Friday, May 13, 2016

Woody v. bike lanes: dawn of ignorance

Upper East Side residents gathered at a church on East 88th Street last night to argue about a revised DOT proposal to paint new bike lanes on one-way streets throughout the neighborhood. Derisive jeers and earnest applause erupted repeatedly throughout the heated meeting inside Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, as cyclists clashed with older residents who deem bike lanes unsafe and unwanted in their neighborhood. 
Among them was director, writer, and actor Woody Allen, who has a home on East 70th Street. Allen, who has never had much love for cyclists in NYC, told us the plans were "unacceptable." 
"None of the streets can accommodate a bike lane in a graceful way," Allen said, arguing that the DOT's plan to add bike lanes to Upper East Side crosstown streets is out of step with the community. "Every street has a good argument why it shouldn't have a lane."
Woody, Woody, Woody, what are we gonna do with you? As a filmmaker, you're a legend: the movies you made in your prime, during the 70s and 80s, remain hilarious and poignant, and some of your recent stuff hasn't been bad either. Beyond that... well...

Leonardo DiCaprio rides a bike!
May being National Bike Month, it's a good time to bring this subject up here. Last week, New York's transportation department released a report which charted the phenomenal growth biking has experienced in this city over the past decade. Biking as a legitimate transportation option is better accepted by the average New Yorker today than even five years ago, but there's still plenty of work yet to be done regarding a tougher matter: changing people's attitudes.

In her new book Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, former NYC transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan devotes an entire chapter to addressing the complaints of the anti-bike crowd, and points out the real problem that usually goes unrecognized by them:
...Road rage directed at bike riders obscures the underlying design flaws of streets that bring riders, walkers and drivers into conflict in the first place. Bike riding shouldn't be an act of bravery, and transportation leaders should redesign their streets so that they don't depend on armor or surrender to survive.... Designs that protect people who ride bikes reinforce the variety of street uses, making the entire street safer by making people more visible and predictable. If cities really want to deal effectively with bike riders and create safer streets for everyone, they can start by building bike lanes.
The article at the link above links to an earlier interview with Woody in which he claims to be all for more bikers in NYC, but also says, "uncontrolled bike riders are a great hazard." If that's the case, you'd think he'd be in favor of a means to control them. He claims "every street (in the Upper East Side) has a good argument why it shouldn't have a lane." Gee, it would've been nice to have heard those arguments from him, especially given the fact that similar Manhattan streets have done just fine with them.

Angelina Jolie (and her kid) rides a bike!
In his movie Manhattan, Woody says, "All cars in Manhattan should be banned." Given that, one wonders if he feels any outrage over the lives lost over the past decade due to car crashes. Earlier this week, a consortium of families and transportation advocates petitioned Albany to pass a bill that would remove the limit on speed cameras outside schools. Speed cameras have been proven to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to car crashes, many of which happen to children.

Bike lanes also help reduce speeding because their very presence reduces the size of the street and forces drivers to slow down. One wonders, however, if people like Woody understand that. By no means is he an anomaly: also this week, New York mayor Bill DeBlasio announced the city would go forward with their plan to expand the bike lanes on historically-fatal Queens Boulevard despite a local community board's vote to remove them from the plan. One of the board members even called bikes "missiles on wheels." What does that make cars?

I give Woody props for showing up at his local board meeting, but he, and a lot of other people in this town, still need to get their facts straight about bike lanes, because they're not going away. New Yorkers continue to bike to get around, and one way or another, they're gonna need a safe place to ride.

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