UNFINE PRINT: Andrew Cuomo is the Latest to Wrongly Blame Bike Lanes for Congestion

The Council wants more of this! Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
The Council wants more of this! Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Is Andrew Cuomo taking Whoopi Goldberg pills?

Around the same time that ABC talk show host was erroneously claiming that bike lanes cause congestion, Gov. Cuomo made a similar specious claim, arguing that congestion in New York City is partly caused by protected bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.

It’s right there on page 49 of Cuomo’s “Justice Agenda” briefing book that accompanied the governor’s State of the State address this week.

The words “bike lane” are in the 354-page document just once — pejoratively:

There are now over 100,000 for hire vehicle drivers making more than 20 million trips every month, producing unprecedented traffic congestion. Poor enforcement of traffic laws and increases in the number of bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, parking placards, daytime deliveries and tour buses are also contributing factors. The average vehicle speed in Manhattan’s Central Business District (below 60th Street) has dropped to 7 miles per hour, and during the workday, it is often faster to walk to your destination in Midtown Manhattan than it is to drive.

The paragraph was attributed, with the footnote directing readers to page 7 of the New York City Department of Transportation’s “NYC Mobility Report” for 2018.

There’s one problem: That report does not blame bike lanes for causing congestion. It doesn’t blame bike lanes for anything. In fact, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg is quoted as saying, “We are now moving more people than ever, and the city has continued to invest heavily in bus lanes, bike lanes, and citywide ferry service to support this growth with sustainable modes.”

On Thursday, a DOT spokesperson said the agency was not pleased to have its pro-bike-lane report cited as the source of erroneous information.

“According to DOT data, bike lanes and pedestrian plazas do not contribute to Manhattan congestion,” the spokesperson said. “Our research illustrates that space dedicated to more efficient travel modes — like walking and cycling — has instead helped meet the enormous demand for public space created by New York City’s record population, job and tourism growth.”

Transportation Alternatives was also miffed at Cuomo’s assertion that street safety improvements adversely affect drivers.

“I am absolutely convinced that bike lanes have a net benefit, based on two things,” said interim Co-Director Marco Conner. “The false notion that narrowing car travel lanes or removing a lane in favor of a bike lane automatically causes motor vehicle traffic back up. We’ve seen the exact opposite, namely that when more lanes are added it invites more drivers and immediately the gains from more road space are reversed as the space fills up.

“And the fact that bike lanes encourage biking and replaces car trips which reduces congestion,” Conner added. “[Cuomo’s] statement in the budget is rooted in an outdated, ill-informed and ultimately harmful view of transportation in 21st-century New York City.”

This is the bikelash. We need to fight back.
This is the bikelash.

That ill-informed view was spewed on Wednesday by “View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg, who lectured Mayor de Blasio that his bike lanes were causing congestion. But the windshield perspective is not limited to millionaires who live in mansions in New Jersey. On Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx, residents continue to complain about a soon-to-be-installed road safety measure that would reduce car travel lanes from four to two, with turning bays in the middle of the two-way street — a proven formula for not only safety, but for good traffic flow.

“They see four travel lanes becoming two and they think it will make traffic worse,”DOT’s Bronx Borough Commissioner Nivardo Lopez told Streetsblog earlier this year. “For most people, that’s their concern because, fortunately, most people are not hit by a vehicle or are involved in a crash. Safety is out of sight, out of mind for them. To them being stuck in traffic is more relatable.”

Lopez reiterated that DOT statistics show that traffic-calming plans do not significantly increase travel times. Drivers think they are going slower, but street design often decreases double parking — a real problem on Morris Park Avenue — and, as a result, maintains traffic flow, despite one fewer lane.

Streetsblog asked Mayor de Blasio on Thursday if he was upset that Goldberg had repeated the inaccurate belief that bike lanes cause congestion, but he said he wasn’t concerned that public opinion was against his Vision Zero campaign.

“I don’t actually think you have to worry about a lot of people listening to [what Goldberg said] and suddenly changing their mind,” the mayor said.

Perhaps he should call the governor to make sure.