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Room For Debate

December 22, 2010

Run or bike–don’t walk–to the New York Times to check out their Room for Debate series on bike lanes.

If we complain when the New York Times runs not one, but two anti-bike editorials within one week, we ought to applaud when it runs something like this.  (Although it’s just online, which may not reach the grey-haired reader who shakes his fists at a biker ten feet away from him, all the while ignoring the taxi about to run him over. Baby steps, New York Times, baby steps.)

My favorite of the five different takes on bike lanes comes from Felix Salmon, the Reuters blogger, who pleads for patience: “Did these people really think that New York would become Copenhagen overnight?” I would argue that Copenhagen didn’t become Copenhagen overnight.

Salmon also suggests that one the big benefits of building out a city’s bike infrastructure is that it breeds good behavior.  I’ve often felt that it’s not just a matter of “If you build it, they will come,” but also “If you build it, they will play by the rules.”  Salmon:

Take a New Yorker, put her on a bike in Berlin, and she’ll behave perfectly well, stopping at lights along with everybody else, and riding in the right direction on the street. It’s not the people who are the real problem, it’s just how those people behave when they’re on the streets of New York.

Caroline Samponaro of Transporation Alternatives adds some empirical evidence to this point in her piece.

Bike lanes insert order on streets that were once governed by chaos. Before bike lanes came to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West, 75 percent of cars were speeding. With the lanes installed, fewer than one in four cars break the speed limit. On Manhattan’s Ninth Avenue, sidewalk cycling fell 84 percent after the bike lanes went in. According to the Department of Transportation, streets with the lanes see 40 percent fewer fatal or injurious crashes than streets without them.

Even Sam Staley’s essay, which argues that frigid temperatures will make biking only “a small part, even tiny part in most cases, of America’s solution to congestion and mobility,” seems reasonable, although I suggest he visit Copenhagen and Amsterdam, or take Salmon’s advice to be patient.  If one day cycling infrastructure is woven into the fabric of New York City streets, falling mercury will hardly be a deterrent to getting around by bike.

Finally, I did agree with Robert Sullivan’s sarcastic take on bike lane criticism.  Responding to the idea that bike lanes aren’t used very much during the winter, he writes, “Oh, yes, by all means, take them based on this period of low usage, and then, using the same logic, let’s take out the BQE, because there are hardly any cars on it at 3 in the morning.”

On that point, I leave you with this picture of Prospect Park West, taken midday yesterday.  Can we get rid of the car lanes?

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