Opinion: Debunking the Lies of Vickie Paladino is Crucial to Understanding the Bikelash
When Streetsblog asked me to take on the task of responding to the opinion piece submitted by Council Member Vickie Paladino, I was reluctant. Paladino, who represents District 19 in Queens, has levied the “groomer” blood libel at drag performers who read to children and compared vaccine mandates to Nazism, offensive comments that have no place in politics or our city. I went back and forth over whether Streetsblog should even run her editorial at all, as there is always a balance between using sunlight as the best disinfectant against odious views and allowing it to be a powerful energy source that fuels engagement and further entrenches such positions.
Given that the Council member sent Streetsblog an opinion piece that stayed largely within this site’s wheelhouse of transportation and covering the movement for safe streets, I felt that I could write the reply that follows in good conscience. Not only that, I found CM Paladino’s piece to be a fascinating cultural artifact in the seemingly never-ending fight to fix our streets as well as a time capsule that might one day show where the political discourse stood in the post-truth world of 2023.
As I read through Paladino’s piece, I was struck by what can only charitably be described as its loose detachment from reality. Her views on bike lanes, congestion pricing, and even the goals of urbanists and activists seem shaped by some combination of disinformation, reactionary politics, mild revanchism, and too much time spent reading her social media replies from her equally ill-informed supporters.
In one sense, Paladino’s views are just the latest flavor of bikelash, a silly phenomenon that rears its head every time the city tries to install a protected bike lane or make things marginally safer for people who aren’t in cars. It’s something I’ve covered for more than a decade as a writer and media creator; swatting it down is old hat for me. In a far different sense, Paladino’s language appears to fit right in with the dangerous conspiracy theories that have taken over our political discourse these days and needs to be tamped down.
So let’s start tamping. What follows below is Paladino’s original opinion piece, indented, with bold for emphasis. My debunks appear below each indented section. Nothing has been changed in Paladino’s post.
New York is always changing. The city of 50 years ago was very different from what we know today, and nearly unrecognizable from 50 years prior to that. Much has improved. Although some would argue that we’ve taken more than a few wrong turns along the way.
So change is a constant in New York, that much is true. However, as good citizens and elected officials, it is our responsibility to ensure the changes which take place during our stewardship not only serve our immediate needs, but also ensure the safety, prosperity, and viability of our city for future generations.
To that end, the question of our transit mix has become a hot topic of discussion, with influential and energized activists and urbanists pushing for radical changes to transit policy they feel very strongly about, and many ordinary citizens feeling left out of the debate entirely.
Recently, I weighed in with a tweet that got quite a bit of attention amongst the online activists and urbanists, calling attention to the simple fact that many New Yorkers feel left out of the debate and powerless thanks to perceived collusion between activists, special interests, and regulators.
Given the long history of lengthy community board debate and DOT’s frequent acquiescence to council members like Paladino — not to mention the legal requirements that force DOT to notify communities and give them a chance to weigh in long before streets can be changed — it is disingenuous to say that anyone is “left out” of any debate about how we allocate our street space. Not getting what one wants 100 percent of the time is not the same as being left out.
As for accusations of “collusion” between activists and people in government — something that’s less nefariously known across a wide range of political issues as “lobbying” — Paladino is subtly inching into conspiracy-theory territory, something she’ll do less subtly later in her piece.
This tweet was almost immediately swarmed by the activist/urbanist community— as is common with any tweet posted by nearly anyone which argues against their orthodoxy.
This is, of course, true — and so is the reverse, judging from the Twitter mentions received by livable streets supporters when they post about a bike lane project, open street or other DOT initiative. No one is immune from trolls; believe me, I can post the most banal observation about riding a bicycle and also be “swarmed” by anonymous accounts who have nothing more to offer than reflexive hatred of cyclists, ad hominem attacks, name calling and glee at the latest pedestrian or cyclist fatality. It is disingenuous to suggest that one side is uniquely more aggressive than the other on social media.
