You have to admit that John Cassidy’s anti-bike lane screed is beautifully written, but it remains an odd piece of argumentation. Like a lot of transportation rhetoric on both sides, it’s decidedly either/or: Either you’re for bikes, or you’re for cars. But Cassidy’s own case contradicts that approach. He complains of “motor traffic snarled on avenues that, thanks to bike lanes, have been reduced from four lanes to three, or three to two,” which I take as a complaint about congestion. But what is he expecting to do about congestion?
There’s no further room for roads in Manhattan or its environs, but given the city’s comfort with tall buildings, there is room for more people. If each and every one of them decides to buy a car, as Cassidy has, the streets will become essentially impassable. The question, for drivers, is one of survival: How do you persuade the maximum number of New Yorkers not to drive?
The answer seems obvious: You give them other options. Bike lanes are one such option. Washington is friendly enough to bikers that, in even halfway decent weather, I tend to ride my bike into work. If biking weren’t possible, perhaps I’d purchase a parking spot downtown and drive my car. But far from that solution being a victory for other drivers, it’d be an awful defeat: The worst thing for a Beltway motorist is another Beltway motorist. On the rare occasions when I do drive to work, I am grateful for every single Washingtonian who decided to make a different choice.
I see the Bloomberg administration’s aggressive pursuit of bike lanes and related alternatives as an almost radically pro-car position. If driving is to remain half as pleasant as Cassidy wants it to, it will only be because most New Yorkers decide against purchasing cars. And they’re only going to do that if the other options seem attractive. Early in Cassidy’s piece, he recalls his bike trips of yore, where “part of the thrill was avoiding cabs and other vehicles” and the danger left him “shaking.” That’s fine for a hobbyist, but not for a commuter. If the walk is too long, biking is too dangerous and the subways and buses are inconvenient, then cars are the final answer. That means a world in which the roads are more clogged and Cassidy spends more time in traffic. I’ve seen that future and it’s called Los Angeles. New Yorkers should want no part of it.