English. Of course, education isn’t a high priority for the DOT or for our always business Mayor, it seems.
REALLY, Ms Sadik-Khan? Have you or policymakers of your Dept. of Transportation ever been near a tunnel or bridge (or a dozen other “calmed” traffic byways) at rush hour. The horn blowing on a traffic calmed rush hour evening is like a daily New Years Eve celebration gone bad. Stuck in a perpetual crawl, you would like to think that the drivers would accept their fate (it was their choice after all) and lay off their multi-decibel alarms, but, in case members of this administration haven’t noticed, drivers in this city don’t accept “No” as an answer. Hey, Americans don’t like it much anywhere. So they let their determined ways temporarily destroy the peace of entire neighborhoods. They vote with louder and competing distress signals, rowdy protests internationally manufactured by Toyota, Audi and Ford. Whether it’s the self proclaimed “emergency,” the bus lane cheat, or the claustrophobic panic, or just the need to vent, traffic constriction does not make for quiet, “calm” drivers. "Traffic Calming"… REALLY?
Such tea room patter amongst people who have a huge impact on our daily lives would be funny if it wasn’t so callous and makes me wonder what else they don’t know about their constituents and fellow citizens. The backlash is being felt. Some communities have organized and bike lanes have been removed in Staten Island and Williamsburg and others are being reviewed. This Thursday the City Council will hold a hearing on bicycling to somehow balance the shrinking space for bicyclists and other road users. If you want your opinion heard on any of these matters, the Find Your Council Member Page is a good place to express it.
[To be continued]

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