That being said, it takes a lot of chutzpah for Paladino to tweet a thread insulting supporters of progressive transportation as “weirdo activists” who, unlike “normal people,” are “the worst sort of misanthropic radicals on the fringe of the conversations” and then claim victimhood by falsely asserting that she was merely stating a “simple fact” about community input.
The goals of these activists are clear, unambiguous, and radical; the elimination of private vehicle ownership in NYC, and the closing of most city roads to any vehicle traffic at all. It’s hard to pretend otherwise when it’s plainly written in most of their twitter bios, and they’re not particularly shy about saying it at every available opportunity.
And when regular people see every major proposal and action by our DOT and lawmakers moving us closer to exactly that — from congestion pricing to “open streets” to the intrusion of bike lanes even where they make no sense — it’s hard to draw any conclusion other than the long-term policy goals of our regulators are being essentially dictated by a rather insular and militant activist community with radical (and unfeasible) ideas.
Everything here is hyperbolic and false — except for one thing.
Twitter is nothing if not a place where nuance and context are flattened in favor of maximalist sloganeering for the sake of garnering attention. Sure, a small percentage of people who put #BanCars in their bios mean it seriously, but most find it to be a helpful shorthand that shines a spotlight on the many problems with car dependency. (I wrote a whole thing about it!)
Still, it’s comical bordering on conspiratorial to suggest that activists are pursuing a goal to eliminate “private vehicle ownership” and close “most” streets to vehicular traffic. No one seeks that or is even capable of anything of the sort.
First, there isn’t an activist in the game today who doesn’t recognize the importance motor vehicles play in our transportation network, from the goods and services that arrive from great distances via trucks to the people who drive due to a host of individual reasons that make transit use or cycling impossible. Many safe streets advocates own cars! Even I, who Paladino would probably dismiss as a weirdo activist, drive a car when the situation requires one and certainly don’t fault those who need to drive. Shaming individual drivers who just need to get to work certainly happens, especially on social media, but it’s not an effective tool in the advocacy toolkit. Advocates are pushing back against a system of car dependency that forces automobile ownership on too many people and externalizes the costs of mass motordom on everyone, whether they drive or not.
Second, New York City has 6,000 miles of roadways. As of today, an infinitesimal percentage of those miles have been transformed into car-free space. Car drivers have access to virtually everything — even most open streets allow for vehicles to pass through, albeit at 5 miles per hour. I also don’t know what Paladino means by “the intrusion of bike lanes,” given that there are fewer than 600 miles of protected bike lane in all of New York City. The remaining painted bike lanes are often parking lanes for cars and trucks, if they’re maintained by DOT at all.
As for congestion pricing, it’s just a toll, albeit one that would help improve transit service and free up road space for those who still need or choose to drive. It would not eliminate driving any more than tolls have eliminated private cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Paladino’s claim — that a powerful and insular minority is moving New York City closer to a day when cars are banned outright — is disproven by simply logging off, going outside and looking around. In my Brooklyn neighborhood — the bougie, bike-loving birthplace of The War on Cars, if you will — automobiles line the streets as far as the eye can see. Parking garages are still being built into new construction and will be with us for generations. Traffic fatalities remain a huge problem. All this in a community with some of the best transit access, bike infrastructure and walkability in the city.
For goodness sake, you can park on the sidewalk just about anywhere you want in this town. The idea that New York is moving anywhere close to making it impossible or illegal for regular people to drive where and when they want is a fever dream.
While it’s true that NYC has some of the lowest rates of private vehicle ownership in the country — around 50 percent according to most accounts — there is far more complexity to that figure than the activists would like us to believe. Activists (including Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine) repeatedly cite the 50-percent figure as definitive justification for their overall agenda. But it’s deeply fallacious to assume that every non-car- owner in NYC is completely on board with the notion of banning cars and closing off most city streets to vehicles entirely. And it also assumes that the four million people who do own cars simply don’t matter and deserve to be squeezed in every possible way.
