Friday, March 11, 2011

Are bike lanes really this divisive?

Last month, the City of Ottawa approved a two-year pilot project in which a segregated bike lane will be installed on Laurier Avenue--but it wasn't without controversy. Cyclists, for a time, were opposed to Laurier, and non-cyclists (at least some of them) were opposed to a bike lane in general, wherever it would go.

But that's nothing compared to what's happening in New York City. That city recently opened a demarcated cycling lane along Prospect Park West, running 19 blocks in total. Opponents of the lane have gone as far as to sue the city, demanding the bike lane be removed. From the New York Times:
The lawsuit, filed by a group with close ties to Iris Weinshall, the city’s transportation commissioner from 2000 to 2007 and the wife of Senator Charles E. Schumer, accuses the Transportation Department of misleading residents about the benefits of the lane, cherry-picking statistics on safety improvements and collaborating with bicycle activists to quash community opposition.
The story actually made the front page of the Times today. And it's not even the first time New York has been sued over bike lanes: It happened in the 1980s, as well.

But the Guardian's "Bike Blog" thinks that this lawsuit is about more than just one bike lane in one city, but could affect cycling infrastructure projects worldwide:
Connect the dots, and this becomes a much more significant story than the future of one bike lane in Brooklyn, or even the career of one official. New York City justly sees itself as the world's greatest city: here, in some sense, people live the way everyone would live if they had the chance. How New York – the city that still has a uniquely low level of car ownership and use – manages its transport planning in the 21st century matters for the whole world: it is the template. If cycling is pushed back into the margins of that future, rather than promoted, along with efficient mass public transit and safe, pleasant pedestrianism, as a key part of that future, the consequences will be grave and grim.
Personally, I don't see why bike lanes are so divisive. We devote so much space and resources to automobile infrastructure; what's the harm in a little bit of love for the cyclists out there?

1 comment:

David said...

I think it remains a question of what appears to be a relatively large and visible infrastructure investment to benefit only what appears to be a very small special interest group.

I think people would rather see that money directed toward public transit, which I suspect a greater number of people use.

An interesting wildcard is the rising popularity of e-bicycles. Their legal status of the various form factors of e-bicycle and their use on cycling paths is muddy right now, but once clarity emerges, cycling might increase in popularity.

Still I doubt in North America we'll ever see that kind of Dutch-style cycle utopia.