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It’s Not Unusual

March 30, 2011

The Times’ Michael Grynbaum has found a convenient narrative device for framing the bike lane debate: nanny state politics.

Struggling to control the controversy over one of its signature transportation policies, the Bloomberg administration is embarking on an unusual kind of political campaign: convincing New Yorkers that bicycle lanes are good for them.

Whether it’s Bush and Iraq or Obama and health care, it’s not “unusual” for government leaders to tell the public that what their administration wants to do is in everyone’s best interest.  It may be unusual that Bloomberg is beginning a more aggressive publicity campaign on a subject so seemingly benign as bike lanes, but then again there are a lot more unusual things about this bike lane hysteria.  I wonder how unusual it is for a high-priced lawyer to take a case on pro bono when his clients live in some of the most prime real estate in the city?  How unusual is it for a community board to devote three hearings in a row to single subject?  Is it unusual for a U.S. senator to make phone calls to legislators to remove something he can see from his apartment, even if the community loves the thing he wants to remove?  Those might be stories Grynbaum could cover.

Even if Grynbaum still wants to play the nanny state angle, he should recognize that it’s not that unusual and hasn’t been for years.  From smoking to trans fats, the Bloomberg administration has long focused on solving problems that it thinks are “good for” New Yorkers.  I’m of the opinion that record low pedestrian injuries and fatalities are a good thing, too.

Mr. Bloomberg, who arrived and left in his black hybrid S.U.V., was told at the event that public bicycles in London are known as Boris Bikes, after the city’s mayor, Boris Johnson. Asked about the prospect of Mike Bikes, Mr. Bloomberg chuckled and shook his head. “Doesn’t really work,” he said.

This is pretty classic swipe, akin to global warming deniers writing off everything Al Gore ever said because he flies all over the country in carbon-emitting planes in order to give his slide show.  Is it really all that surprising that the mayor goes around town in an S.U.V. instead of riding a bike, even to a bike-related fundraiser?  Grynbaum is pretty sly, though, since he drops in the detail that it was a hybrid – he can make the “Do as I say, not as I do” slam against Bloomberg without getting to New York Post levels of dirty.  Although I do appreciate the Mike Bikes reference.

I don’t need my political leaders living by every word they say.  It’s one thing for a former attorney general and sitting governor to be caught soliciting high-priced call girls or for a Bible-thumping anti-gay politician to be discovered with a rent boy at a hotel.  That’s hypocrisy of the highest order.  (Not paying your own parking tickets when you’ve railed against others who don’t pay theirs is hypocrisy of a lesser order.)  But it’s another thing to be shuttled around town in an S.U.V., especially when you’re the billionaire mayor of one of the world’s top terrorist targets.  That’s not hypocritical or unusual at all.

Now that this Grynbaum story is out there, I expect the Post to follow suit with a slam of Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan for attending a fancy bike-share fundraiser in a tony Upper East Side townhouse.  Perhaps the real story behind all of this bike lane story is not hypocrisy or nanny state politics, but the utter predictability of how it’s being covered in the press.

  1. summer permalink
    March 30, 2011 11:08 am

    I guess Bloomberg was just being cautious in dismissing “Mike Bikes”; it’s a great name!

  2. krstrois permalink
    March 30, 2011 1:55 pm

    I googled Grynbaum and saw a video interview he did on CBS and let’s just say that it’s too bad the Times doesn’t have a more experienced and less nebbishy reporter to work on transit issues.

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