This is false. Paladino is citing a well-known figure, but citing it incorrectly. According to NYC EDC and census figures, approximately 45 percent of New York City households own a car. There are not four million cars in New York City. The number is closer to one million.
“Car ownership” also does not equal “car commuting.” Again according to the EDC and US Census, “only 27 percent of the city’s 3.8 million workers commute via car, truck or van.” Even in Queens, the numbers separating car commuters from transit riders are small — 38 percent of people there drive to work and 38.2 percent take the subway.
As for Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, he has every right to advocate for policies that he believes benefit his constituents, just as Councilmember Paladino does for hers. In the BP’s case, 76.6 percent of Manhattan households are car-free and the majority of people who enter Manhattan do so by transit. For Levine, reducing the impact of private cars in Manhattan is smart policy and good politics. (It would be for Paladino too, given that only about 7 percent of residents in her district drive alone to the congestion pricing zone while 18 percent take public transit.)
In fact, there is very little actual data on how New Yorkers as a whole feel on the issue of our future transit mix, and I suspect this is deliberate. The assumptions are a comfortable fiction for those steering this policy. Actual data would only muddy the waters and force activists, regulators, and lawmakers to contend with the more complex realities of public opinion. Nevertheless, I would love to see a broad, deep, and unbiased public opinion study of New Yorkers to get a more nuanced appraisal of where they stand on transit issues and how they’ve been impacted by changes made thus far.
Has there been a “deliberate” effort to avoid collecting data on how New Yorkers feel about transportation and the allocation of street space? Again, this is false bordering on conspiratorial. There’s actually a lot of data available.
Back in 2012, at the height of the tabloid-fueled pushback against the Bloomberg administration’s transportation and streets agenda, a New York Times poll showed that 66 percent of New Yorkers — including a majority of people in all five boroughs — thought bike lanes were a good idea. One year later, another Times poll showed 73 percent support for the then-new Citi Bike program and 72 percent support for pedestrian plazas.
Since then, support for policies that prioritize cycling, walking and public space has only grown. A 2020 poll commissioned by Transportation Alternatives and conducted by the Siena College Research Institute showed majority support for the expansion of protected bike lanes and for taking parking for bike share stations, improved bus service and open restaurants. This support was consistent across all demographics, income levels and boroughs. Even a supermajority of car drivers were on board with policies that improved pedestrian safety and expanded space for children to play, even if it meant taking parking.
Far from muddying the waters, as Paladino claims, these polls — and the many like it conducted by independent polling organizations over the years — make it crystal clear that ordinary citizens really like the ways in which the city has gradually reapportioned asphalt in favor of non-car uses. Besides, the vast majority of New Yorkers don’t pay attention to polls, going about their daily lives by riding the subways, taking buses, riding Citi Bike in numbers that regularly break records, and flocking to new bike lanes on city bridges.
Most of this activist energy is promoted (as, historically, so many questionable ideas are) under the guise of safety. “Safe streets” is the banner they fold it all into. Who could be against that? Well, nobody. We all want safer streets. And there is a lot of work to be done there. However, the only answer the activists seem to be interested in is the forcible reduction and eventual elimination of cars, at first by making their ownership and operation prohibitively expensive, and eventually through regulatory action. By that logic, we could also eliminate plane crashes by banning air transport, and we could eliminate cyberbullying by banning computers. There are no simple solutions to complex problems, and “ban everything” usually makes for terrible policy.
Paladino doesn’t say what other historically “questionable ideas” were promoted under the guise of safety, but the claim that activists who seek a more sustainable transportation future are using safety as a cover to conceal the broad scope of their agenda is false.
