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Bike Lanes II: The Condemned Motorist Speaks

THE NEW YORKER: RATIONAL IRRATIONALITY- BIKE LANES II: THE CONDEMNED MOTORIST SPEAKS

MARCH 9, 2011
Posted by John Cassidy

As I was saying about the bike lobby…

I am tempted to let the fury of the reaction to my mildly heretical piece speak for itself, but, before I get burned at the stake, a few specific points.

It seems to have escaped notice that I said I support the introduction of bike lanes, but not so many of them. Herewith: “So, by all means, let us have some bike lanes on heavily used and clearly defined routes to and from the city—and on popular biking routes within the city and the boroughs.”

Some people like cars, some people like bikes, some people like both. Since there is a limited amount of space on city streets, trade-offs have to be made. In making such trade-offs, a democratic polity should take into account the preferences of motorists, who happen to be far more numerous, as well as cyclists. That is all I am saying.

I should probably also address a couple of specific comments, which have been widely linked to. I confess I don’t quite get Felix Salmon’s gotcha riff about my harmless play on the word “bipedalism,” which even Paul Krugman has picked up on. (Lord forbid that Saint Paul should ever write anything challenging the nostrums of the faithful.) Last time I rode a bike, it was powered by my two legs.

Kudos to Felix for one thing, though. He freely admits that the ultimate aim of the bike lobby is to replace cars with bikes and other more “healthy, efficient, and effective” modes of transportation. This is a defensible policy argument, and one that many environmentalists would support. Surely, then, it should be put to a vote rather than being enacted via bureaucratic diktat. I look forward to the mayoral campaign in which a politician backed by the bike lobby proposes to eliminate on-street parking, or make it so expensive that only cyclists, buses, and corporate limos can afford to use the roads. In London, such a policy has, to some extent, already been enacted but with the explicit support of the voters. Go ahead, Aaron Naparstek: City Hall beckons.

Talking of Naparstek, a prominent bike activist who until recently edited Streetsblog, he and others make much of the fact that the little-used bike lane I was referring to in Brooklyn is on Third Avenue, not Fourth Avenue. Yes, that was a slip of the tongue—the sort of silly mistake that occasionally creeps into a rushed blog post. Please don’t blame the vaunted New Yorker fact-checking department for letting it through: they don’t vet our blog jottings. Once I noticed the mistake, I corrected it.

Free parking in Manhattan. I knew that one would get the blood boiling! Fact is, most of it has already been eliminated and replaced with meters or Pay-and-Display zones. That’s the right policy. Space on the street is a valuable public resource, and motorists, unlike cyclists, regularly pay to use it. When the city introduces a bike lane on a given street, it reduces the number of paid parking spaces, thereby depriving it of revenue.

Finally, thanks to the commenters in general for providing me with a handy guide to the cultural politics of the twenty-first century. I’ll keep a copy of it in my walnut glove compartment:

Bicyclist = Urbane, enlightened, sophisticate.

Car Driver = Suburban, reactionary, moron.

Maybe Aaron or his favored candidate could use this message on posters and bumper stickers. That should be sufficient to keep City Hall in Republican hands for another seventeen years.