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The Revolt of the Masses

This sentence stood out for me in the recent New York magazine profile of Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC’s transpo commissioner, which waved that around that favorite cudgel “elite” to describe the commissioner’s “anti-car” plans — I’m not sure how the wealthier minority who commute daily in NYC’s streets suddenly became the “masses,” and the far greater number of people who walk, take the subway, etc., became the elite.

But perhaps most important, there’s her obsession with the bicycle. Even though cycling is up in the city—levels have doubled since 2000, according to the DOT—most New Yorkers see a bike as a luxury, or don’t have the space to store it, or live and work in places that do not make for a practical commute.

Hmmm. The bike as a luxury? A quick sift of Craigslist would net you a decent ride for $150 — a far cry from the $50,000-plus Escalades the oppressed masses are tooling up Eighth Avenue in, and probably a month’s worth of subway fares (which just went up).

On the “don’t have the space to store it” issue — I don’t get it. Since the issue here is taking away space from cars to give to pedestrians and cyclists, one has the space to store a car (using up some of the world’s most expensive real estate), but not a bike? One car parking space holds how many bikes?

And yes, most New Yorkers do in fact live in a place that has not made for a practical bike commute — New York. Isn’t that the whole impetus behind the commissioner’s vision?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 21st, 2009 at 9:52 am and is filed under Cars, Cities, Etc.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “The Revolt of the Masses”

  1. Russ Says:

    One question about bicycles is whether they will ever make a significant difference in traffic patterns. A City Planning report show almost zero use of bicycles in the outer most parts of the boroughs. The distances to Manhattan, and the time required for a walk to bus to subway commute, suggests that the car is a rational choice for many. (Surveys show about ten percent drive into Manhattan, and many drive elsewhere in the region.) Finally, Europe’s experience shows that bicycling is heavy dependent on the weather, and the irregular bicycle ridership causes irregular public transit volumes. Nice idea but not a solution. Instead, we need very small, electric, inexpensive, all-weather personal transport vehicles for the outer boroughs.

  2. Lloyd Alter Says:

    I just spent five days in NY with my folding bike, and never took the subway or a cab, found the bike lanes on the west side to be like superhighways for bikes, fabulous design, respectful drivers, I came away thinking that New York was a cyclist’s paradise.

    Two years ago when I did it at the same time, I was dodging pedestrians, the bike lanes (where you could find them) were parking lots, and I feared for my life.

    Anyone in NY who doesn’t bike is missing the fastest, cheapest and most convenient way to get around.

  3. Matt Says:

    “the time required for a walk to bus to subway commute”

    Bikes are really good for cycling to the nearest station, locking up (or folding up), and taking the train the rest of the way.

  4. Greg Says:

    Folding bikes are indeed great. They solve that “where do you store it” question quite nicely and allow better integration with transit.

    Europe’s experience shows nothing of the kind, btw. Bike usage holds up well during all but the most inclement weather. And with better clothing and tire tech you can improve that performance.

    When about half of all trips in Copenhagen are by bike (a place with real weather) I don’t see how anyone can get away with calling bikes “not a solution”.

    Bikes are cheap, address issues of health as well as issues of transportation, and are woefully under used in the US. It’s time we changed that.

  5. Vin Says:

    While I agree that the “elitist” charge is just too easy, and generally like JSK, there IS something to the idea that bikes are “elitist” in New York. Why? Real estate values in New York generally rise the closer you get to the core. Therefore, the only parts of the city that are compact enough to make a bike commute practical – basically most of Manhattan and northwestern Brooklyn – are the most expensive. Middle-class New Yorkers generally have a difficult time affording this area. Anybody who thinks a large number of people will bike from Flushing, say, to Midtown, is kidding themselves.

    The city of Copenhagen is 34 square miles. The entire Copenhagen metropolitan area is smaller than the five boroughs. Comparing Copenhagen to New York is like comparing the economy of Luxembourg to that of the United States.

    I will admit that cycling is no more elitist than driving, and really less so. I’m generally in favor of bike lanes and such, but mass transit is the only viable large-scale transportation solution in a city like New York.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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