It is certainly true that the movement for livable streets puts safety front and center. But as we’ve all seen during the pandemic, the reasons for rethinking how we use public space go far beyond preventing traffic injuries and fatalities. New parks and public plazas protect people from road violence, but they also satisfy the desire, held by many New Yorkers, for spaces free from pollution, noise and stress. Outdoor dining took parking spots not in the name of traffic safety, but in service of saving a vital city industry from financial ruin. The same movement that seeks to reduce the use of cars also seeks to expand bus lanes to speed up service for riders who are statistically lower-income than drivers. It advocates for wider sidewalks so that pedestrians have room to move and wants to see the many garbage bags that block their way placed in curbside containers, a two-birds-with-one-stone trick that will also help combat the city’s rodent problem. Do all of these goals mean sacrificing space for cars? Yes. Are all of them about safety? No. Are activists hiding those goals? Also no.
It’s also worth noting that Paladino raises the frightening specter of draconian regulations leading to the “forcible reduction and eventual elimination of cars.” While Paladino does not refer to it directly, her language has eerie similarities with the “Great Reset” conspiracy theory — essentially the Agenda 21 conspiracy updated for the Twitter and TikTok age, only with the World Economic Forum now playing the role of the United Nations. While the WEF has indeed advocated for a future with fewer cars, the idea that there’s an international plot against motorists that will be enforced by government decree is absurd.
Speeding, reckless driving, and unaccountable drivers are a huge problem in this city — and in my district as well. I am not going to make excuses here; things need to improve. However, there are solutions to this problem which don’t involve nuking the entire concept of private vehicle ownership or making life even more expensive for the average working person.
Here Paladino falls back on one of the great tropes of car culture: the notion that any attempt to properly price and mitigate the societal and environmental harms caused by cars is an attack on “average” people. (As if it isn’t average people who are killed in traffic crashes or who deal with the terrible health effects of exposure to automobile exhaust.)
Census figures show that the median income of New Yorkers who own cars is substantially higher than their car-free neighbors. This does not mean that all car drivers are wealthy or that there aren’t plenty of car-free New Yorkers with high incomes, but it does mean that we ought to interrogate who Paladino considers to be an “average working person,” because it doesn’t seem to include the majority of New Yorkers who rely on the subway and bus to get to work.
I am very much in favor of speed bumps, grooved pavement, and speed tables/raised pedestrian crossings to keep speeds down, particularly in residential areas like the ones found in my district. Ideally, I would love to see some form of passive speed control on a great many residential streets in the district I represent — and I imagine passive speed controls could be implemented on side streets throughout the city. Making it physically/mechanically difficult or even impossible to speed is ultimately worth far more than all the tickets in the world — if safety really is the goal. These passive systems also have the added benefit of being relatively inexpensive, easy to maintain, and place no financial burden on the community. I have also been working to install additional traffic controls in my district, like stop signs and traffic lights in problem areas as a more immediate fix.
This is worth highlighting not because it is false, like many of Paladino’s other claims, but because it is entirely true. On this point – preventing behaviors that lead to traffic crashes – she and I agree. Solutions that prevent drivers from engaging in risky behavior in the first place are always preferable to fines and tickets after the fact, not least of all because our current system saddles low-income people with escalating late fees and debt while those with means pay their way to impunity. I tip my hat to CM Paladino for perhaps unintentionally formulating a theory of traffic safety based on harm prevention as well as economic and racial justice.
I am also very much in favor of enhanced traffic enforcement by the NYPD citywide. There is no substitute for the traffic stop, both in terms of ensuring driver accountability and deterrent factor. However, as much of our other quality-of-life enforcement has been suspended thanks to “progressive” ideas about limiting the scope of law enforcement, so has traffic enforcement to a large degree, and we are suffering for it.
In fact, San Francisco — always a good barometer for the vanguard of progressive thinking which also animates much of our policy here in NYC — has moved to abolish traffic enforcement entirely. This seems counterproductive, especially coming from people who ostensibly want to promote “safe streets.” And quite radical.
This is false. San Francisco is not moving “to abolish traffic enforcement entirely.” The San Francisco Police Commission recently voted to curtail the use of nine types of “pretext stops” that have “negligible public safety benefits” but that are wielded in racist and inequitable ways, often with deadly consequences for Black motorists.
