Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rural Interlude

I am a city person. I live in a city, I spend all my time thinking about and studying cities. But every so often, I like to punctuate that existence with a sharp contrast, so I'm off to raft the Rogue River, in southern Oregon, with family and friends. I'll be back on July 15 with some observations from San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Invitation to an Ideologue: Bike Hysteria and the NYT

The New York Times recently published a letter from Gary Taustine protesting what he (and others) see as an assault by bicycle interest groups on the cultural and physical landscape of New York City. Though I'm reluctant to give any more airtime to his position, for the sake of discussion I will include it here:
The horrendous bicycle congestion in Amsterdam (“The Dutch Prize Their Pedal Power, but a Sea of Bikes Swamps Their Capital,” Amsterdam Journal, June 21) portends my worst fears for New York City if Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s crusade to promote cycling at any cost is not scaled back by his successor.
In addition to the ubiquitous tombstone-like parking stands for the new bike-sharing program, Citi Bike, more and more bikes are appearing on our sidewalks, clumsily chained in bunches to anything stationary, cluttering pedestrian areas and complicating emergency services, trash collection and sanitation.
The density and vertical nature of our city mean that hundreds of cyclists could live, and park, on a single block, leaving neighborhoods with all the charm of a junkyard.
Cycling should be neither deterred nor promoted, but certainly not singled out as a privileged mode of conveyance whose operators enjoy segregated lanes, free parking and exemption from the licensing, insurance and safety precautions (like helmets) required for other two-wheeled vehicles such as motorcycles.
The Times is inviting readers to respond to start a "dialogue," but where to even begin? Aesthetic disagreements (he sees tombstones, I see the physical plant of a new and exciting transportation mode) are only the surface of the problem, which is an animosity toward any new developments in the author's precious city.

(Taustine's resistance to change is evidenced elsewhere by his long-term campaign to rebuild identical Twin Towers after 9/11. Let's not get into that debate here.)

(The best Venn diagram ever.)
There has been so much "bike backlash" (though there has, in truth, not been much "bike lash" in the first place) that sane responses to baseless attacks are in greater demand than ever. Dan Amira's glorious takedown in New York Magazine of conservatives' antipathy toward Citi Bike is really required reading in this genre - though his Venn diagram identifying categories of which conservatives are leery omits change itself.

So I decided to throw my own hat in the ring. Upon reflection, I considered that Taustine's piece was founded on poor perception - his assessment of the situation was faulty, and he had failed to notice many features of new New York at all. This, then, is what I sent to the Times:
Gary Taustine should have his eyes checked. He sees more and more parked bicycles, and "tombstone-like" Citi Bike docking stations, but apparently is oblivious to bikes in motion, and to the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who ride them for transportation, work, and pleasure throughout the city. 
He also appears not to be able to see the signs permitting free on-street parking for private cars in our dense city. A bicycle locked neatly to a Department of Transportation-provided bike rack, taking up no more than four square feet of space, catches his eye, but the hundreds of square feet allocated to each car parking spot (some of the most valuable real estate in the world) are invisible to him. 
Most of all, Mr. Taustine cannot see the need, and the desire, for change in how New Yorkers get around. The number of commuters cycling to work has quadrupled since 2000; thousand-year storms are battering our shores more and more frequently; more and more citizens now share the same dense streets, and need to do so in space-efficient vehicles. 
Mr. Taustine sees bicycles - and the change they represent - as a menace. Perhaps he should take another look.
The Times is still accepting responses through Tuesday evening; I encourage you to share your thoughts on Taustine's regrettable letter both here in the comments and to the Times directly. But how did I do?