Even if you’ve been following the sometimes-insane reporting on livable-streets issues in New York media for many years, two pieces this weekend probably made your jaw drop.
In the Daily News, fellow Park Slope resident Joshua Greenman sings a paean to the urban automobile, while the Wall Street Journal has a video featuring editorial writer Dorothy Rabinowitz demonstrating how willfully ignorant she is about cycling.
Writers much more capable than I have thoroughly demolished both. Ben Fried, the Editor-in-Chief of Streetsblog, penned a fact-heavy rebuttal to Greenman’s piece that should be required reading for anyone interested in livable streets. Bike Snob NYC and Gawker take a snarkier tack toward the WSJ video.
I think this is a good time for me to explain my own rationale for giving time and money to organizations like Streetsblog, Riders Alliance, and the newly formed StreetsPAC, a political action committee dedicated to improving the safety, mobility, and livability of New York City’s streets. (My ire toward automobiles drove my post lambasting the Zipcar ads in the subway, but I only gave hints as to my reasoning.)
1. Do I like what’s happening?
2. Is what’s happening illegal?
If the answer to both is “no”, then there’s something wrong with the system. My thoughts on livable streets are similar to those on the tax structure, especially in light of Apple’s recent hearings.
In this case, the problems are manifold. The MTA is consistently underfunded because the Legislature robs dedicated funds to fill other holes in the budget. Political pandering to Staten Island residents in the 1980s resulted in westbound-only tolling on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, leading truckers to exit through Brooklyn and Manhattan to avoid a hefty fee. Subsidized (read: free) parking induces people to maintain private vehicles, even when the car’s function is duplicated by public transportation. The NYPD has an awful record of prosecuting drivers who kill and maim innocent citizens.
My police precinct, the 78th, is responsible for most of Park Slope and some surrounding neighborhoods. Yet through April, they cited only 81 drivers for speeding - less than one per day. Legislators from car-friendly districts have put the kibosh on speed cameras, even though they’ve been correlated with reduced traffic fatalities.
What’s at stake if we maintain the status quo? The exacerbation of climate change, courtesy of too many cars on the road. Parents fear for their children’s safety, because aggressive-driving laws aren’t enforced. We continue to draw from other budgetary sources to keep the cost of parking and the gas tax artificially low.
Perhaps most importantly, access to public transportation is a social-justice issue. Residents of Paerdegat, Spring Creek, and even Red Hook don’t have very many options. For them, a car – if they can afford it – might seem like a sensible decision. Otherwise, their mobility is constrained.
“The bike lobby is an all-powerful enterprise,” said Rabinowitz, a line that has become fodder for countless other writers. Maybe this will be correct someday, as more and more people come to embrace Citi Bike and cycling in general. But for now, the bike lobby is still scrapping against the bullhorn of big media – and against individuals’ unwillingness to pay fair prices for things they get at a discount.
Doug Gordon of Brooklyn Spoke, Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors, and Council Member Brad Lander - among many, many others – have worked tirelessly to combat the misinformation, sometimes intentionally placed, presented as factual by the city’s tabloids. I’m happy to lend a hand where I am able.