Among the restrictions, San Francisco police officers will not be able to pull someone over for failure to display registration tags, driving with a broken taillight, or having something hanging from the rearview mirror. Additionally, having a hunch absent “reasonable suspicion” that someone has committed a crime will no longer be reason enough for an officer to pull someone over. These changes are supported by and were crafted with input from the city’s police chief, Bill Scott, but still have a long way to go — perhaps years — before they go into effect.
What I am not in favor of are the proliferation of speed cameras, which have proven over the years to do very little to deter speeding or reckless driving, and in fact serve mainly as revenue generators disproportionately impacting the working class. A speed camera can only deter those who already care about obeying the law — and only penalize after the fact. This is not doing much to actually make streets safer in any appreciable way. I realize that these cameras may have their place, but they are not at all suited to be anything close to a primary means of enforcement, which is how they are increasingly utilized.
This is false. According to DOT data, more than half of drivers who receive a first speed camera violation never receive a second. Additionally, the number of tickets — and therefore the revenue generated by them — goes down over time as drivers adjust their behavior. It is true that lower-income drivers are less able to pay camera-issued tickets than wealthy drivers, but that’s an argument for income-graduated fees or for issuing a warning for the first ticket a motorist receives in a year.
Cameras are also easily defeated by criminals who either conceal their plate or use fraudulent plates — allowing them to operate with impunity, free to break our traffic laws and wreak havoc either in cars or on unregistered and illegal motorcycles, dirt bikes and ATVs. We’ve all seen cars with defaced or fake paper license plates, as well as the gangs of dozens (and often hundreds) of ATVs tearing down our streets, blowing through red lights and generally causing chaos and even attacking pedestrians. The only solution to this, of course, is old-fashioned law enforcement, which activists don’t seem very interested in talking about. But actual accountability will be crucial if we want to realize ‘safe streets’ in NYC.
There are all kinds of laws that are easily thwarted by bad actors; we don’t throw out proven safety tools just because some people find a workaround. If Paladino is concerned that people with defaced or fraudulent plates are avoiding speed camera tickets, she could use her powers as a legislator to do something about it.
The idea that activists aren’t interested in talking about “old-fashioned law enforcement” is just a straw man. There’s great debate within advocacy circles about the role of law enforcement. Indeed, a common and, in my opinion, fair criticism of the livable streets advocacy movement from the Left is that it has historically been too supportive of in-person enforcement and carceral solutions to traffic safety.
The biggest mistake these activists make, however, is in their apparent misunderstanding of what roads exist for. They talk about roads as though they’re currently a species of luxury accommodation for the wealthy and selfish, filling no practical purpose other than to serve the ego of drivers and subsidize ‘big oil’ — and easily replaced with bicycles and parks, if only we had the courage and political will to just make it happen. They speak in terms of roads being reclaimed ‘for the people’ or some other such pablum.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Roads are an instrument of commerce, first and foremost. Period. They exist to allow the flow of goods, services, workers, and customers into and out of our commerce centers so as to maximize the economic potential of our city. This has been true from the days of the Romans onward, and it will remain true for the foreseeable future. This is why we have roads.
All discussions about the future of transit must be centered around maintaining the viability and expansion of commerce, or we will be writing the death warrant of our city. It’s that simple. Without commerce, our city dies.
I don’t need to get into a semantic argument about the difference between “roads” and “streets” nor do I really want to give CM Paladino a history lesson about Roman road construction. Regardless of the reasons for building the Appian Way in 312 BC, cities change, whether from one millennia to the next or even over the course of a few decades or years. Saying that because roads were built for one purpose nearly 2,000 years ago we must see all roads everywhere exactly the same way today is no more cogent an argument for keeping New York’s streets dangerous in 2023 than pointing out that cities were originally built without sewers and indoor toilets is a solid defense of public urination.
