New York City lags behind in making streets safe for bikes
Each month for the last 10 months, another installment of the Critical Mass vs. police saga has unfolded. Critical Mass says its goal is to promote nonpolluting bicycling by showing its presence on the streets in numbers and by temporarily displacing auto traffic as the mass rolls through, sometimes running red lights in doing so.
Whether one agrees with the tactics of Critical Mass, the fact remains New York City lags woefully behind in providing a safe bicycling environment. Whether Critical Mass succeeds in tooling around in an exhilarating group ride a few hours one night per month doesn’t change the reality that this is simply not a bike-friendly town.
There are only a few places bikers really feel 100 percent secure they won’t be hit or killed by cars: Hudson River Park, where the bikeway is separated from the West Side Highway by a grass median, is one of the few. That new bikeway is so popular it’s literally bursting at the seams on weekends.
Bike lanes on city streets are too far and few between. Yes, some new bike lanes were added on Ninth and 10th Sts. recently. Yet, like other bike lanes, there’s nothing substantial protecting riders from being hit by cars swerving into the lanes or being “doored” by cars in the parking lane. Other bike lanes peter out in the middle of nowhere — such as the Lafayette St./Fourth Ave. lane that ends at Union Sq. The Second Ave. bike lane through the East Village is often clogged by delivery vans, cabs and double-parked or standing cars, making bikers swerve into traffic.
New York needs to look at cities in Europe and Canada that have built a genuine biking infrastructure. Bike lanes in these cities are raised or otherwise clearly delineated and protected from cars. Tellingly, Amsterdam, one of the most pro-bike places on earth, is one of the few cities without a Critical Mass ride.
Mayor Bloomberg has shown an interest in health by passing the anti-smoking law two years ago. Now bar and restaurant workers and customers no longer face exposure to carcinogenic tobacco smoke — and these places haven’t gone out of business, disproving dire predictions.
In health terms, biking is one of the best things for a city. It lessens car traffic, reduces pollution, is easier on the roads and improves riders’ health, while reducing their stress — that is, if they can ride in a relaxed, safe manner.
Not all bikers ride in Critical Mass. Many are commuters or people who just p ride for exercise and pleasure. Yet, more people would ride to work and bike, in general, if it was safer.
So what will Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy on bikes be? That he led the crackdown on Critical Mass — current tally, 500 arrests and counting? Part of why New York is perceived as a “mean” city is its rushing auto traffic. Creating a bike-friendly environment would go a long way toward changing this image. Bikers throughout New York will be grateful if the mayor makes a real effort to make Gotham truly safe for cycling. Right now, the playing field between cars and bikes just isn’t level.