Copenhagen comes to New York?

Original Reporting | By Brian Paul |

Singing a new tune?

In Flushing, Canarsie, and similar neighborhoods, cycling may have particular promise to help ease the trip to the subway. Located at the end of subway lines, most transit commuters have to take one or more buses to get to terminal subway stations like the Flushing # 7 or Rockaway Parkway L. Buses add significant time and effort to the commute as the majority of transit commuters are forced to travel over an hour to get to work. (Despite this, the City’s Department of Transportation has no current plans for bike lanes oriented to transit stops in the outer boroughs, despite the recent cuts in service that have made the trip by bus even more difficult). 

In Canarsie, Flushing, and the Northeast Bronx — the areas that Fidler, Koo, and Vacca represent — nearly half of all residents commute by public transit rather than drive.

The three Council Members interviewed each expressed interest in the idea of “lanes to the train.” Fidler agreed that all transportation “needs to coexist in a cooperative fashion,” and Vacca said that he would seriously consider bike lanes to transit for his district “even if helps a small amount of people.”

Whether words are followed by action remains to be seen. Council Member Fidler admitted that he had not publicly proposed the idea of bike lanes to subway stations (Vacca and Koo haven’t either), and Vacca remained focused on the idea that bike lanes could only proceed if they did not result in what he described as “negatively impacting others.”  Vacca concluded that he could “never envision” a day when a significant proportion of his constituents will commute by bike.

Are New Yorkers actually so different from, say, Berliners? There, bike usage has increased several-fold since 1975 when its transportation policy began to encourage cycling via safe, separated bike lanes  — and this in the home of Mercedes Benz, BMW, and the Autobahn.

Complaints about DOT’s approach

Much of the outer-borough resistance to bike lanes appears to be based in entrenched attitudes that prohibit local politicians from imagining the possibility of change. But in order for DOT to achieve its goal of establishing cycling as a viable transportation option for all New Yorkers, it, too, may have to change.

Our interviews with outer-borough bike lane opponents suggest that DOT might be exacerbating reactionary sentiment by failing to work with outer borough communities to design a cycling network responsive to their needs.

The “Bicycle Master Plan,” with a citywide network of bike lane routes already planned and drawn on the DOT’s maps, is a particular source of anger for the outer-boroughs. “I was very upset when I noticed the proposed bike lanes drawn across our community” said District Manager Bitterman. “They should consult us before they propose.” Council Member Vacca also expressed frustration at the pre-planned routes. “Knowing my district the way I know it, some of those routes do not make sense to me…that map raises a lot of questions,” he said.

Council Member Fidler is even more outspoken in his criticism of how the DOT came to his Community Board with a “fait accompli” instead of asking the local community where lanes would be appropriate.  “If DOT had come in with a constructive process, I think they would have gotten a productive dialogue…There are different neighborhoods with different needs in different parts of the city and in my neighborhood if you want to encourage cycling as commuting, you got to at the very least take us to the subway station” said Fidler.

The DOT says that is has heard this critique and is planning to expand its community outreach efforts when cycling season begins again with the warmer temperatures of spring.

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