Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Cluttered Bike Paths

Yesterday the NYC Council finally provided at least some over sight over the Bloomberg/Sadik-Khan biking of New York. As the NY Post reports: "New Yorkers will have a new weapon in their arsenal to fight bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and other traffic measures they believe are unnecessary: a law forcing city transportation officials to explain and defend their actions. The City Council passed a bill yesterday that requires the Department of Transportation to post online a list of guidelines for implementing the often controversial bike paths and other "traffic calming devices." The bill, which passed unanimously, requires the agency to detail how it chooses a particular traffic-combating method, such as speed bumps, pedestrian plazas and bike lanes."

This, as they say, is a good first step-but it stops short of being the strongest remedy that the council could have come up with: "Then residents, community boards or anyone else opposing the installation of a bike lane or other traffic-safety changes in their neighborhood can assess whether it meets the agency's own guidelines for why it favors certain devices in certain areas. "We have to slow traffic down, but by the same token, there are many people in our city who see a median island and they see a bike lane and they say to themselves, 'How did that get there? How is that going to slow traffic down? Did DOT follow its own guidelines?' " said City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), who sponsored the bill."

Now Jimmy Vacca is one of the best elected officials we have, but we suspect that the newly enacted law is not everything he might have liked to see embodied in a statute like this; perhaps having actual city council oversight and an approval process would have been preferred-one that includes forcing DOT to conduct a traffic study that would document, not only the safety needs for the initiative in question, but how the measures implemented would achieve the stated goals.

But why quibble? Well, because quibbling is healthy critique; and because the mayor needs all of the controls that we have in our quiver to tamp down his arbitrary policy decisions. And another thing, the biking of NYC is being done in ways that are contrapuntal to his major economic development policies-in particular his shout outs to Wal-Mart-policies that aggravate road and street congestion.

In addition, we object on principle to unilateralism-like the Board of Health's bypassing of the city council to implement calorie posting, and offensive anti-cigarette signage in bodegas. It's bad enough that city agencies--EDC front and center here-produce fraudulent and deficient studies to back up Bloomberg's policy plans. It's even worse than they avoid any review process whatsoever. So, in this regard, the council's new oversight statute on bike lanes and such, is a step in the right direction-although not the giant step we would prefer.