Welcoming the new normal: Why bike lanes matter to our future

Change is hard – even when it’s inevitable. Through the past few years, as all New Yorkers adjust to NYC streets changing to be more bike-friendly, the conversation around this evolution always reveals a noteworthy occurrence: Go to any meeting or rally about bike lanes, such as those uptown or in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West, and there is rarely a citizen under 50 opposing the lane, though you will see many of us gray heads mixed in with the pro-bike lane folks.

Look deeper. This resistance is not a classic battle of aged vs. youth. This is a battle between those who believe the status quo is fine and those of us who believe it is killing us, our children and our planet.

Bike lanes, traffic calming, safe streets to school, streets that welcome activity and interaction, streets that don’t kill children but welcome them – this is the future. The past? Being able to zoom up our streets at 50 miles per hour, just to get to the next traffic light. Sedentary lives detached from healthy activities and movement. Using up non-renewable energy sources. Clogging up streets with private cars at the expense of the community through which they pass, without giving a thought about how our everyday actions affect climate change.

We all must get behind the future or there will be no reasonable future for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Limited resources, ubiquitous obesity, polluted air and ground conditions; these are severe problems we are facing and require serious attention.

To all of these challenges, bike lanes are not the only solution – but they are a solution, and make up one of the more public attempts at changing NYC for the better. We need to support and defend those efforts.

While I myself ride less frequently today than I did a decade ago, my commuting experience has been much improved by the presence of bike lanes. I feel safer, I believe the blocks I ride on are nicer and a lot more pleasant to ride on (especially PPW, Vanderbilt Ave and Grand Street in Manhattan). Driving on PPW is also a more pleasant experience – it is less aggressive, calmer and friendlier.

On that note, I want to state my support for our new Department of Transportation. I am very thankful we have a forward-thinking Transportation Commissioner in Janette Sadik-Khan. No longer is the DOT focused on moving cars and people in cars. They are focused more and more on moving people and creating livable street spaces and communities.

I witness this improvement and dedication daily in my small community near Church and Coney Island Avenue. We now have pedestrian islands, making crossing the street easier for the old, the very young, and people with disabilities. The traffic circle on Coney Island Avenue has been tamed not only for bike riders but for all users. Barriers blocking illegal turns which endangered everyone have been erected. Bike “boxes” have been included in street designs to make better and safer spaces between moving automobiles, cyclists and pedestrians. Logical turn signals have been installed smoothing out traffic flow and making it safer. All of this has been done within a third of a mile from my house – and it has been repeated hundreds of times throughout the city.

Again, change is not easy. When we advocated for bike-friendly streets in the late 1970’s, we experienced backlash. Some discouraged our ideas. People misbehaved. (On both “sides”.) There was controversy. This dissent and concern is to be expected. It’s part of the process. Change is hard and its implementation is complex.

That’s why when I occasionally encounter the bike lane protesters on the street or at parties in Park Slope, I champion this message to them: It is not about you, it is about the future.

Charles McCorkell
Founder and Owner, Bicycle Habitat

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15 Responses to Welcoming the new normal: Why bike lanes matter to our future

  1. Clarenc says:

    Massive cheers! We need more people & voices writing brilliant pieces like this. I will forward on! Thanks Charlie.

  2. George Babiak says:

    Amen, Charlie!

  3. Pingback: Nice one, from Charles McCorkell « Bike Blog NYC

  4. Don Carlito, always a pleasure. We’ll have to do a Walk&Talk when the weather clears.

  5. Pingback: time to beat the blahs with some bike love | velojoy

  6. “Change is hard.” That says it all. Great post!

  7. Michael Lenore says:

    Right on, Charlie!

  8. Pingback: Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines

  9. Adam says:

    Well stated Charlie! -AW

  10. tom murphy says:

    I attended the PPW bike lane protest and couldn’t miss the generation disparity between the pro’s and con’s. I’m a gray-head (but I bike occasionally, drive when I can get the car from my son, but especially I like to walk) and it made me wonder.
    Later reading the blog entries where this perceived age difference was not only noted but pointed out disparagingly I began to worry. And the anger!, why this antagonism?
    I’ve been trying to understand the issues, and, I think the status quo can be improved on–there is increased need today to ‘calm’ auto traffic.
    I do think there must be an evolution of the perception and thinking of pedestrians, drivers and bikers about how they must interact on roadways. It’s happening now but it will take time. In the end pedestrians will still ‘jaywalk’, drivers will go ‘too fast’ and bikers will…do whatever, they’re still self-governing. However, all will be safer interacting and tolerate each other as they gain understanding of what each can and will do on the road.

  11. Nathan H. says:

    “And the anger!, why this antagonism?”

    Do I understand correctly that you joined a protest against the establishment of a bicycle lane and you want to know why people are angry about that?

    If “yes”, it’s because we are using that lane. We are using it to travel in two directions, safely and comfortably, without a bunch of cars honking at us. The one-way loop inside the park does not offer this; if it did, people wouldn’t be angry. (We didn’t go out to counter-protest for our health.) Also, people are angry because the bike lane opponents don’t seem to care if the lane measurably increases safety for pedestrians. It doesn’t matter how old you are; not taking pedestrian safely seriously (that is, empirically) takes one’s character down a few notches in my estimation.

  12. Tara Moeller says:

    You make me proud, Charlie! You’ve done great work thus far and it’s only going to get better. Thanks for all you do above and beyond that of a bicycle shop owner; being a vocal and articulate advocate is crutial for the future.

  13. Pingback: Federal budget cuts will impact cycling – and why we’re speaking out. | bicyclehabitat

  14. Jack McCorkell says:

    I also think it was a well crafted post with a keen, although unfortunate generational observation combined with high hopes for our children’s and their children’s future quality of life.

    – Another ubiquitous gray-head concerned for the future

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