That’s not to say there aren’t more innovative ways to move goods and people around, but historically it has never been terribly smart economics to place serious internal, artificial limitations on how people move, or to make it prohibitively expensive to do so. However that seems to be a major part of the plan for our future — to price most private and commercial vehicular traffic out of the transit mix via congestion taxes, arbitrary camera enforcement, and other regulatory disincentives, and to close more and more streets entirely.
Again, this is dangerously close to the kind of conspiratorial language that seems to be on the rise among opponents of traffic reduction measures, with some believing that concepts like the 15-minute city or low-traffic neighborhoods are part of a coordinated scheme by global elites to force people out of cars and restrict their freedoms. A good question for the councilmember would be to ask her what moments in history she’s referring to when people had “serious, internal, artificial limitations” placed on their movement.
Furthermore, activists relentlessly fetishize small European cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where they see the bicycle as a primary mode of commuting, and insist — loudly and to anyone who sits still long enough — that this is definitely the future of NYC, or else. The bicycle has taken on the role of religious totem with these people, and a quick perusal of social media reveals a cultish obsession with cycling and codifying their hobby into the infrastructure of our city no matter who objects or for what reason, with the ultimate goal of supplanting private vehicle ownership with bicycles for the masses. Aside from the utter impracticality, it all comes off as deeply weird as well.
It’s true that activists have a fascination bordering on obsession with Copenhagen and Amsterdam, but that’s because those places have a lot to teach people everywhere about how to manage traffic, protect lives and build mobility infrastructure that’s accessible to people of all ages and abilities. But Paladino isn’t offering any substantive critique here. Hers is just the latest in a long line of cries that “This isn’t Amsterdam!”
As for hobbies, there definitely are people who make cycling a core part of their identities. But the same is true of many people who join vintage car clubs, race muscle cars on public streets or who generally obsess over their cars. It’s fine. We don’t segment road users based on who an elected official believes is going somewhere important and who they think is merely engaging in a hobby.
However the very simple reality is that Copenhagen has a GMP of $400 billion. The GMP of Amsterdam is a paltry $64 billion. And the GMP of the New York City metro area is $1.5 trillion. I’m sorry, but you aren’t going to sustain a $1.5 trillion dollar economy with bicycles, closed streets, and positive vibes. Math doesn’t care about your hobby, or your politics.
Comparing New York’s Gross Metropolitan (or Municipal) Product to Copenhagen’s or Amsterdam’s is ridiculous. Those cities don’t have smaller economies because people there ride bicycles. They have smaller economies because they’re smaller cities.
Still, two can play at that game. Paris and London, two other European cities advocates also look to for inspiration, are still among the largest metro economies in the world — and both have mayors who are actively pursuing policies to curb cars to increase cycling and improve the public realm. London has had congestion pricing for twenty years, all the while remaining one of the financial capitals of the world. Farther afield, Tokyo — a city with some of the strictest parking laws on the planet and a vast metro network that puts our subway system to shame — has an economy that’s hundreds of millions of dollars larger than New York’s.
There are other ways to measure the success of a city than “GMP.” Copenhagen and Amsterdam routinely rank at or near the top of all kinds of world indexes related to happiness and quality of life. Life expectancy in New York City is about 77 years. In Denmark and the Netherlands, it’s 81. That’s not solely because the Danes and the Dutch make it easy to ride bicycles for transportation, but it doesn’t hurt.
There is more than a whiff of privileged detachment to all of this. It takes a certain type of coddled affluent professional who’s never really interacted with an outer-borough working person to believe any of this is reasonable, to disregard offhand any and all objections — and then to have the political clout and financial resources to actually move the bureaucracy accordingly.
This is how we end up with bike lanes where they absolutely do not belong, disrupting the lives of working-class people and small business owners who’ve been there forever. This is how we end up with highly educated and well-paid elites screaming on the internet about the ‘injustice’ of a delivery van double-parking in a bike lane for a few minutes. This is how we end up with entire apartment blocks suddenly cut off from all emergency services by ‘Open Streets’ with zero regard for elderly and disabled residents. This is how we end up with college students and the white-collar laptop class lecturing plumbers and construction workers and truck drivers about ‘workers rights’ and rambling about cargo bicycles.
