What is it with TV reporters who fail to remember that TV is a visual medium? To CBS 2′s Marica Kramer and Lou Young, we can now add Greg Mocker of WPIX, who, over the image above, indignantly exclaimed, “The bike markings appear to leave no room for cars!”
The overall theme of this piece, which aired over the weekend, is that “with weeks left to go” the Bloomberg administration is desperately cramming as many bike lanes and plazas into the streetscape as possible, most notably by expanding the Times Square pedestrian plaza. Now if you happen to get up to go to the bathroom in the first thirty seconds of Mocker’s report that’s about all you’ll take away, but this suggestion is immediately refuted by Mocker himself, who clarifies that the city is not asking to enhance or enlarge the Times Square pedestrian plaza, but rather seeks to “expand the area that can host concessions.” But this is after setting up the classic community-board-David-versus-DOT-Goliath meme, so, well, you know.
About halfway through the piece, Mocker brings up the bike stencil, shown in the image above. Never mind that the stencil is part of a bike box, yet to be fully striped, that allows cyclists transitioning from the left-side bike lane to wait safely in front of cars before making a right turn on Sixth Avenue. Mocker sets this up as some sort of mystery design, giving a cursory explanation for how it will really work — a graphic would help! — before waving his microphone and saying, “Well I don’t understand because the bike is there, the bike is there… so where do the cars go? They don’t line up.” To which a woman, who I will assume is not a traffic engineer, says, “The bike is in the middle of the road.” No it’s not! That guy who you’re talking to just explained it to the audience two seconds ago!
Toward the end of his field piece, Mocker sarcastically says, “They can’t be rushing to get this all in before the new mayor or something? It’s interesting.” It’s a telling comment. While it’s hard to take anything on the PIX11 News too seriously — its frenetic camera style makes CBS 2 look like “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” — Mocker’s report illustrates something I’ve noticed in the last few weeks. For as long as I’ve been following it, the bikelash tends to flare up as soon as the clocks fall back and the temperatures drop, but this year the TV networks and newspapers have filed what seems like a larger number of anti-bike pieces than I’ve seen in quite some time. ”Not since PPW,” as the saying does not go.
So what’s happening? Reporters can’t be rushing to get all these bikelash pieces filed before the new mayor or something. It’s interesting. Is the tabloid media trying its darndest to set the stage for a full-blown reversal of the Bloomberg bike lane and pedestrian plaza program as soon as Bill de Blasio takes the oath of office? If they are there’s one huge problem with this strategy. And that’s because bike lanes and pedestrian plazas have escaped the orbit of any one political personality’s gravitational pull to become more community-driven than ever. Perhaps Janette Sadik-Khan’s real genius was not in telling New Yorkers “You need this,” but in unlocking something in New Yorkers that allowed them to say, “We want this.”
Of course, idiotic editorials and news stories against livable streets and traffic calming projects aren’t about to end anytime soon; too many page views are at stake. And I’m sure we’ll have more than our share of fights over parking spaces on the road to make our streets safer. But starting January 1st, opposing bike lanes and pedestrian plazas won’t be a convenient proxy for being against a billionaire mayor anymore. For some, it will exposed for what it really is: being against a better New York City.
Via New York Magazine:
*The sentence “Few motorists would dare blow through a red light, even if it appeared safe to do so” has been removed from the second paragraph. A 2000 report indicates that drivers in New York City run 1.23 million red lights each day, which is more than a few.
I’m moderating a panel hosted by Women in Housing and Finance, “A Closer Look at the Planning, Implementation, and Financing of Citi Bike.” It takes place on Wednesday, November 13th from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at Nixon Peabody, 437 Madison Avenue in Manhattan.
As the title suggests, we’ll be talking about how bike sharing in New York City went from an idea to a functioning system, the finer points of financing, and what the future has in store for this hugely successful program.
In May 2013, the much-anticipated New York City bike share program, known as Citi Bike, was launched with 6,000 bicycles and 330 docking stations Midtown, Lower Manhattan and West Brooklyn. Citi Bike was born as a public-private partnership, operated by NYC Bike Share LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share, Inc., which is a Portland-based company focused solely on operating large-scale bike share systems, including bike share locations in Washington DC, Boston, Melbourne and Toronto.
In the six months since its launch, Citi Bike has already become the largest bike share program in the county with more than 80,000 annual members, over 3.5 million cumulative trips and 7 million miles traveled to date. In its first year of operation, the program is expected to generate approximately $36 million in economic activity and create 170 new jobs.
- Justin Ginsburgh, General Manager, New York City Bike Share
- Kate Fillin-Yeh, Department of Transportation
- Caroline Samponaro, Senior Director of Campaigns & Organizing, Transportation Alternatives
- Margaret Anadu, Vice President, Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group
The cost is $25 ($15 for students) and RSVP is required at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope you can make it.
You know what kind of sucks about riding a bike? Other than all that pedaling? Bike helmets. Sure, they keep that overrated “brain” from getting splattered, but they take a lot of the open-air-joy out of things, and they’re not comfortable. A pair of Swedish women have developed a remarkable solution: the invisible bike helmet.
