It’s been a day of ups and downs for supporters of livable streets. After a three-year court battle, San Francisco’s MTA has painted its first bike lane since 2006. This is great news for a city that prides itself on being perfectly dense for a cycling culture to thrive.
However, across the country, New York has taken two big steps backward.
In Brooklyn Heights, a blogger has brought light to an entire church congregation seemingly skirting the law and blocking an entire bike lane with cars. Apparently, the local police precinct and the church have an “understanding” that simply placing a sign on the car dashboard indicating that its owners are praying will prevent them from being ticketed. Not only is this blatant disregard for the separation of church and state, it places cyclists – especially families with small children who use this lane on weekends – in great danger on a narrow street. Meanwhile, the NYPD twiddles its thumbs and protects car owners.
And in a blatant attempt at political pandering by the Bloomberg administration, 14 blocks of a bike lane through a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn were removed. Last year, throughout a fight over a lane further north in this neighborhood, the Hasidic community expressed outrage over “scantily-clad cyclists” riding through the streets and offending their sect. Without any community notification and without any other bicycle facilities to supplant this lane, the paint was sandblasted and the long fight for bike lanes in South Williamsburg was undone with one action from the NYCDOT. There is little reason to believe that this was done for any reason other than to fulfill a promise made behind closed doors to the Hasidic community – which voted in large numbers for Bloomberg.
However, there is a silver lining to this: without a doubt, livable streets activists have made clear that they are an important and influential voting bloc.
Bloomberg ran a campaign that acknowledged Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s commitment to expanding the bicycle network in New York. Bloomberg, in touting PlaNYC and better public transportation, established himself as the candidate for livable streets. Bill Thompson, the Democrat, pledged to fire Sadik-Khan, “review” bike lanes in the city, and slow down a proposed Bus Rapid Transit line in Brooklyn to accommodate more parking. While Bloomberg was ramping up his campaign, huge swaths of Broadway were closed to cars in favor of pedestrians. And during the campaign, Sadik-Khan made clear that she would not back down from a physically-separated bike lane on Grand Street in Manhattan that Thompson opposed, and she established the first two-way cycle track in Brooklyn along Kent Avenue.
The deal to remove the Bedford Avenue bike lane was done behind closed doors and after the election because Bloomberg knew he would lose crucial votes from the livable streets community in what was already a tight election.
It’s still an awful feeling to be stabbed in the back by the candidate that many supporters of livable streets chose to support, but it’s good to know that livable streets activists are starting to gain traction and wield some political power.