Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Bike Share trumps the wankers

I did the Tour de Brooklyn Sunday, which is a family-friendly 22-mile mass cycle through some of the neighborhoods of that distinguished borough, starting near the Navy Yard under the Manhattan Bridge, then winding through Carroll Gardens, Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant (‘Bed-Stuy, Do or Die!’ as the locals reminded us), and other zones unfamiliar even to me, a frequent biker out there. It was a fun gathering without any purpose except to take over the streets in a big, giggling group with police and our own marshals stopping traffic at intersections so that the 1,000-plus cyclists could pedal through care- and car-free.

Several of my fellow riders commented on how the reactions of the denizens of these different localities varied in rather notorious ways block by block. Somehow the ferocious honking and screaming insults only seemed to come from drivers in prosperous corners like Park Slope while in the minority-heavy areas like the West Indian nabes of Crown Heights or rough-tough Bed-Stuy itself, people were overwhelmingly amused to see the bike invasion and even brought out their children to wave at us. One lady sitting on her porch cackled gleefully at the fact that the cars were forced to stop for us lowly riders.

The organizers of the event, Transportation Alternatives, is a powerful and savvy pro-cycling and public transport group, which has just welcomed Bike Share to New York, a privately-funded (by Citigroup, unfortunately) system of permanently available, short-hop bikes ready for public use as of Memorial Day. I joined up immediately and used them four times on my day off Friday to get around town.

The idea is that by facilitating bicycle use without the hassle of ownership, cities can generate a spike in bike traffic, which then leads to a virtuous cycle of more safety in numbers and further increases in ridership. It’s been tried in Copenhagen, Paris and London and inaugurated successfully in Boston and Washington, D.C. The whole concept is a bit of a no-brainer given the massive tie-ups and noisy, stinking mess that our traffic patterns have brought us, but the opposition has been relentless.

It’s pretty hard to understand how people can be against bikes, but there you have it: the tabloid (Murdochian) press railing against Bike Share tendentiously, opportunistic politicians like Anthony (Dick) Weiner threatening to rip up established bike lanes, and former transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall’s silly and self-indulgent opposition to a bike lane running past her Prospect Park domicile.

These people make regular fools of themselves, but they have powerful backers. (Weinshall is married to U.S. Senator and Democratic bag man Chuck Schumer, which is telling—it shows what a fake liberal Schumer is and generates sympathy for any random madness committed by the poor woman.) There are lobbies for the whole infrastructure of car-based commerce like parking garages, filling stations, road builders and repairers, you name it—a lot of money churns through our city based on the use of cars.

Add to that the suburbanite distaste for giving up car trips or having to sit down next to non-white persons on public buses, and it’s easy to see the appeal of demagogic whining against 20-somethings on two wheels, especially when plenty of them (us) can cop a superior attitude. The whole worldview reflected in the opposition to Bike Share is the same blithe, fuck-global-warming, self-pleasuring posture promoted by the fossil fuels industry and our Christian nutbags.

I predict, however, that the outcome this time will be a massive victory for our side similar to that Bloomberg pulled off by banning smoking in bars. People had their knickers in knots for months beforehand over that one, too, and suddenly the world not only did not end, but people loved the results: clean, breathable air at mealtime. Even smokers like it now because they get an excuse for go outside to share a social cig with the other addicts.

Bike Share is likely to generate a huge boost in bike use, add another commuting option for many residents and eventually lead to further development of protected lanes and traffic calming measures throughout the city. With time, we can expect Bike Share to move uptown and further into the outer boroughs. New York will be not only as fabulous as ever but could also evolve into a less noisy, less hectic, more liveable, not to mention safer, place. And the big money boys who are so desperately constipated over it can relax the lower chakras, give birth to that eel and realize that, hey, it’s also good for business.

[Disclosure: I belong to Transportation Alternatives and support them enthusiastically.] [Photo: Tour de Brooklyn, 2 June 2013]

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