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The New Second City?

February 6, 2013

Here’s Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talking about his reasons for supporting a robust bicycle lane network, including a new protected lane right through the middle of the Loop:

“Two facts in the last year,” he said. “Coincidence? I think not. One, the city of Chicago moved from tenth to fifth of most bike-friendly cities in the country in one year… In the same year the city of Chicago moved from fifteenth to tenth worldwide in startup economy… You cannot be for a startup, high-tech economy and not be pro-bike.”

“Now I think it’s self-evident that I am a competitive, let alone an impatient person,” Emanuel quipped. “So when my staff gave me this headline from Portland, it did bring a smile. The editorial from a magazine in Portland read, ‘Talk in Portland, Action in Chicago,’ as it reflected on Dearborn Street. The Seattle Bike Blog wrote, ‘Seattle can’t wait longer. We’re suddenly in a place where we’re envious of Chicago bike lanes.’ So I want them to be envious because I expect not only to take all of their bikers but I also want all the jobs that come with this.”

And here’s Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa explaining why he supports bike lanes, bike share, and events such as CicLAvia.  It wasn’t just about the broken elbow he suffered in a bike accident.

“There was actually a lot more to it,” says Villaraigosa. “There was Copenhagen and Mexico City. And there were a lot of players involved.”

The mayor was in Denmark in 2009 to speak at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.

“Everywhere I look in Copenhagen, everybody’s on bikes,” he said. “They were even riding in the rain in 10 degrees! That assessment of the L.A. County Bike Coalition was right: We didn’t have biking on our list. That changed after Copenhagen.”

Even the potential future leaders of L.A. aren’t afraid to mention their support for a more bike-friendly City of Angels.

It’s not just the leaders of the nation’s largest cities that are getting on board with bike lanes.  Here’s Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. of Memphis:

“I am living proof that there is life after putting down bike lanes in a hostile environment,” he said.

Still, the mayor added, the effort has been worth it because it sends the message that Memphis is a city open to change.

“It’s one of the greatest things we’ve done,” Wharton said.

Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee also wants in on the biking action.  His city recently received a grant to help with the planning and installation of a bike share system.

“For the city of Milwaukee to continue to grow and be a destination for families, events and employers, we need programs like BikeShare that allow more people to enjoy our amazing city on bikes.”

These mayors get it.  Bike lanes, bike share programs, and safe streets are what the cities of the 21st Century need if they’re to remain competitive and attract well paying jobs, families, tourists, and business travelers as well as the tax revenues that come with them.

Compare these forward-thinking mayors with Bill de Blasio or Christine Quinn.  They’ve made no secret of their distaste for bike lanes, polling be damned.  Bill de Blasio, in a craven ploy for tabloid love, even went so far as to call Janette Sadik-Khan a radical, essentially declaring his opposition to innovation.

So here are the questions I have for de Blasio, Quinn, and any other mayoral candidate who thinks getting behind safe streets is a losing political issue: How many jobs are you willing to lose to Chicago and Los Angeles?  How many families are you willing to see settle in Milwaukee?  How many tourist dollars are you willing to send to Memphis?  And it’s not just those cities.  Portland is snatching up tech jobs as fast as it can.  Austin is exploring a bike share system and becoming more family friendly by the day.  Atlanta is starting to get serious about bikes.  And, of course, there’s San Francisco.

I simply can’t imagine another area in which New York leads the world — fashion, finance, sports, or the arts — where our mayor would cede the Big Apple’s status at the top of the heap.  Are Quinn and de Blasio okay with New York becoming the new Second City?



  1. February 6, 2013 9:57 pm

    “They were even riding in the rain in 10 degrees”

    Anybody can ride in 10 degree weather. I am more impressed that the atmosphere of Copenhagen is able to produce liquid precipitation well below its freezing point.

    • Matt permalink
      February 7, 2013 1:35 pm

      10 C = 50 F, which is normal winter weather here in LA. I’m not saying Villaraigosa meant to use metric, but it’s at least plausible.

  2. February 6, 2013 10:08 pm

    I lived in Milwaukee for some years and I think it has great potential to be more of a biking city, especially in certain neighborhoods. There is a fairly decent off-street system already that links downtown and the lakefront with its lakeshore neighborhoods (and the University of WI-Milwaukee). Chicago has some good infrastructure too, but still has a way to go. The City has also changed the definition of a “protected” bike lane to match what most of us call “buffered” lanes. Honestly, I think that fully protected lanes are the way to go. My boyfriend and I rode on a new bike lane in Evanston (city just north of Chicago) that is protected by parked cars for some of the street length. He is not someone who bikes around a lot like I do, and he said that lanes like the one in Evanston would get him biking more. Cities need to ditch these arcane, antiquated, car-favoriting requirements for bike lanes on streets so that we can get more of the safest kinds of them all over. When Chicago starts doing that (and cracking down on our worst drivers), it will be a great biking city.

