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Chuck Schumer and the Prospect Park West Bike Lane

October 3, 2011

Getting a picture of Chuck Schumer riding on the Prospect Park West bike lane is almost the Holy Grail of livable streets activism, and for a while it’s seemed like it would be an impossible quest.  The Chuck Schumer who can’t bring himself to comment on his wife’s lawsuit against the popular and successful traffic calming project makes the Chuck Schumer who professes to love cycling through New York feel like a little like this:

Alas, the pictures I snapped this weekend aren’t exactly what a lot of people have been hoping to see, but they’re close.  Maybe it was more convenient for the senator to push his bike across the street and down the block to his home.  Maybe he knows better than to be seen enjoying the safety benefits a protected bike lane affords, lest it undermine Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes’ already undermined lawsuit.  Who knows?

Senator Schumer happened to roll his bike through the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket on Saturday while I was there volunteering with Park Slope Neighbors at a bike share demonstration, snapping pictures of happy people going on test rides.  The senator stopped to admire a bright red bike share bike.  With an apple in his hand that he had just picked up from one of the market stands and his helmet on his handlebars, he told us that he had just gotten back from a great ride through Queens and asked us about the bike.  When my fellow volunteer told him a little about the program Schumer replied, “I can’t wait for it to start here.”  (Perhaps he’s used Capital Bikeshare to get around D.C. and became a fan.)

I was of two minds when I saw him walk away.  One was that this was the guy whose wife set this never-ending saga in motion, who allegedly used his political connections to ask City Council members what they were going to do about Prospect Park West and other bike lanes, and who could probably make the entire Jim Walden media circus end with a single phone call.  Why won’t he just do the right thing?

The other was that Schumer, rolling his bike back home, just seemed so average.  With just a pair of khaki shorts, a green windbreaker, and some sneakers, he was the kind of older cyclist who’s aware of New York City riding enough to chain his seat to his frame but who carries a light padlock and chain instead of a Kryptonite. He was no different from any of the real “seniors for safety” I saw with their bikes enjoying an afternoon in Brooklyn.

I imagined that if he wasn”t the senior senator from New York, he’d simply be Chuck, that old guy you’ve seen riding around the neighborhood ever since you could remember, the kind of Park Slope character who chats with strangers in front of Connecticut Muffin or La Bagel Delight.  In fact, seeing him like this one could even imagine him joining the vast majority of his community and sticking up for the Prospect Park West Bike lane at a Community Board hearing, if only his wife would let him.

  1. Crusty permalink
    October 3, 2011 7:02 am

    Especially since Chuck and I are the same age, I really wish you’d stop referring to him as ‘the old guy’. 60 really isn’t all that old, and there are certainly more interesting ways to describe him.

    I’m tired of bike activists unspoken conviction that everyone who rides is under 35. It’s not true, it’s insulting, and it makes it that much more difficult to work for the cause.

  2. October 3, 2011 9:42 am

    Crusty, perhaps I should have used the word “older” instead of “old.” In all honesty, I wasn’t looking for a more interesting way to describe him since the entire point is that if he wasn’t Senator Charles Schumer, he’d just be Chuck, the guy who’s always biking around Park Slope. Basic language was the point.

    But I must disagree with your tactic of stereotyping me and “bike activists” as insulting and ignoring people older than thirty-five.

    The cynically named Seniors for Safety has been insulting “old” people with a spoken conviction that they’d be safer with three lanes of speeding traffic to cross instead of two. Their members have pushed the “insulting” idea that after living on PPW for 20 or 30 years, it’s now too late for people of a certain age to learn to look both ways before crossing the street. Instead of talking about how the cancellation of the B69 disproportionately affected older, fixed income residents who can not drive, Lois Carswell used it as some sort of evidence that the city was misdirecting funds to bike lanes. NBBL has played the age card at every possible turn, calling in the Gray Panthers with bogus claims of ageism and veiled threats from Jim Walden about discriminatory language. The very fact that NBBL decided to spin off its “old” members into Seniors for Safety in order to hand our controversy-driven media a convenient narrative speaks for itself.

    The truth is that its “bike activists” — a group that includes drivers, pedestrians, young, old, rich and poor — who first recognized the need for the street to serve all users, and who now are fighting to make sure that it doesn’t return to an inherently ageist design.

    NBBL and the media outlets they send press releases to falsely divide this fight into bikers and everyone else, when, in actuality, it’s the “radical pro-EBL” lobby that is doing more to expand, rather than limit the definition of what someone who bikes looks like. Streetsblog, in fact, has done an outstanding job with its “Why I Ride” series:

  3. Old Guy permalink
    October 3, 2011 11:01 am

    Sadik-Khan spoke to this topic today in the Boston Globe: “You’re not going to get on a bike if you don’t feel safe. And we’re an aging society. You’ve got to make streets work better for seniors. We have kids out there. So it all works together, and streets that have protected bike lanes are safer for everybody.”

  4. Crusty permalink
    October 3, 2011 1:04 pm

    I didn’t say that NBBL & Co. were particularly protective of the elderly. My problem is with you. I did say- or at least mean- that you referred to Schumer as ‘an old guy’ several times. I’m not sure that you would see me as anything other than an old fart when I ride my bike down PPW. It gets tedious when the first and strongest impression one gives off is ‘older’.

  5. paul permalink
    October 3, 2011 4:35 pm

    maybe he wasn’t biking in the bike lane, but he was availing himself of that pedestrian refuge island!

  6. Jooltman permalink
    October 5, 2011 4:33 pm

    Crusty, maybe you should change your user name if you are sensitive about age issues?

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