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Silly, Controversial, Progressive, Then Obvious

March 28, 2012

Photo: Bicycling Magazine

Matt Seaton, who once wrote in The Guardian that the Prospect Park West bike lane “could affect the future of cycling worldwide,” has an excellent feature in Bicycling Magazine on last year’s “bikelash” and the growing pains associated with increased cycling and bike-specific infrastructure in New York City.  This passage is one of my favorite parts:

Tom Vanderbilt, author of the New York Times bestseller Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us), said, “A Harvard researcher talks about the ‘four stages’ of social norm change: silly, controversial, progressive, then obvious. In the first stage, we had a sort of reflexive denial: New York isn’t Europe, that won’t work here, etc. I think we’re somewhere between the second and third stage when it comes to cycling in New York; opponents are finding they can’t make viable arguments against cycling as a transportation mode on safety or traffic-flow reasons, so now it’s more about the left-wing, Copenhagenizing cabal.”

In the fourth stage, Vanderbilt explained as I joined him on a weekend ride out of the city to the pretty town of Nyack, on the Hudson River, changes such as bike lanes are widely considered not just positive elements but so desireable as to be obvious needs.

While Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and the last holdouts of the bikelash believe that all of this bike lane nonsense will be behind us once the Bloomberg administration is over, they’re terribly mistaken.  No one riding out there today is thinking to himself, “You know, this biking thing is great for now, but once Janette Sadik-Khan is gone I’ll probably put the bike away and go back to taking the subway.” The toothpaste is out of the tube when it comes to biking in New York (and everywhere) and no amount of lawsuits will put it back in.  The biggest bike lane opponents in the world might very well win small battles here and there in the coming years but they’ve lost the larger war, if there ever was a war to begin with.  As Janette Sadik-Khan says in Seaton’s piece, “People are starting to vote with their pedals.”

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