The issues on 14th Street are complex, but misinformation, or at least a heavily one-sided drumbeat from a pro-car, pro-parking crowd continues. One assumption is that motorists, who would have otherwise used 14th Street to cross town, have no other alternative than to use the adjacent side streets such as 12th or 13th. That assumption fails to consider the many drivers who will simply avoid the area, perhaps by using 23rd or Houston or some other route altogether to complete their journey.
The concern of “more cars on our residential neighborhood streets” rings hollow. Do they know what else causes more cars on the streets? Parking! The more street parking there is, the more drivers come looking for spaces, in the process slowing the progression of all vehicular traffic. Bike lanes, which the 14th Street (parking) Coalition vehemently opposes, actually decrease traffic backups and improve the vehicular flow, in part because there are fewer cars pulling in and out of parking spaces. Less parking on residential streets enables all vehicles to move more efficiently by ridding them of unneeded obstacles. Even when the lanes are blocked, bikes are nimble and can easily go around obstructions—it’s not a reason to go back to parking spaces. The modern automobile is so big its progress is inevitably impeded, often as a result of too much parking and double parking. Whether intentional or not, bike lanes in lieu of parking create “flexible” space on the roads, which benefits more people than when the space is used for automobile storage.
Unfortunately, many members of the public have been convinced to oppose the bike lanes in the name of “safety.” According to a January Gothamist article, older residents apparently are “afraid to leave their houses because of the threat of cyclists.” Parents are concerned that there’s a chance of an accident when you have cyclists and children together, as if more drivers instead would make the streets safer. Why do we accept all of the negative externalities inherent with driving, and there are many, but become deeply troubled by any perceived increase in risk from other means of transportation?
I own neither a bicycle nor a car, and have an open mind about the 12th and 13th Street bike lanes. I have not formed conclusions from outside rhetoric or conjecture, but rather my own experience and observations. Like most NYC residents, I generally walk or use public transportation to move around. It’s more economical, and usually just as efficient as any other option. The subway is far from perfect, but over many trips will be much more efficient than relying on a car and dealing with NYC traffic.
The bike lanes have not ruined the neighborhood; they’ve improved it. Our streets are safer from increased visibility for pedestrians, improved efficiency for deliveries and drop-offs, and fewer backups. I have the good fortune of observing the 12th Street bike lane post implementation from my apartment window. It’s clear how much better things work for everyone when you don’t have so many big hunks of metal getting in the way. Not once have I witnessed a situation where the bike lanes added to any commuting stress, though I have seen tempers flare on the other side during an attempt at parallel parking…
Incomplete information and fear mongering from an agenda-driven group seeks to convince us to oppose the bike lanes, as if any tweak in the status quo will wreak havoc on everyone’s lives in the worst possible way. I concede that bike lanes in lieu of parking impact private car owners negatively, but this is outweighed by the shared benefits of reduced street parking. For decades, municipalities have bent over backwards to accommodate private automobiles, but there is growing momentum toward a better alternative—one that prioritizes the movement of people rather than the mechanism in which they are transported.