Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
For New York mayoral candidates, bike lanes are complex. That's why City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proclaimed them off-limits for dinner party conversation. It's why Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who's criticized the way the city approves bike lanes, leapt Wednesday to issue a statement proclaiming "bike lanes make NYC streets safer."
On the one hand, some of the Democrats running for mayor use bike lanes as a signifier for what they see as Mayor Michael Bloomberg's high-handed, top-down approach to decision-making.
On the other hand, polls show New Yorkers like bike lanes--particularly environmentalists, Latinos, young people, and techies, all of whom may play unpredictable roles in the 2013 vote. Independent polls show pretty consistent majorities in almost all categories approving of bike lanes, and an even bigger majority approving of bike share.
And yet every single one of the major Democrats has at some point criticized the mayor for not fully consulting communities about where to install new bike lanes, even though the plans for such lanes must be approved by community boards.
So while today's New York Times article--headlined, "Anxiety Over Future of Bike Lanes"--captures a real fear among bike advocates that the next mayor may not be as friendly towards biking as Mayor Bloomberg, this dance isn't over yet.
"The need for safer streets for bikers, walkers, and drivers is one I feel in my core," de Blasio said in his statement. "For that reason, I fully support bike lanes and I want to see them continue to expand around the city. They are clearly making many NYC streets safer."
Okay, now wait for it:
"But I think we need to take an approach different from the Mayor’s. While more and more communities and riders want bike lanes, the City still hasn’t come around to proactively engaging those who are concerned by them. We need to increase our outreach and bring more residents and small businesses into the discussion early so we can fine-tune designs and parking rules from the get-go. Just going to community boards is not enough. Proactive outreach seems to be the Bloomberg Administration’s last resort. I think we need to make it uniform practice, and put it at the front end of every project.”
Watch this space. This is going to get interesting.