The 14th Street Coalition (I recently saw it referred to as the “14th Street Coalition for Parking”) would have us all believe that the new bike lanes on 12th and 13th Street are ruining the neighborhood, and that they are standing up in opposition on behalf of “the community.” My apartment faces 12th Street and I’m convinced that the overall conditions have improved since these lanes were implemented.
As a practical matter, there’s not been much of a change, other than the loss of parking space, which I concede must be frustrating to local car owners that use the streets for storing their personal vehicles. Arthur Schwartz, a leading opponent of the 14th Street changes but also the bike lanes, pointed out in last month’s WestView that there are frequent occurrences of delivery vehicles blocking bike lanes. This is still an improvement—before they simply double parked and were more likely to cause traffic slowdowns, resulting in the inevitable crescendo of honking, swearing, and general proliferation of noise and negativity on the block. I’ve also never been kept awake at night by an empty bike lane…a car alarm alerting the neighborhood to a phantom break-in, that’s another story.
Mr. Schwartz frequently mentions Jane Jacobs in his opposition pieces and talking points, citing her as a voice for “local planning” and opposing measures imposed by City Hall without community input. But among Ms. Jacobs most notable work was her opposition to the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have further proliferated roadways designed to accommodate private automobiles, making the city even more car-centric, despite the fact that single rider vehicles are the most inefficient means of urban transportation.
The Village was never meant for most residents to own private vehicles and park them on the street. The majority of us who use other forms of transportation to go about our daily lives should not have to underwrite street parking for those who choose to purchase cars, or refuse to give them up. Sometimes a car is considered necessary for personal or professional endeavors; this is not to suggest no one should ever own one, only that it will be a significant burden in a densely populated city like New York, especially in Manhattan. In life there are trade-offs: those desiring both a Village address and a private automobile at their disposal may have to sacrifice convenient parking unless they’re willing to pay for it.
The priority of urban transportation should be the efficient movement of people. That is accomplished most effectively by protecting pedestrians, boosting mass transit solutions such as buses and subways, and offering ride services that accommodate those with physical limitations. Private automobiles are very low on the priority list—that’s why most people come to the logical conclusion not to own one if they live in lower Manhattan. Maybe there aren’t that many bicycle commuters yet (I am not), but these lanes are far less intrusive and a more optimal use of street space than accommodating parking for many of these modern day “living rooms on wheels” that are once again popular with drivers.
It’s hard to reconcile the intense opposition to improving access for a much more desirable and sustainable method of transportation (bicycles) in favor of one on the decline (private cars). Consider how the city is likely to evolve and how future generations will move about it; is the priority to preserve street parking which benefits very few, or are their other things to focus on to improve the lives for many?