Bike War Is Over! If You Want It
What is it with TV reporters who fail to remember that TV is a visual medium? To CBS 2’s Marica Kramer and Lou Young, we can now add Greg Mocker of WPIX, who, over the image above, indignantly exclaimed, “The bike markings appear to leave no room for cars!”
The overall theme of this piece, which aired over the weekend, is that “with weeks left to go” the Bloomberg administration is desperately cramming as many bike lanes and plazas into the streetscape as possible, most notably by expanding the Times Square pedestrian plaza. Now if you happen to get up to go to the bathroom in the first thirty seconds of Mocker’s report that’s about all you’ll take away, but this suggestion is immediately refuted by Mocker himself, who clarifies that the city is not asking to enhance or enlarge the Times Square pedestrian plaza, but rather seeks to “expand the area that can host concessions.” But this is after setting up the classic community-board-David-versus-DOT-Goliath meme, so, well, you know.
About halfway through the piece, Mocker brings up the bike stencil, shown in the image above. Never mind that the stencil is part of a bike box, yet to be fully striped, that allows cyclists transitioning from the left-side bike lane to wait safely in front of cars before making a right turn on Sixth Avenue. Mocker sets this up as some sort of mystery design, giving a cursory explanation for how it will really work — a graphic would help! — before waving his microphone and saying, “Well I don’t understand because the bike is there, the bike is there… so where do the cars go? They don’t line up.” To which a woman, who I will assume is not a traffic engineer, says, “The bike is in the middle of the road.” No it’s not! That guy who you’re talking to just explained it to the audience two seconds ago!
Toward the end of his field piece, Mocker sarcastically says, “They can’t be rushing to get this all in before the new mayor or something? It’s interesting.” It’s a telling comment. While it’s hard to take anything on the PIX11 News too seriously — its frenetic camera style makes CBS 2 look like “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” — Mocker’s report illustrates something I’ve noticed in the last few weeks. For as long as I’ve been following it, the bikelash tends to flare up as soon as the clocks fall back and the temperatures drop, but this year the TV networks and newspapers have filed what seems like a larger number of anti-bike pieces than I’ve seen in quite some time. “Not since PPW,” as the saying does not go.
So what’s happening? Reporters can’t be rushing to get all these bikelash pieces filed before the new mayor or something. It’s interesting. Is the tabloid media trying its darndest to set the stage for a full-blown reversal of the Bloomberg bike lane and pedestrian plaza program as soon as Bill de Blasio takes the oath of office? If they are there’s one huge problem with this strategy. And that’s because bike lanes and pedestrian plazas have escaped the orbit of any one political personality’s gravitational pull to become more community-driven than ever. Perhaps Janette Sadik-Khan’s real genius was not in telling New Yorkers “You need this,” but in unlocking something in New Yorkers that allowed them to say, “We want this.”
Of course, idiotic editorials and news stories against livable streets and traffic calming projects aren’t about to end anytime soon; too many page views are at stake. And I’m sure we’ll have more than our share of fights over parking spaces on the road to make our streets safer. But starting January 1st, opposing bike lanes and pedestrian plazas won’t be a convenient proxy for being against a billionaire mayor anymore. For some, it will exposed for what it really is: being against a better New York City.