Espaillat Says He Supports Bike Lanes, Despite Monday’s Racially Charged Rant

The upper Manhattan Congressman tells Streetsblog that he only opposed the Dyckman Street bike lane because it was poorly designed. Sure, and there's a bridge in his district he'd love to sell us.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat at the moment in his speech on Monday when he turned a larger fight against gentrification into a battle against bike lanes. Photo: NY1
Rep. Adriano Espaillat at the moment in his speech on Monday when he turned a larger fight against gentrification into a battle against bike lanes. Photo: NY1

City & State NY is hosting a full day New York in Transit summit on Jan. 30 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. This summit will bring together experts to assess the current state of New York’s transportation systems, break down recent legislative actions, and look towards the future of all things coming and going in New York. Join Keynote Speaker Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, along with agency leaders, elected officials, and advocates. Use the code STREETSBLOG for a 25-percent discount when you RSVP here!

Pay no attention to that preening panderer on that stage.

That’s what Rep. Adriano Espaillat ostensibly told Streetsblog on Tuesday, roughly 24 hours after he suggested that bike lanes — along with Japanese cuisine and high-end coffee — are unwanted forces of gentrification in his upper Manhattan district.

Don’t take it personally,” Espaillat told Streetsblog, which had called him to ask about the Monday speech he gave at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s annual King Day event, at which Espaillat suggested, in overtly racial terms, that basic street safety improvements are incompatible with his constituents’ needs.

It was hard not to be offended by Espaillat’s comments in Harlem on Monday (watch the video below to get the full impact):

“I think King would have looked at this and taken this on: Affordability and gentrification are ripping our neighborhood apart. And you see the stress of high rent,” the congressman said, before grandiosely buttoning his suit jacket and gesturing with his body like he had morphed into a wealthy Fifth Avenue financier. He practically spat out the last few words: “Now you got Starbucks. And bike lanes. And sushi. Where’s my rice and beans?!”

Streetsblog has long focused its attention on the congressman’s mixed record on street safety, most recently for his opposition to a protected bike lane on Dyckman Street in Inwood, despite ample evidence that many of Espaillat’s constituents rely on their bikes for affordable transportation or as a work tool. There were 61 crashes on just the two blocks of Dyckman between Broadway and Nagle Avenue in 2017, the year before the paired bike lanes were in stalled. That number fell to 50 in 2018, after the bike lanes were installed.

On Tuesday, Espaillat called us back to say that he only opposed the Dyckman bike lane because it would reduce emergency response times, which is not accurate according to the Department of Transportation. The bike lane was removed at Espaillat’s behest, but later restored with a different configuration. (DOT declined to comment for this story.)

Here is what he said:

I have been a supporter of bike lanes for a long long time. I’m OK with the new model on Dyckman Street. I was concerned with many people felt that the old model created some passenger conditions for emergency vehicle response time. The new model I support strongly. I introduced legislation that proposes to fund programs across the country for alternative transportation including bike lanes. I also believe that the residents of the area cannot be exposed to problems with response time for emergency vehicles. I was personally approached by firefighters and police officers and said it was a fire trap. I support bike lanes. I just don’t think that things can happen without a deep consultation with the community.
Adriano Espaillat shows how people on bikes are ruining Dyckman Street — by not even getting out of his car to investigate.
Here’s how Adriano Espaillat complained about the Dyckman Street bike lane — from behind the wheel of his car.

The bill in question was Espaillat’s 2019 legislation, the “Safe and Friendly for the Environment (SAFE) Streets Act.” The congressman’s office said the bill would “direct more federal funds toward making our streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists,” though the legislation merely requires states to set aside a portion of their existing federal funding for safety if fatality rates rise in a given area. The bill, introduced in May, 2019, has 13 co-sponsors out of 435 members of Congress. No actions have been taken on it.

The bill does not specify how cities and states would overcome neighborhood opposition — including from lawmakers like Espaillat himself — when localities propose street safety projects like the protected bike lane on Dyckman Street.

“Improving pedestrian safety and biker accessibility will have a tremendous impact throughout our neighborhoods and communities,” the congressman said at the time, countering his message from Monday.

Next thing you know, he’ll tell us how much he likes Starbucks lattes and eel avocado rolls.