Bike Wars: Angry Fascist Motorists Strike Back

Discord is brewing in the streets of New York. Or so the New York Times would have you believe, with its piece today on the latest urban conflict that plagues the people of our fair city: bike lanes.

Last week, cyclists on Staten Island were mourning the loss of a local bike lane, which they say the city removed to appease a growing anti-bike sentiment from motorists and pedestrians. That strife, it seems, has spread, and factions on all sides of the bike debate are readying. For war.

While the Times says the city has made strides in supporting bike riders (it claims the city's laid more than 250 miles of bicycle lanes and passed "several laws aimed at promoting cycling" in the last four years), New York's backing of bicycling has come at a price. Specifically, the ire of angry drivers who think bike lanes impede traffic and slow them down and even residents who simply think bike lanes are "ugly."

One particularly contentious bike lane, located along Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, even spurred the Department of Transportation to distribute an online survey to study local residents' attitudes about the bike lane.

But according to the D.O.T.'s own reports, new bike lanes increase pedestrian safety and reduce accidents. The installation of bike lanes requires narrowing parts of the road designated for cars, forcing motorists to drive more slowly, pay more attention, and culminating in "a traffic calming effect."

Cycling advocates still seem more mobilized (and organized) than their detractors, but a few groups are coming out of the woodwork to organize more rallies and protests decrying local bike lanes. They've been so vocal, in fact, that the City Council's transportation committee has planned a hearing next week "to address balancing the needs of cyclists with those of other road users." Those "other road users'" needs? Apparently carte blanche to drive fast, run people over, and aesthetic control over their roadway safety devices. Via the NYT:

The emergence of a network of bike lanes across the city was not something Norman Steisel gave much thought to. It was only after getting stuck in traffic near his Brooklyn home over the summer that Mr. Steisel, a former sanitation commissioner and deputy mayor, took notice, and began to get upset.

Mr. Steisel is paying attention now. "Incensed" at trading a car lane for an "unnecessary" bike route along Prospect Park West, he and a group of his well-connected neighbors are fighting to eliminate the 1.8-mile, two-way strip of green paint.

"Things have come to a critical pass," said Lois Carswell, one of the organizers of an Oct. 21 protest by several dozen opponents of the lane.

"Extraordinarily ugly" is how Robert Linn, a 31-year resident of Prospect Park West, described the green and yellow paint and plastic barriers.

"It looks like the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel," Mr. Linn said.

Meanwhile, the city itself is weighing in by trying to "educate" the city's road users. It's launching a new, "Don't Be a Jerk" campaign aimed at "preaching bike etiquette," the Wall Street Journal reports.

The city hopes the campaign will improve relations and safety between drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, but don't expect a step up in law enforcement. While the WSJ notes the NYPD recently received $150,000 in federal funds to better police traffic, the police department says city budget cuts mean that money won't "make a significant difference."

But Transportation Alternatives -- a cycling advocacy group -- gave the NYT a slightly more optimistic (or maybe sinister?) take on the cycling conflict:

"It's very visible now, and they may see it as an affront to the car," said Kim Martineau, a spokeswoman for Transportation Alternatives. "It's potentially a new world order for the streets."

[shernandez@villagevoice.com]


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