I was skeptical of this “helmet” and its chances for success for a variety of reasons when I first heard about it last year, and the fact that it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the market for protective head gear very much since then confirms my initial skepticism. Here’s why:
1. It still looks uncomfortable. It’s true that bike helmets, even well-ventilated ones, can be hot to wear and that people often forego the helmet for that wind-through-the-hair feeling. So imagine going helmet-less but instead wearing the equivalent of a heavy winter scarf every time you ride. Now imagine it in New York. In July.
2. It doesn’t allow for spontaneity. If one feels the need to always wear a helmet while riding, then one needs to always carry a helmet in case one wants to ride. (This is why bike share systems in cities with mandatory helmet laws tend to see low ridership.) The invisible bike helmet may pack in to a bag more easily than a plastic helmet, but it still must be carried, rendering it useless the moment it is accidentally left at home or at the office.
3. It’s expensive. It costs about $600. As Todd Edelman wrote, “If you really think a helmet can help, then buy five 60 dollar helmets for friends and give 300 dollars to your local bicycle coalition or another org. fighting desperately to keep streets safe and collisions from happening in the first place.”
4. It’s single-use. Much like the car airbag from which it was clearly derived, the invisible helmet must be reset after it deploys, adding a significant cost to an already significant cost. Regular helmets must be replaced after any type of collision, but at a much lower expense to the consumer. (See #3, above.)
5. It’s battery-powered. According to Fast Company, “The whole setup runs off an on-board battery, and charging is taken care of via a micro USB port.” Sounds cool. But what if the charge runs out? And what if you don’t realize it?
6. It distracts from the real danger. The fact that so many of my non-cycling friends sent me this link speaks to the opportunity cost of focusing on this arguably cool invention. It sends a message that cycling is inherently dangerous and that only technology and consumerism can save cyclists from distracted or reckless drivers.
Design, of course, is inarguably important in the ongoing quest to improve cyclist safety, but design should be focused on roads, not fancy gadgets. As the Dutch and the Danes learned a long time ago, the goal is to build a city where no one feels that a helmet is necessary.
Fourth Avenue is one of Brooklyn’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians, and despite a slew of recent safety improvements it still largely functions as a highway, funneling drivers back and forth between Bay Ridge and downtown Brooklyn. It is, to say the least, not a particularly inviting place for walking, biking, or just plain being.
It also happens to be where my family lives. So perhaps that’s one reason why Marathon Sunday is one of my favorite days in New York City all year. On the first Sunday of November, this busy and unpleasant thoroughfare becomes the focal point of the community, if not the world. Crowds line each side of the boulevard, bands perform music on every other street corner, vendors roam the sidewalks hawking cotton candy, and cheers echo off of the growing number of glass condos towering over the avenue.
But hours before the race begins, Fourth Avenue, for those who are awake to experience it, becomes one of Brooklyn’s quietest streets. Motorists are instructed to move their cars by 10 PM the night before, and any vehicles not relocated by then are towed by the NYPD under the cover of darkness. Street sweepers come through in the middle of the night to rid the road surface of any detritus that could twist a runner’s ankle. All car traffic, including cross traffic, is banned well in advance of the race’s start. When the sun rises, you can almost hear the sound of the traffic lights continuing to change at every intersection from inside your apartment.
This past Sunday the end of Daylight Saving Time meant that my daughter was up at 5:30 AM. But it also meant that I had the opportunity to let my daughter do something I’d never otherwise let her do in a million years: bike on Fourth Avenue.
My daughter, who was just two days away from turning four when I shot these pictures, recently switched from a balance bike to her first pedal bike and loves any chance she can get to ride. For the past month that’s meant a lot of trips to a local playground a few blocks away, an easy walk for a grownup but a somewhat challenging bike ride for a little kid who has to contend with Park Slope’s rather uneven sidewalks. So I don’t think she’s ever experienced pavement as smooth as this since she’s been on anything with wheels, including her stroller.
Like many city parents, I’ve come to realize that it’s rare for me to be more than twenty to thirty feet away from my child. From our 900-square-foot apartment to crowded sidewalks on the walk to school, there just aren’t that many opportunities for her to roam free. Sure, there’s Prospect Park, but trips to the top of the Slope tend to require a tad more advance planning than just waking up and stepping outside our front door.
So when my daughter started pedaling, I just let her go…
It was an interesting feeling, even if it lasted for just a moment, and made me think about how much freedom and independence is taken away from children everywhere, not only in cities, due to the constant threat of fast-moving automobile traffic. Imagine how much more fun our kids might have on the way to school or while running an errand with mom or dad if we prioritized the safe movement of children over motor-vehicle travel Level of Service and the free storage of private cars?
As I mentioned above, even the side streets along Fourth Ave are more or less closed down, since no traffic is allowed to cross the marathon route. This makes Marathon Sunday different from even Summer Streets, where people on bikes and on foot have to stop at major cross streets to allow for buses and drivers to get across Manhattan.
