Time's Up! Says Fight the Bike Backlash
Support Healthier Transportation for Everyone
Time’s Up! supports healthy transportation for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, and cars. This is why we applaud efforts to expand the network of bike lanes throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
We already know that bicycles are part of the future of a logical transportation network for a global city, committed to supporting health and reducing global warming. In addition, bicycling is a fun way for people to get around the city. It reduces car congestion, offers a clear transportation alternative to the MTA’s increased fares and reduced service, and finally, it helps cool a planet suffering from far too many carbon emissions. In short, bicycling is a cost-effective solution for a myriad of problems. It represents the future of cities. Yet, today, in New York City, it is under threat.
This is why we are concerned that the City is targeting only one group of commuters: cyclists. According to the Village Voice, the NYPD hit cyclists with 1,400 tickets in the first two weeks of 2011 alone. Not just tickets; many are being forced to go to court to defend their actions or put through the criminal justice system: just for riding a bike.
Traffic laws exist for the safety of all users of the road, including pedestrians, bicyclists and cars. Yet, many cars fail to respect the bike lanes. According to a Hunter College study, there is a 60 percent chance of a cyclist being obstructed by a car in a bike lane (Nelson, 2009).
Today, riding in New York City can be a risky experience. Over the last year, countless members of our group have been doored, ticketed, and hit (on one occasion in a bike lane). One of the drivers even suggested the lane was “optional” for bikes. It does not have to be this way. Yet, as the New York Department of Health report “Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City:1996-2005” lays out; it often is.
This is not the first time cycling has been under attack in New York. Since the 2004 Republican National Convention, cycling has been the subject of an inordinate amount of scrutiny and harassment. Cyclists have been violently pulled off their bikes and arrested, had their bikes confiscated, etc. - all at enormous taxpayer expense. At Times Up!, we recognize that an injury to one is an attack on all; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. On May 30, 2008, the Reverend Al Sharpton came to Union Square and made this same point before a Critical Mass Ride:
“We’re going to work together to have a Critical Mass in this city where we can ride in justice… so when you ride tonight, we come to stand with you because we must stand together, whether you are white, whether you are black, whether you are latino or asian, whether you are fat, skinny, gay, straight: we are all Sean Bell, we are all Critical Mass, we are all here together.” (quoted in Chung, 2008).“
In response to these attacks, cyclists litigated. Over and over, the city was found to be guilty of violating cyclists’ basic rights. Just last fall, the City agreed to pay cyclists attacked on Critical Mass rides $965,000.00 (see http://times-up.org/index.php?page=2010-10-19-city-pays-965-000-to-cyclists-arrested-on-critical-mass). Yet, instead of apologizing, the City set its target on cyclists. Instead of focusing on vehicles which cause the most danger – mainly automobiles -- the City set its sites on ticketing cyclists.
We in the dedicated bicycling community are aware of a small, though vocal, portion of the populace dissatisfied with the city’s new bike lanes. Some members of the media are all too willing to give them voice and page space to fuel their anger. We are a growing number of concerned and law-abiding bicyclists who are aware that the actions of police, and anti-bike rhetoric by politicians, will generally be reflected by the populace. At the same time, there seems to be an inordinate amount of authoritative clampdown, with bicyclists being thrown in jail, receiving summonses and excessively expensive tickets, and/or having their bikes confiscated. All too often, it’s for minor infractions like riding on the sidewalk, or tickets issued for riding, legally, in the street. This creates an environment of antagonism rather than unity. The backlash from drivers and pedestrians could also prove dangerous for all involved. As cyclists, we are asking everyone to tone down the rhetoric. We are asking for a more rational and respectful attitude and behavior from our politicians and police.
This attack is already discouraging cyclists from commuting to work or around the city. Biking is a solution for a global city. It reduces traffic and opens up the city to new perspectives, connecting the boroughs, bridging streets and people, communities and individual riders. Yet, the program will never reach its full potential as long as there is no enforcement of traffic laws prohibiting cars from parking in the bike lanes. Times Up! applauds the city for the increase in bike lanes. We also recognize that cyclists have certain inalienable rights just like everyone else (see http://bikewriterscollective.com/). We now ask for assistance from you in supporting safe, non-polluting transportation, rather than a counterproductive attack on cycling.
Over the next week, you will see Time’s Up passing out “Token Tickets of Love” to cyclists braving both the weather and antagonistic conditions and trying to spread the love http://times-up.org/index.php?page=463&pimsw=0. Riding a bike in the city means doing the right thing for the planet and the city. Out with the jive, in with the love. Fight the bike lane backlash.
As Freddy Mercury sang: “Get on your bikes and ride!”
Chung, Jen. 2008. Sharpton Joins Critical Mass to Protest Police Issues. Gothamist. Accessed 25 January 2011 from http://gothamist.com/2008/05/31/sharpton_joins.php
Brad Lander. 2010. Prospect Park Reconfiguration Community Survey Results. Accessed 25 January 2011 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/44783464/Prospect-Park-West-Reconfiguration-Community-Survey-Results
Nelson, Katie. 2009. Hunter College Survey Finds Car Drivers Block Bicycle Lanes in
Manhattan. New York Daily News. 3 December 3. , Accessed 29 December 2009
NYDOH. Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City
NY Department of Transportation. 2011. Prospect Park Bicycle Path and Traffic Calming Update Results. Accessed 25 January 2011
Report of the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.