Gut Check: New Yorkers Need to Speak Up For Bike Policy

Yesterday the Post came out with another attack on the ongoing evolution of New York into a city where transit works better, streets are safer, and people have better options for getting around. Using a Post-manufactured squabble over the city’s Christmas blizzard response as their set-up, the editorialists launched into a screed against Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and basically called for her head.

Normally, one angry editorial in the city’s News Corp. tabloid wouldn’t be cause for concern. But this one came complete with a companion news piece, in which City Council members, including Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, piled on. And it’s also the latest and loudest salvo in what can only be described as a multi-pronged assault waged by local media and politicians on the city’s bicycle program.

John del Signore at Gothamist ran a good piece exposing the Post’s shoddy case against Sadik-Khan, calling the paper’s focus on one city official a “disingenuous” attempt to “score cheap political points.”

I’d like to focus on one particular rhetorical tactic favored by the Post’s editorial staff: the name-calling.

The Post refers to Sadik-Khan as “Deputy Mayor for Bicycles” and, a few paragraphs later, “Bicycle Lady.” As astute observers will know, if the writers had been paying attention the past three years, they would have come up with a more accurate nickname, like “Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Bus Lady.” Or, to really cover the full extent of what’s been going on, “Safer, More Efficient Transportation Lady.”

We’re living in a golden age for improvements to bus corridors, expansions of public space, engineering that prioritizes pedestrian safety, and yes, more efficient streets for motorists. The recent progress of the city’s bicycle program has been stupendous too, opening the door for many more New Yorkers to feel safe riding on city streets. But with so much else going on in NYC DOT’s transportation modernization effort, it’s telling that the Post singled out bike policy for derision.

No matter how much evidence piles up that more people are riding and fewer pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists are getting hurt, in some people’s view, bike infrastructure will never be legitimate. The message comes through loud and clear in the editorial pages of the Post. You can sense it when national Republicans threaten federal bike-ped funding before taking aim at any other transportation programs. It seeps into public hearings in NYC, like when the Democratic chair of the City Council Transportation Committee says that bike policy is “all about trade-offs” with motorists, not about protecting New Yorkers who ride or extending access to an affordable mode of transportation.

If you want to see NYC keep making strides toward becoming a bike-friendly city, it’s gut-check time. Community boards need to hear from residents that safe streets for cycling matter (Brooklyn CB 6 folks can get going on that this Thursday). Council members need to hear from their constituents that bicycling and bike policy matter. At your local precinct community council, cops need to hear that smart, targeted traffic enforcement matters.

And the Bloomberg administration needs to hear from New Yorkers who want to see the progress of the past few years continue. Here’s a good place to get that message out loud and clear.