OPINION: How An Upper West Side Community Meeting Changed My Mind About Bike Lanes
A funny thing happened to me when I went to speak out against proposed crosstown bike lanes at my Upper West Side community board on March 14 — I changed my mind.
On any given day, you can find me roaming the Upper West Side muttering in protest of cyclists zooming every which way down streets, up avenues, and on sidewalks. As a driver, I can occasionally be heard cursing the bikes that nick my car as they maneuver through double-parked obstacle courses.
So, of course my blood pressure soared when I found a flier on my windshield that said, “Say NO to bike lanes East to West across entire UWS! Hundreds of parking spots will be lost! CB7 meets 3/14 at 6:30 via Zoom, have your voice heard!” I was called to action.
At 6:30 sharp, I cracked my knuckles and entered the virtual community board meeting raring to oppose. While we waited for everyone to join, I ran replays in my head of countless hours spent circling the block in search of a spot to stick my car and all the close calls I’ve had crossing one-way streets on foot as people whiz by on bikes. My mind laminated mental images of my favorite neighborhood streets exactly as they are — lined with parallel parked cars on both sides.
My brain was hardwired to contest any proposal designed for bikes that so often leave me exasperated as a driver and pedestrian. It didn’t take long on the call for new perspectives to disrupt my card-carrying car-first ways.
Of the 50-something Upper West Siders who spoke, the vast majority favored protected crosstown bike lanes. Some expressed fear for their lives while riding alongside cars with no protective infrastructure dividing them. Others shared that people close to them might still be alive today had protected lanes been in place. A few broke down in tears while pleading for protection so they wouldn’t have to lose another loved one.
After hearing such heartbreaking testimonies, I hit the brakes and made a complete 180-degree turn. I went from being dug in about not wanting to accommodate cyclists to realizing that I had no clue about the ramifications not having such infrastructure has on cyclists and the people who love them. In too many cases, the lack of safe space to bike has resulted in lost lives — brothers, wives, roommates, and friends killed because our streets are not conducive to imperative road sharing.
How could I possibly prioritize the convenience of me and my car when actual lives are at stake? The value of any life on or off a bike far outweighs my bicycle frustrations and parking woes.
Toward the end of the public testimonies, I let my voice be heard — and not in the way I had set out to at the start of the call.
Instead, I expressed my change of heart and what prompted it and watched the faces of a few board members light up, surprised that someone so diehard had been swayed. To quote a cartoon I love, “My loyalty is to reason, and as a reasonable person, I reserve the right to change my mind when presented with new information that alters my perspective.”
Here’s what I said:
I’ve lived … for the past three years as a driver who owns a car on the Upper West Side and a pedestrian who, quite honestly, has a very hard time walking and driving alongside bicycles. I very much came into this call pretty ignorant and very heels-dug-in about, ‘I don’t want bike lanes going across town,’ ‘It’s gonna take my parking spots,’ and blah, blah, blah. I have to say that I’ve made a complete 180 after hearing what everybody has to say. I mean, I just don’t see how my convenience could possibly trump the need to protect commuters in our neighborhood. It’s no competition. It’s frustrating. I don’t want to lose spots. But I think it’s a modest ask, what you guys are proposing every 10 blocks.
After we, the people, said our parts, a few board and committee members raised points that took my thinking a step further: “Whether you ride a bike, drive a car, or both, we are all pedestrians, and we must ensure that whatever we do will be a safe choice for everyone, especially pedestrians.”
Another board member spoke about a pedestrian struck and killed by a cyclist, and I wondered what is the safest solution for everyone? As it currently stands, we’ve got bicycles, buses, trucks, cars, pedestrians, scooters, and more everywhere, with a growing number of bikes and a lack of clearly laid plans or paths for them. It’s the Wild West out there; is it any wonder that cyclists had to get a bit inventive with how they chart our concrete jungle?
Bikes have become a prevalent mode of transportation around the city, whether I like it or not. For the safety of everyone on our streets, it’s time to satisfy the modest request for protected crosstown bike lanes every ten blocks on the Upper West Side. And if one day I lose my selflessness in a fleeting lack-of-parking rage, I will try to remind myself that although my struggle is real, this worthy compromise might save the lives of my neighbors, family members, and friends I have yet to meet.
Lauren DeFazio (@ArcticTumbleweed) is an Upper West Side-based Travel Writer who enjoys power walking around town and taking long road trips out of town.