Most of this is childish and hardly worth engaging. One part in particular is a fear-mongering falsehood: Open Streets do not cut off apartment blocks from emergency services. DOT works closely with FDNY and NYPD to ensure that emergency vehicles can always access open streets. I would find Paladino’s alleged concerns about emergency response and access for the elderly and people with disabilities far more convincing if she had ever expressed similar concerns about all the ways in which the city’s relentless gridlock delays emergency response and makes life more difficult for the elderly and disabled. She’s free to prove me wrong, but absent this her claims sound like basic concern trolling.
Please do tell the the blue-collar workers who make their living coming in and out of the city every day about how feasible it is for them to pack up their tools and equipment onto a bicycle or subway car, or that they deserve to pay $100 daily for the privilege of driving onto the hallowed streets of Manhattan each morning in order to toil on behalf of the benighted class who are not bothered by such things. And then wonder why ‘bike lane activist’ has become an epithet.
This is mostly false. An MTA environmental assessment released in August explored a price range of $9 to $23 for rush-hour travel into the congestion pricing zone; wherever within that range the fee winds up, very few drivers will be charged more than once per day. Paladino’s claim of a $100 daily toll could possibly be pulled from the Times coverage of the MTA report, which noted that under one proposal drivers of large trucks without E-Z Pass could pay more than $100 to enter the CPZ. Even in a situation where such a fee was enacted, it would likely only hit trucking companies occasionally supplying multimillion-dollar construction sites or using the city as a shortcut. The “blue-collar” general contractors or plumbers making regular service calls would not pay anywhere close to this.
The idea that anyone is telling people to load up a cargo bike with tools or carry lumber on the subway is just about as serious as any other culture war accusation. For what it’s worth, plenty of jobs can and will move to cargo bikes given the right market incentives, as we’re currently seeing with a lot of grocery and package delivery companies.
This is not to say that bike riding isn’t a good thing, or that bike lanes don’t have their place either — riding a bicycle is a healthy and positive hobby for those whose lifestyle and occupation allow it. And there are parts of this city where bike lanes might work great for the local population to get around. This is a big, diverse city with a lot of differentiation between neighborhoods and populations. The fact is there is no one-size-fits-all solution to our transit question, and local control via transparent community input, canvassing, and a comprehensive review process in which all stakeholders have a voice is what’s best. But this has simply not been the case for the most part, up until now. These decisions have been largely top-down, opaque, and often at the expense of long-time residents by a gentrifying population. And the activist/urbanist position is inflexible — bike lanes and open streets are for everyone, everywhere, with no exceptions. This is just not realistic, and promotes only rancor and hostility.
Paladino is deep into Bikelash Bingo now. But don’t worry. Aside from never supporting most bike lanes, thinking that bikes are impractical and ridiculing the people who ride them as out-of-touch elitists with a weird fetish, she likes bikes!
Additionally, there must be accountability for cyclists on par with drivers. I would propose that in order to operate a bicycle or e-bike on a public bike lane, riders must be licensed by the city, pass a safety course, wear approved safety gear like a helmet and padding, register their bike, display a license plate which can be read by cameras, and carry liability insurance to protect against property damage and injuries. If it’s going to be a long-term fixture of our transit mix, biking can no longer be a free-for-all. It must come under the same regulatory apparatus as any other vehicle. Period.
Additionally, it would only make sense that a cycling permit be required to access the Citibike system as well. A digital permitting system would make it fast and easy to check out a bike, but it would be crucial in guaranteeing the safety and security of riders and those they share the road with.
Everything Paladino proposes here is unserious, doesn’t exist in any city that has successfully integrated cycling into its transportation system and has been thoroughly debunked going back years. Indeed, I pushed back against similar proposals from anti-bike members of the City Council twelve years ago.
