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.
Founder and Owner, Bicycle Habitat