We Ride the Lanes
“If we’re going to talk about transport, I would say that the great city is not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can go safely everywhere.” – Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor, Bogotá
Kids don’t vote, they don’t respond to surveys or polls, and, if they’re under the age of thirteen, they probably don’t have Facebook profiles. Based on that last fact, I had a feeling that the 302 adults who had responded to the invite for We Ride the Lanes as of Sunday morning would grow into an awesome crowd once the event actually began.
And grow it did. About 750 people participated. In fact, when the first rider made it to Bartel Pritchard Square, there were still hundreds of people waiting to get started at Grand Army Plaza one mile away. Kids doubled back over the lane, riding safely as more and more riders paraded down Prospect Park West.
There were orange t-shirts, balloons, great welcoming speeches from organizer Mitch Sonies and Council Member Brad Lander, and a highly festive atmosphere. Long after the cupcakes were gone people lingered at the end, talking with friends and meeting their neighbors. All this on an April day with a forecast that called for rain. My wife later commented that considering how much community building occurred today, other areas of the city should start groups called “Bike Lanes for Better Neighborhoods.”
We Ride the Lanes began much like the Prospect Park West bike lane and traffic calming project itself began: with a grass-roots, community-driven desire to do something to support safe streets. I don’t think anyone could have imagined that today would be as big as it was, just as no one could have imagined that a mile of green paint could possibly stir up so much nontroversy.
In an odd way, Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden may be the new hero of livable streets activists. Whereas before people might have merely accepted the PPW bike lane as a safe amenity in one of the city’s best neighborhoods, the Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes lawsuit has had the effect of igniting a movement. The movement was already there in the hard work of activists, civic organizations, and involved community members. It grew at last October’s rally and at various community board meetings over the past year, but now it’s morphed into something entirely different. When people come by the hundreds from across the city on an overcast day, you know there’s something bigger going on than just a bunch of people wanting to do something fun with their kids.
As amazing as today’s event was, the moment that most revealed to me how vital bike lanes like this one are came not during the ride but hours after it was over. At about 2:30 PM I rode north on the bike lane with some friends. We passed a young girl, a little older than the one in the picture at the top of this post, riding by herself sans training wheels. Her mom was a block or two behind her walking on the sidewalk, as relaxed as could be as the young girl shared the lane with riders of all ages passing in both directions. Who on earth would want to get rid of that?