Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Bipedalist

Since I moved away from New York, there's been a big push in the city to improve transit and install bike lanes, and a new (and very cool-looking) lane along Prospect Park West has provoked some controversy. John Cassidy at the New Yorker mourned the loss of street parking in favor of safe routes for cycle commuters, prompting responses from Felix Salmon, Bike Snob, Ryan Avent, Adam Naparstek, Adam Sternbergh, Paul Krugman, and Cassidy again. Ezra Klein points out that people on bicycles leaves more lane space and parking space free for the drivers. My views on bike lanes should be apparent from this.

The funniest part of all of this, though, is Cassidy's derisive witticism "bipedalists" for bike-lane advocates.

Cyclists and pedestrians have a lot of shared interests: traffic fatalities are one of the leading causes of death in this country, and while many of these deaths are motorists hitting motoriests, a great many of them are motorists hitting cyclists and pedestrians. So, per mile travelled, walking is the most dangerous way to travel in this country, bar none. Cyclists and pedestrians want to get to where they're going without being killed, and destinations to be relatively close. These issues are often put in confrontational terms, but we all share these needs; cyclists are also drivers, most people teach their kids to ride a bike (and don't want them hit). And of course, we are all bipeds. Safer for some of us is safer for all of us, as Tom Vanderbilt points out in his fair, awesome, and worth-reading article "Rage Against Your Machine" in Outside, March 2011:
As various studies have found, the more cyclists and cycling infrastructure a town has, the safer it becomes statistically, not just for cyclists but for drivers and pedestrians alike. When New York City put a protected bike lane on Ninth Avenue, some protested it as unsafe for people on foot. But since the lane's opening, pedestrian injuries on Ninth have dropped by 29 percent. Last year, as miles of bike lanes were added, New York had its best pedestrian-safety record ever.
So this seems like the perfect label to re-appropriate, under which cyclists and pedestrians can advocate together for our common interests in safe, two-legged locomotion. Call me a bipedalist.

It's the way of these things that noone can ever stop. More Cassidy, Salmon, and some Olaf Storbeck.

Matthew Shaer has a great piece in New York, "Not Quite Copenhagen", on the Prospect Park West bike lane controversy. It's a long piece worth reading in full, but here are some random, our-of-context fun facts:
Bike lanes are relatively easy to install. The Prospect Park West path, with all its safety paraphernalia, was built in about a month; unprotected lanes can be created in a matter of days. Bike lanes are also inexpensive. The Bloomberg administration estimates that over the past four years, the city has spent $11 million installing bike lanes, with two thirds of that cash provided by the federal government. Over the same period, the city spent $1.5 billion on street repair alone. And since streets with protected bike lanes see 40 percent fewer accidents, according to City Hall, and traffic crashes set the city back over $4 billion a year, bike lanes can actually save New York money. They also cut pollution, which is good for everyone. Bike lanes, when framed this way, are just common sense.

...Still, the Ninth Avenue lane is an ideal place to experience the unfettered freedom that can come with riding a bike in New York. As any urban rider (and I am one of them) can attest, there is something infinitely joyful in putting foot to pedal, something intoxicating in not being bound by the whims of a bus driver or subway conductor or thick tangles of crosstown traffic. Whipping down the street, completely protected from the cars zooming by just a few feet away, may be the closest any New Yorker comes to flying.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Winter 79: Spring is coming

The hard cold of the winter broke some time after Groundhog Day, and it's been warmer and rainier since. It's hardly ever dark on my ride home from work.

The maples began blooming a few days ago. Spring is coming.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A City Party in New York

Matt Yglesias notes some hostility to bike lanes among NYC politicians and suggests that
...partisanship is a very useful device of governance and democratic accountability. But large American cities are so lopsidedly Democratic and deal with issues that are so different from the national ones, that I think most cities would be better served by a different system. The ideal thing, I think, for places like NYC and DC would be to actually have freestanding separate municipal level political parties.
A municipal city-issues party seems like it would be possible in New York, given that the state is one of the few that didn't do away with electoral fusion, and so continues to have several viable third parties. New York has a system in which third parties who get more than 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election qualify for ballot access statewide. Perhaps the reason there isn't a municipal-level third party is that the ballot access rules are geared to statewide elections?

Thankfully, New York Board of Elections breaks out election results for the 2010 governor's race for New York City. On all party lines, there were 1,366,054 votes for governor; 148,525 or 10.9% came from the parties that qualified based on performance that year. Of these parties (Independence, Conservative, Working Families, Green), only the Working Families Party got enough votes in NYC alone to qualify, with almost 77k votes. The Green Party qualified for the first time since 1998, winning ten thousand of its nearly sixty thousand total votes in NYC.

So, it's at least plausible for a municipal-issues party to survive in New York, at least if it were as well-funded and organized as the Working Families Party. That seems like a fairly high bar to clear. But: Be the change you want to see in the world.