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Debunking The New Yorker’s Anti-Bike Lane Screed

By March 9, 2011October 24th, 2022No Comments

The Gothamist: Debunking The New Yorker’s Anti-Bike Lane Screed

New Yorker columnist John Cassidy usually writes about economics, but he also drives a Jaguar around NYC, and the man is sick and tired of seeing bike lanes “poach on our territory.” The phrase is telling, because it underscores Cassidy’s unsustainable and ahistorical assumption that streets are for cars and cars alone (we remember when horses and bikes shared the roads). His smug, ill-informed essayapplauds the anti-bike lane backlash, but not because Cassidy has anything against cyclists, mind you; he used to ride a bike himself, back when he was in college at Oxford and a dissolute East Villager in his 20s:

Those days, there were few cyclists on the roads, and part of the thrill was avoiding cabs and other vehicles that would suddenly swing into your lane, apparently oblivious to your presence. When I got back to my apartment on East 12th Street, I was sometimes shaking.

But then, you see, he grew up, and bought cars. As if that wasn’t condescending enough, Cassidy starts off by calling “the bicycle lobby” a constituency “that pursues its agenda with about as much modesty and humor as the Jacobins pursued theirs.” Setting aside the numerous clever clown bike protests, let’s take his allegation of humorlessness at face value and point out that if cyclists are sometimes overly serious, it’s because the consequences of bicycling in NYC can be so deadly. Cassidy may be yucking it up in his bloody Jaguar listening to Larry the Cable Guy, but outside his beloved “contraption,” cyclists are trying not to get killed.

There are grim, ghostly reminders of cycling’s dangers everywhere, and Cassidy’s macho, street-cred bragging about the “thrill” of riding a bike back in the bad old days is actually kind of insulting to the many people who have been killed or injured by reckless drivers. Would a bike lane have spared Emilie Gossiaux, who was left blind after barely surviving getting run over by a truck? Maybe not, but studies have shown that bike lanes significantly lower crash rates, and Cassidy should thank his lucky stars his cheap thrills didn’t end in a fractured skull.

“I view the Bloomberg bike-lane policy as a classic case of regulatory capture by a small faddist minority intent on foisting its bipedalist views on a disinterested or actively reluctant populace,” Cassidy also opines. This canard that the DOT has gone about installing bike lanes without consulting the “populace” is really getting tired. The DOT meets with Community Boards throughout NYC before installing the bike lanes, ultimately installs lanes with the board’s approval (even on Prospect Park West!) and continues to make changes to designs after getting feedback from locals. So if the populace is disinterested in participating, whose fault is that? We would love to know how many Community Board meetings Cassidy has attended lately. And wow, this is something:

But from an economic perspective I also question whether the blanketing of the city with bike lanes—more than two hundred miles in the past three years—meets an objective cost-benefit criterion. Beyond a certain point, given the limited number of bicyclists in the city, the benefits of extra bike lanes must run into diminishing returns, and the costs to motorists (and pedestrians) of implementing the policies must increase. Have we reached that point? I would say so.
All too often these days, I find myself driving endlessly up and down Hudson, or Sixth Avenue, or wherever, looking in vain for a legal spot—and for cyclists. What I see instead is motor traffic snarled on avenues that, thanks to bike lanes, have been reduced from four lanes to three, or three to two… There are a lot of bikers in Prospect Park these days, I grant you—but in Midtown? The Village? The East Side? I don’t see them.

Three things: Since 2006, the city has spent $8 million building 250 miles of bike lanes. Most of the money—80 percent—was paid for by the federal government through funds dedicated solely for bike lanes. According to Transportation Alternatives, the $2 million cost to the city, spread over five years and 200,000 daily riders, comes to $2 a person per year—less than the cost of a Metro card swipe.

Secondly, reporters keep reporting that nobody’s using the bike lanes. Gee, could that have something to do with the interminably bitter winter we’re still thawing out from? A boom in cycling has accompanied the bike lane expansion, as more people who may not have been “thrill” seekers are emboldened to ride. More cyclists on the roads makes riding a bike safer for everyone, it also alleviates traffic and strain on mass transit, and would seem to be something an economist would encourage. But not if it gets him stuck in traffic downtown near the Holland tunnel! Which is totally the fault of bike lanes (which, on Hudson Street, did not result in a loss of a traffic lane or parking spots), not the, um, Holland Tunnel.

Lastly, the hysteria over parking—which before the bike lanes arrived was BOUNTIFUL, right? Not all bike lanes result in the loss of parking spots, and those that do take a negligible amount; on Prospect Park West, the bike lane eliminated two parking spots per intersection. When installing bike lanes on Eighth Avenue and elsewhere, the DOT also revisits parking regulations that haven’t been adjusted in years, typically adding more loading zones or metered spaces. Bike lanes also reduced speeding by 25 percent on PPW, and, according to the DOT’s study, reduced the number of accidents. And streets with bike lanes see 40 percent fewer crashes ending in death or serious injury, according to the DOT’s “Pedestrian Safety Study & Action Plan.” Traffic crashes, Cassidy should know, cost the city an estimated $18 billion each year.

That PPW study is now the focus of a lawsuit by a group of well-connected affluent Park Slope residents, and Cassidy is “quietly cheering” them on. Saving lives and encouraging zero-emission commuting is nice in theory, but this poor economist needs a place to park his Jag! (For more, Streetsblog co-founderAaron Naparstek has some fun with this nonsense.)