In the March 2018 issue of WestView News, a letter writer lamented the bike lanes that have been added to city streets and implied this is unfair to cars and drivers and is “inefficient.” The idea that cars are more efficient than bicycles is not based in reality. OK, a gas powered machine can perhaps deliver a person from point A to point B more quickly than biking or walking, but that’s only one factor. Cars add an additional risk element (both to occupants and pedestrians), and use many times the energy of biking, walking or mass transit (on a per rider basis) to complete a trip, generally by burning fossil fuels into the air and reducing air quality.
In addition, they take up more space on the road, and spend most of the time parked and empty on the side of the street— just large hunks of metal that get in the way while serving no productive purpose. Maybe not enough people are using the bike lanes today, but that seems to be slowly changing. Abandoning bike lanes in favor of bigger roads and more parking spaces is not the appropriate response. We’ll never be able to accommodate the required transportation needs if everyone drove.
Thankfully most people in this city do not drive. What makes NYC great is the ability to walk almost everywhere, or when additional travel distance is required, public transit or the occasional taxi/Uber ride can be easily employed. Private automobiles are not essential to living or working in NYC, and the steps being taken to reduce the scale of city roadways devoted to vehicular traffic is laudable: may it continue.
Automobiles have been the privileged form of transportation for too long. Far more people can be moved per hour over the same area using public transit compared to cars. Walking and biking also allow more people to move over the same street path each hour because of how much physical space is required for cars. Yet, even though most New Yorkers walk, bike, or use public transit, for many years we devoted the lion’s share of our streets and transportation infrastructure to accommodating the personal automobile. Congestion pricing, at least conceptually, is one appropriate response: those who insist on driving or being driven in high traffic areas should pay more for that luxury, and the revenue raised can be used to improve mass transit and other means of facilitating the movement of large numbers of people, efficiently.
The city as we know it would simply not exist without the ability to move many people quickly from place to place. Accommodating cars with wider streets is not the answer. Congestion pricing may raise some revenue, but the goal should be to discourage more people from driving in busy areas. We should limit shared ride services such as Uber and Lyft to a reasonable number of vehicles, and instead, encourage people to embrace more efficient urban transportation solutions.