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How one New York bike lane could affect the future of cycling worldwide

Matt Seaton, Guardian
A much more significant story than the future of one bike lane in Brooklyn, a great deal hangs on the lawsuit filed against the city

How often does a story about a bike lane, one particular bike lane, make it on to the front page of what is, by most accounts, the world’s finest newspaper?

That is what happened on Tuesday, when the New York Times published a report about a lawsuit filed by a group of Brooklyn residents against the city of New York over a bike lane on Prospect Park West, which is the road that forms the boundary between Prospect Park itself and the prosperous, fashionable neighbourhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn.

But how often such a bike lane makes a front page splash is not the question that matters – but how and why one bike lane is such big news. A very great deal now hangs, not on the outcome of this lawsuit, but on the political and public opinion battle of which it forms a part.

What is also at stake, potentially, is the career of New York’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, who has been an effective and high-profile champion of public transportation, pedestrianisation projects and pro-cycling measures. And on her fate rests the whole future of transportation and traffic management public policy in the city of New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is under considerable pressure to admit that the lieutenant he once charged with delivering his own ambitious “greenprint” for a sustainable city, PlaNYC, has become a PR liability. If he now hangs Sadik-Khan out to dry, it will be a huge setback for PlaNYC, and a major reversal for progressive transport policy.
(9 March 2011)
Pointing to an attack on bikelines from the New Yorker, Atrios (Duncan Black) says: “I honestly thought the piece was a parody the first time I read it. Take the subway or pay to put your Jag in a lot.” For a thorough debunking, Atrios directs us to the following piece by Aaron Naparstek. -BA

The New York City Bike Lane Backlash is Completely Irrational

Aaron Naparstek, The Naparstek Post

We’re approaching a new level of anti-bike mania in New York City. Sentiment is so totally divorced from reality, not even the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checking apparatus can rein in the mistruths and idiocies.

Exhibit A: John Cassidy’s “Battle of the Bike Lanes.” Here, Cassidy has done us the great favor of producing what may one day be regarded as a seminal document of New York City’s bike lane backlash era.

In the year 2025, when my teenaged children ask, “Why did New Yorkers fight so much about bike lanes when I was a baby?” I will tell them to read this. And since teenagers in the year 2025 will be biking all over the place but won’t be reading anything more than 140 character bursts of text, I’ve put together this paragraph-by-paragraph bullet-pointed interpretation of Cassidy’s first-person essay:

  • I know that the “bike lobby” will attack me for writing this — not because what I have written is imbecilic, uninformed and factually incorrect — but because they have no sense of humor.
  • All I know about the Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes law suit is what I read in Michael Grynbaum articles.
  • I don’t have anything against bikes. I just hate the infrastructure that makes biking possible.
  • Biking in New York City was more thrilling in the old days when cyclists were killed by taxis and other vehicles with greater frequency. Now cyclists seem to want it easy.
  • I support the movement to improve bike infrastructure. I just don’t like it when the movement succeeds in getting city government to build bike infrastructure.
  • I acknowledge that this is the rant of a bitter, angry motorist.
  • I have owned six, enormous cars in New York City. They’ve averaged somewhere around 11 miles per gallon.
  • Thanks to my cars, I’ve visited virtually every neighborhood in the city. I never could have done that via subway or bike, or… really? I could have?
  • Street space should not be set aside for bike lanes. It should be set aside for free parking for my Jaguar XJ6.
  • I will now take an utterly gratuitous swipe at the Park Slope Food Coop. Let’s gin up some pageviews.
  • I take great enjoyment in my driving, except for the 90% of the time that I am stuck in traffic, searching for parking and growing ever more bitter as cyclists whiz past my immobilized gas guzzler.
  • I acknowledge that this is all just an emotional reaction. What I am writing makes no sense whatsoever. I am an economist.
  • Now that the city has striped 200 miles of bike lanes on its 15,000+ miles of roadway, we have clearly reached the point of diminishing returns for bikes and bike lanes. As for cars and car lanes — sky’s the limit. As an economist, I see no end to the number of cars and car lanes we can cram in to New York City.
  • Every New Yorker should be able to drive his Jaguar into Greenwich Village for dinner, as is my pastime, and find convenient, free parking on a public street near the restaurant.
  • All of the snarled traffic on Hudson Street and Sixth Avenue near the Holland Tunnel is the fault of bike lanes and cyclists.
  • The horrible traffic congestion on Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue is the fault of the bike lanes on Fourth Avenue. (Editor’s note: In fact, there are no bike lanes on Fourth Avenue.)
  • Let the movement to restore Iris Weinshall to the DOT throne start here. Like me, Iris Weinshall was a great friend to cyclists. It says so on her Wikipedia page. Forget the fact that her Bike Program Director quit his job in disgust and she is suing the city to get rid of the bike lane on the street where she lives with her husband U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.
  • See how much more modest and humorous I am than those Bike Lobby Jacobins?

