Cycle of Rage: New Streetfilms Doc Shows New York’s Bike Infrastructure Is Ultimately a Joke

Watch the latest Streetfilms documentary by Clarence Eckerson Jr. and you will realize that all we get are tiny improvements, at best, from Mayor de Blasio.

This used to be a highway — for cars. Now it's a well-used bike path. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
This used to be a highway — for cars. Now it's a well-used bike path. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Cyclists around the world are enjoying a seven-course meal, but New York riders are somehow being tricked into believing they can be sated by Bill de Blasio’s crumbs.

We’ve written about how Paris removed a highway to create a much-loved Seine-side sanctuary. We’ve written how London has taken back control of its core by barring cars. We’ve published so much bike porn from Amsterdam that our brake linings are completely worn down.

But the latest cause for our fury is the most-recent production by Streetfilms auteur Clarence Eckerson Jr., just back from Utrecht, one of Holland’s great cities. Just watch it below. It’s only five minutes. But it will alter your perceptions about what is possible and how American cyclists and pedestrians have so internalized our oppression by car culture that we can’t even see it as oppression anymore.

When you see what was accomplished in Utrecht, it will make you ashamed to live in a city where life-saving quality-of-life improvements are beholden to the interests of the car-owning minority. It will make you disgusted that the Department of Transportation doesn’t even try to build safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in Bay Ridge — but offers only a “starter pack” of painted lanes — out of deference to an entrenched community board that prefers to give residents the ability to double-park. It will make you wonder why no one (but Streetsblog) is talking about removing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway rather than spending $4 billion on repairs to continue Robert Moses’s mistake for another 70 years. It will make you furious that Mayor de Blasio will not even discuss barring cars from parts of the city where car travel is inefficient anyway and destroys our streetscape (I’m, of course, referring to Manhattan below Chambers Street, parts of Downtown Flushing and Jamaica, and key strips such as car-choked 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights or Bergen Street in Brooklyn, where the DOT sluices cyclists to the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, yet does not offer the hordes protection from car drivers.)

“Utrecht and so many other cities are actively removing parking and roads from the city,” Eckerson told me upon his return to these shores. “We need to ramp it up!”

It’s not a matter of imagination — we can literally see the good that comes from keeping cars out of our inner urban core — but a matter of will. In the film, Mark Wagenbuur — you know him as “BicycleDutch” on Youtube — shows maps of a downtown Utrecht filled with multi-lane roadways and parking lots that in just a few years have been converted to bike roadways, public plazas, waterside parks and a walkable, business-friendly core.

Yes, this is a Dutch cop telling a driver to get his car out of the pedestrianized core.
Yes, this is a Dutch cop telling a driver to get his car out of the pedestrianized core.

The cops in Utrecht — they’re on bikes! — even harass drivers who violate the rules. But far more important than enforcement are the street redesigns that discourage driving and increase cycling. Roughly 40 percent of the trips inside Utrecht these days are by bike — and it’s even higher in the city center itself, where 59 percent arrive by bicycle. They built it and the cyclists came. But in New York, the increases in bike commuting that began in the late part of the Bloomberg administration have leveled off as de Blasio has slowed the pace of infrastructure improvements.

So let’s stop settling for less. Let’s demand the kind of livable city that our cousins across the pond enjoy every day. Watching Eckerson’s latest film is the first step.

Gersh Kuntzman is editor-in-chief of Streetsblog. When he gets angry, he writes the Cycle of Rage column. They’re archived here.