You’re Either With Us or You’re With the Motorists
As the New York City bikelash recedes into memory, give or take a hiccup or two, the members of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes have had a tough time convincing even the most controversy-driven newspapers to mimeograph their press releases and turn them into stories. Now that scaring New Yorkers about the bike menace is the sole province of unhinged New York Post columnists and the creative-class types at the Daily News, perhaps Louise Hainline would have more success offering her consulting services to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Maybe Norman Steisel could be talked into opening up a London office, Neighbours for Better Bike Lanes.
“Bike lanes are a wonderful idea and people certainly enjoy them, but right now what people need are jobs and ways to make their lives easier,” said New York attorney Jim Walden, who represents plaintiffs in a suit against the Park Slope bike path, which was dismissed by a state judge. “For most big cities, bikes are not a practical way for people to move.”
Like most of Walden’s best quotes, one thought does not lead to another. Other than the fact that bike lanes make it possible for people to save a ton of money on car insurance, maintenance, gasoline, or public transit, and allow them to pour that money back into local businesses, bike lanes have absolutely nothing to do with the economy. And as anyone who’s ever endured big city traffic can tell you, cars are not a practical way for people to move. (At least not for other people.)
Can anything survive Walden’s logic? Millennium Park is a wonderful idea and people certainly enjoy it, but right now what people need is for it to be paved over and turned into a massive WPA program. If any Chicago readers think NBBL would have been okay with the Prospect Park West bike lane so long as it had been installed during an economic boon time, I have a mile of green paint I’d like to sell them in Brooklyn.
While reading another story called “The End of Motoring,” which is about generational shifts in England’s view of private car ownership, I was struck by a quote that seemed remarkably similar to Walden’s. It’s from Paul Waters, head of public affairs and roads policy for the UK’s Automobile Association:
“People driving less is good for the environment, but not good for the economy, and we’ve got to find a way to make the economy keep going.”
People driving less is generally not good for car and oil companies, but it can reap benefits for local communities and small-town businesses, but then again Waters, like Walden, has staked his career on standing up for the automobile. The similarity struck me so much, of course, that I was ultimately reminded of Upton Sinclair’s famous quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”