I would propose these regulations only for those utilizing bike lanes on public streets. Riding a bike in a residential neighborhood or in public parks would be unaffected. But these bike lanes and their users must be regulated for the sake of public safety and they must begin to contribute financially to the infrastructure and upkeep they demand.
I almost hate to engage with Paladino’s proposal seriously because most proposals to license cyclists aren’t serious; they are monkey wrenches thrown in the machinery of progress to slow the growth of cycling. Still, I’ll give it a go.
How would one distinguish a residential neighborhood where bike licenses are not required from a non-residential neighborhood where they are? Do neighborhoods with apartments over ground-level retail count as residential or non-residential? How many businesses would a neighborhood need to be considered non-residential? For a person who seemingly hates big government, Paladino is proposing something that would require a whole lot of government.
I’d also like to see additional investments in public transit — our subways and busses continue to be the main arteries of our city, however ridership is not where it should be. Much of this is due to deteriorating public safety, but much is also a result of poor planning and fiscal mismanagement. When I first came into office, one of the very first things I faced (on my first week, I believe) was a disastrous redesign of bus lines that negatively impacted the heavily immigrant working-class area of College Point — the very people who depend on them the most. It’s not entirely an issue of funding, but a comprehensive independent audit of the MTA is long overdue.
Overall I think we have a good opportunity at this time to plan for a future transit mix that works for everyone, and leaves our city well-positioned for the coming years. But only if we are realistic, pragmatic, and free from ideological blinders.
How we see streets and who they are for is not like picking between Coke and Pepsi in a blindfolded taste test. No one — not the council member nor I, nor anyone else reading this — is immune from “ideological blinders.” It’s just that an ideology grounded in preserving the status quo is harder to recognize as such than one that is based on a theory of social change. That being said, Paladino’s ideology is so common that it has been proven to negatively affect one’s perception of the urban environment. For years, there’s even been a term for it: windshield perspective.
Understanding that what works well in some areas for some people may be anathema to others, and that our overriding goal must be the continued financial viability of our city above all else, will be key to designing and implementing a system that truly works for today and future generations. Transparency, accountability, and community input will ensure everyone feels that their voice is being heard; many want to see big changes and want them quickly, but reality demands a careful and deliberate process that accounts for much more than the instant gratification of activists.
I want to thank Streetsblog for the opportunity to publish this op-ed. It speaks very highly of the editors to give an opposing viewpoint [in] this space.
If “instant gratification” was what I was after, I would not have gotten into safe streets activism. It takes months if not years to affect even the smallest amount of change on our streets, from the decades-long fight to pass congestion pricing legislation to the slow rollout of something as simple as speed humps, even when they’re requested by community members and City Council members.
To cite a specific and tragic example, it’s taken countless injuries and the deaths of four children over fourteen years just to bring Brooklyn’s 9th Street up to its current design iteration; not even the death of Sarah Shick in January has motivated the city to do much more so far than adjust the signal timing at one or two intersections. The community process for redesigning just the section where Shick was killed — a process that Paladino believes happens too quickly across the city — has not yet begun, will probably take months, and is unlikely to lead to any restrictions to traffic flow or vehicular access.
Instead of playing into her constituents’ fears, amplifying conspiracy-laden nonsense and stoking the flames of the online culture wars, Paladino should educate and inform herself by talking to transportation experts and engaging with average New Yorkers who walk and bike. She should stop being so terminally online that she stereotypes an entire movement – one that includes many people who’ve lost loved ones to easily preventable traffic crashes — based on her Twitter replies. She should also attempt to get around as most New Yorkers do: by public transit. Perhaps then she will be more open to solutions that, merely by reapportioning a tiny fraction of asphalt from cars to more efficient modes, would have enormous benefits for everyone, including drivers. That’s not to say that the council member has to like policies that prioritize people’s lives over parking and driver convenience, but demanding better of anyone holding elected office in this great city of ours shouldn’t be too much to ask.