    • February 6, 2013 10:13 pm

      Agree about Milwaukee. I think the area between UWM and downtown has a lot of potential, between the students on one end and the business community on the other. Except for the hills down to the lake, it’s mostly flat and there are some great little neighborhoods that are easy to access on bike.

  3. February 7, 2013 10:18 am

    Don’t forget to add Detroit to the list of cities that understand how critical walkability and bikeability is….

  4. Joe C permalink
    February 7, 2013 12:01 pm

    So if it’s obvious, do you think De Blasio and Quinn get it, privately, and are just pandering in order to get a share of the trog vote? I wonder what sort of advice they are getting from consultants because clearly these public comments are calculated. Dog whistles to local culturally conservative populists. But there is also a change, and an improvement from 2009: Thompson made bike hatred and opposition to proposed congestion pricing/tolls very nearly the center piece of his campaign. And he won the nomination. That constituency still exists but is diminished–but to what degree? What prevents an emerging coalition of organized supporters of safe/complete streets from fielding their own candidate or forcing the current field to at least moderate or explain their views? If nothing else it would inject a much needed informed discussion of the future direction of this city and let the pols know that there are other organized interests out there that they need to heed.

    Sadly Sadik-Kahn bashing is now about as politically obligatory as marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

    • February 7, 2013 2:07 pm

      “Dog whistles to local culturally conservative populists.” Add “faux” between “conservative” and “populists” and I think you’ve nailed it. Quinn has to pander to the tabloids if she wants their endorsement. de Blasio too. We’re gonna miss having a mayor who doesn’t give a shit about what the Post thinks.

      • Joe C permalink
        February 7, 2013 4:00 pm

        Well, that’s the irony right? The cheapest, most accessible and practical mode of urban private transportation is vilified as an elite alternative lifestyle imposed on the struggling masses by outsiders circumventing the democractic process.

        In my largely working class and immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood car ownership is universally aspired to as an indispensable status symbol. And they all read the tabloids too.

  5. Jesse permalink
    February 7, 2013 12:11 pm

    Wow. Rahm Emmanuel for Mayor of the World.

  6. Matt permalink
    February 7, 2013 2:01 pm

    Before we go heaping praise on Rahm, consider the terrible deals he has been making to plug budget holes by selling infrastructure (e.g. parking meters and the Dan Ryan) to investors. Do you want to trade the next 75 years of parking revenues for a few protected bike lanes? Note that the parking meter deal means that if Chicago wanted to, say, replace a parking spot with a bike corral, the city’s taxpayers would be on the hook to make up the lost revenue for the investors. Also note that Chicago’s population has been stagnant since 1990 and is still about 900k below its post-WW2 peak, and that Cook County’s population is basically unchanged since 1960.

    Villaraigosa is awesome. If you live on the east coast and you assume that LA is all about cars, you really should check out what’s going on.

    • Matt permalink
      February 7, 2013 2:07 pm

      Also, LA will happily take your business. Better weather, better connections to Asia, etc 🙂

    • February 7, 2013 2:08 pm

      Didn’t the parking meter deal in Chicago pre-date the Emanuel administration?

      Also agree about LA, as a frequent visitor. Downtown is changing immensely.

      • Matt permalink
        February 7, 2013 7:22 pm

        I stand corrected – the parking meter deal and the Chicago Skyway privatization were both under Daley’s watch. Rahm has been continuing the trend, through things like trying to privatize Midway Airport and the Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

        Do you get a chance to bike when in LA? How would you say it compares with NYC?

  7. February 8, 2013 10:18 am

    Matt, while I’m in LA frequently for work I rarely get the chance to ride. The most I’ve done are rides along the beach. LA is making great strides, however, with more bike lanes popping up. The mayor’s focus on transit it probably more interesting in many ways, since that has a bigger likelihood of transforming how city residents get around out there.

    • Matt permalink
      February 8, 2013 4:19 pm

      It’s definitely an exciting time to be in LA. I take transit to work, and the network is undergoing a major expansion that will change the city. But I think the bike lanes will be a huge change as well. The nature of development in LA is such that, unlike NYC, there are a lot of times you want to go, say, 2-6 miles – a distance that is too far to be practical for walking, but would take you too long on transit, so you end up driving. I think that as the bike facilities improve, there is going to be a big market for making those trips by bike. Also, in East Coast cities, it seems like if you’re in an area served by transit, you can just walk to the station. In LA, biking to a transit station (that has proper bike storage) could serve a lot of people.

  8. Brooklyneerian permalink
    February 8, 2013 12:07 pm

    It’s been fun watching these clowns race to succeed Mayor Abe Beame.

  9. Jim Moore permalink
    February 10, 2013 10:37 pm

    As an Australian, where our politicians slavishly follow/obey what the USA does, it’s great to hear that in more and more US cities the penny has dropped and cycling infrastructure is becoming a must-have, even if the financial bottom-line appears to be the primary cause/concern of most of the mayors mentioned in this blogpost.


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