Taking advantage of this kind of tamed street, my daughter, with me running behind her, rode up Baltic Street toward Fifth Avenue. This is a trip we make every day, but we’d normally be on the sidewalk to the right in the picture below. She so far has mostly ridden loops in the playground, I can only imagine how a full block of open road ahead of her must have looked.
Fifth Avenue, of course, was still open to moving traffic, but since Baltic runs toward it from Fourth, I didn’t have to worry about a driver turning onto this side street like a car exiting a highway, as is often the case.
We took a quick break at Gorilla Coffee, grabbing a latte for me and a chocolate croissant for her, and then headed back home via Baltic. My daughter, as the child of a dedicated livable streets advocate who frequently transports her on the back of his bike, knows a thing or two about the rules, but she didn’t bat an eye about going the “wrong” way on this one-way street.
For the entire length of Baltic, the only thing I had to look out for was a motorist pulling out of a parking spot, which is rare even in the middle of the day in “No Park Slope.” It was a far cry from the constant vigilance parents must feel when they bike with their children — or even walk with them in a crosswalk — and was about as relaxing as riding on a quiet street in Amsterdam.
When we got back to Fourth Avenue my daughter took a few more spins up and down the street, not quite wanting to go back inside to warm up for a bit before the race began.
Doing this with my daughter felt like we were sharing some sort of secret about Brooklyn. And her constant exclamations — “Whee! Look how fast I’m going!” — were a delight to hear. So watching my daughter enjoy herself like this, all I could do was wonder in amazement. Why does it take a marathon for us to make a street for people? Why aren’t we doing this in every neighborhood every weekend? It wouldn’t have to be the entire length of Fourth Avenue from the bridge to the Barclays Center, but if we closed short stretches of streets on a regular basis for more than just summer fairs and left them wide open and clear of cars, how many parents would let their kids just roam? And how many kids would get to experience the same independence, empowerment, and just plain fun that my daughter did for a brief moment this past Sunday morning?
So happy birthday to my daughter, who turns four today. She is, without a doubt, my inspiration for all that I do and my favorite livable streets advocate.
I just received word from Tish James’ office that there will be a vigil tomorrow in memory of Lucian Merryweather:
The Office of Council Member Letitia James is organizing a vigil tomorrow to offer support to the Merryweather family and those affected by Saturday’s tragic vehicular incident that claimed the life of a local 9-year-old Lucian. We invite local faith leaders, safe-street advocates, and community members to join us—
WHEN: Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 7:00 PM
WHERE: Corner of Clermont Avenue and De Kalb Avenue
Here’s the press release from James’ office:
**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**
November 2, 2013
Contact: Aja Worthy-Davis (212) 788-7081
9-Year-Old Boy Killed In Fort Greene Vehicular Incident
(Brooklyn, NY)– Around 12:45PM on Saturday, November 2, 2013, a man driving a red SUV Ford Expedition west along Fort Greene’s DeKalb Avenue, moved to turn left onto Clermont Avenue and collided with another vehicle.
According to reports, the driver of the SUV then lost control of his brakes, mounted the sidewalk, and crashed into a nearby building.
The tragic accident caused pedestrian injuries, and killed a 9-year-old boy. Witnesses state that the 9-year-old boy, his sibling (a 5-year-old boy), their 47-year-old mother, and another 28-year-old woman were among those injured. The 9-year-old boy was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident, while the other victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
“My heart goes out to the victims and loved ones affected by the tragic vehicular incident that took place in Fort Greene today,” said Council Member Letitia James. “I will be working with the Department of Transportation to review the details of the incident, and specifically determine what measures can be taken to increase driver and pedestrian safety along De Kalb Avenue.”
Why are bike corrals so great? Because in a dense urban environment, the are very space-efficient; where 1 or 2 cars could park, dozens of bikes might fit. The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) said that their bike corral program “has helped Portland businesses increase on-street customer parking ten-fold.”
It’s simple math. No one is arguing for eliminating automobile parking, but the smallest of shifts can bring about a very big change not only in safety and convenience, but in the fortunes of local businesses.
The city of Portland is a tad more enlightened on these issues than we are here in New York. If you’ll recall, the DOT’s safety plan for Fourth Avenue was initially rejected by Community Board Six for, among other reasons, the potential inclusion of bike corrals. It’s a pro-car-parking bias the board has demonstrated in the past:
Kummer also says the board opposed the plan because it includes potential locations for bike corrals. Even though the plan does not call for the installation of any corrals, each of which would go before the community board for future consideration, Kummer used it as a reason for the board to reject the safety plan entirely. The board “has a strong preference for proposals that are parking-neutral wherever possible,” he said. Last month, the board rejected a bike corral on Columbia Street because it would have removed one car parking space.
In a future post, I’ll explore how a “parking-neutral” approach to bike corrals is problematic, not only in the obvious phrasing issues it brings up, but in actual practice.