(9 March 2011)

Bicycle master plan is expected to be approved by the L.A. City Council

Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
It’s been a long ride, but bicycle riders’ push for for new routes and services is paying off. The plan calls for 1,680 miles of interconnected bikeways.

When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa crashed his bike on Venice Boulevard last summer, he did more than bruise his head and shatter his elbow. He became an advocate for the city’s bicycling community.

After he was jolted off his bike by a turning taxicab, Villaraigosa convened a bicycle summit, launched a safety campaign to educate drivers and threw his support behind the city’s first CicLAvia, which closed 7 1/2 miles of city streets to traffic for most of a day.

He also put his clout behind an ambitious bicycle master plan that is expected to be passed Tuesday by the City Council.

The plan lays out a long-term goal of 1,680 miles of interconnected bikeways and calls for more than 200 miles of new bicycle routes every five years. It suggests that such major arteries as Figueroa Street, Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard get bike lanes in the near future.

And it marks the ascendance of a brash new breed of cycling civic activist.
(1 March 2011)

Bike spike expected as motoring costs increase

Carlton Reid, Bike Biz
£6 a gallon petrol and a hike in insurance premiums will lead to a surge in cycling use

… As well as increased fuel costs, British drivers will pay more for insurance from next year because of yesterday’s decision by the European Court of Justice that UK insurers can no longer use gender as a risk factor when calculating premiums.

Young drivers, especially male young drivers (the most dangerous motorists on the road), will find insurance costs will rise and rise, and many companies may even pull the rug on them.

… All bad news for drivers, but good news for the cycle trade. As more and more drivers realise their addiction to motoring is costing them dearly, some will switch to more economical ways of getting about. And once they discover that cycling is not just better for their wallets but for their waistlines and for their travel times, they may stick with cycling, even if the price of motoring reduces.

However, it’s unlikely that fuel costs will reduce significantly over time. Peak Oil and Middle Eastern instability will ensure that motoring keeps getting more expensive.
(2 March 2011)

Urban Bikeway Design Guide

National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
The purpose of the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide (part of the Cities for Cycling initiative) is to provide cities with state-of-the-practice solutions that can help create complete streets that are safe and enjoyable for bicyclists.

The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide is based on the experience of the best cycling cities in the world. The designs in this document were developed by cities for cities, since unique urban streets require innovative solutions. Most of these treatments are not directly referenced in the current versions of the AASHTO Guide to Bikeway Facilities or the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), although many of the elements are found within these documents. The Federal Highway Administration has recently posted information regarding approval status of various bicycle related treatments not covered in the MUTCD, including many of the treatments provided in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. All of the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide treatments are in use internationally and in many cities around the US.

To create the Guide, the authors have conducted an extensive worldwide literature search from design guidelines and real-life experience. They have worked closely with a panel of urban bikeway planning professionals from NACTO member cities, as well as traffic engineers, planners, and academics with deep experience in urban bikeway applications. A complete list of participating professionals is included here. Additional information has been gathered from numerous other cities worldwide.

The intent of the Guide is to offer substantive guidance for cities seeking to improve bicycle transportation in places where competing demands for the use of the right of way present unique challenges.
(March 2011)