Monday, February 07, 2011

Bike Lane Schizophrenia

The NY Daily News editorialized yesterday about the imperious of the city's transportation commissioner-and her continual hide the ball policy when it comes to informing communities about impending bike lane implementation: "Trying to pry information about bike lanes out of Sadik-Khan's shop is this city's version of phoning North Korea to ask about atomic weaponry. Which is why so many people believe she's determined to shove this alternative mode of transportation down their throats. It's not her way or the highway. It's her way and the highway. To this point, Sadik-Khan has installed 500 miles of on-street bike lanes. Twenty of those miles are separated from traffic by concrete barriers and rows of parked cars. The rest are painted strips reserved for cycling."

But, as always, the fish stinks from the head-and the News needs to chastise, not the minions, but the mayor-and especially his characterization of all this as a public relations problem: "Booed at the mention of the term "bike lane," Mayor Bloomberg told a Queens civic group that the city had fallen short in planning and communications. Right he was."

Half right, in our view. What is lacking is the very democracy that the mayor felt was lacking in all those unruly parents who protested the school closings last week. It seems that this dearth of democracy is in reality an endemic problem for the Bloombergistas. What the bike lane plans lack, is public review of their efficacy and desirability-something that any land use review process provides. But the News won't go that far-underscoring the paper's own discomfort with an excess of democratic expression.

So, instead of needed rigorous review, we are left with pleas for more and better communication: "Sadik-Khan owes both sides, lovers and haters, straight information about cycling frequency, impact on vehicular movement and, for starters, her plans for the next 50 miles and beyond. That's a lot more than she's been willing to share."

That is what's known as an understatement. Just ask any of the local community boards who have been stonewalled by this lack of transparency administration: "On the upper West Side, Community Board 7 Chairman Mel Wymore said a query to DOT about making all modes of transportation greener morphed into a plan for a Columbus Ave. lane.The board wanted a small-scale test with a few concrete installations that could be easily removed. DOT showed the board schematics with barriers at three major cross streets, but then the agency installed them at 28 intersections.Turn lanes were longer than the drawings showed. More parking spaces were lost. Businesses complain that they can't get deliveries and are losing customers who can't park. Today, they have scheduled a press conference."

The mayor, for all of his crocodile tears about the demise of democracy, will likely not respond-after all, the weather in Bermuda yesterday was 69 degrees and sunny, so he was probably otherwise engaged. But Columbus Ave. isn't the only place were NY's Sadik is imposing her will: "In Brooklyn, Community Board 17 Chairman Terry Hinds said his members were notified about a painted bike lane on Rockaway Parkway after the markings were already down. Neighbors feel it is dangerous to bike on a major thoroughfare with speeding cars and dollar vans that pull over to pick up fares during the morning rush. In Queens, Community Board 14 was told to expect a painted bike lane on Beach Channel Drive in the Rockaways, said District Manager Jonathan Gaska. The board wrote a letter in opposition to the plan on the ground that the road was too narrow. DOT installed the bike lane anyway. The result, the board says: Intersections are gridlocked, and some residents lost parking in front of their homes. This is the community where 300 people booed the mayor at a meeting of the Bayswater Civic Association."

This is much more than a failure to communicate-and the News should have said so by endorsing the Oddo/Ignizio proposal to subject these decisions to public review. This is particularly compelling because the bike lanes are part of PlanNYC 2030-a plan, by the way, that has never itself been subject to any review: "PlaNYC, the mayor's blueprint for growth, calls for 1,800 miles of lanes by 2030, with 50 miles to be added every year. A spokesman confirmed that DOT intends to meet that target."

So, what is really needed here is for the city council to step up and actually perform its oversight function-over bikes, for sure, but also over everything else in the carbon footprint reducing faux plan. The reason lies with the countervailing mayoral policy of mega retail development that is and will be inducing huge increases in the number of car and truck trips on the city's now becoming bike lane narrower roads.

The mayor's promotion of Walmart is symptomatic of the schizophrenia-not to mention the hypocrisy of someone who possesses one of the world's largest personal carbon footprints. Local retailer after local retailer told the city council last week that thousands of weekly shoppers came shopping at their stores either by train or simply be walking. These are the folks who will be pulled out of the neighborhood in cars when and if the Walmnonster comes to town-and this is what the next Walmart oversight hearing should focus on.

Sadik-Khan, like the lamentable Cathie Black is a disgrace-but the onus here is on Bermuda Mike. While the DOT continues to shove bike lanes up our asphalt, Sadik-Khan simultaneously aggressively lobbies for the state to approve ramps off the Van Wyck so the city can go ahead with its Willets Point devlopement-a project that will generate 80,000 car and truck trips every day!

We need for the city council to commence PlaNYC oversight hearings that include examining what kind of impact 20 or 30 large Walmonsters would have on the city's putative sustainability goals-and they should throw in the Willets Point/Flushing Commons developments while at it. If that happens, we will see exposed just how both sides of the mouth this mayor really is-now that would be real democracy in action.