Bill Thompson Was for Bike Lanes Before He Was Against Them

The current iteration of Grand Street, by most any objective measure, has to be considered a success. In the year since it was reconfigured to host the city's first parking-protected bike lane, with the blessing of Community Board 2, injuries are down 30 percent, with about 1,000 cyclists using the lane daily.

thompson_grand2.jpgThompson tells NY1 he'll "review" recent safe street projects.
Other recent street safety projects are paying off with similar dividends, according to DOT data:

  • After the Ninth Avenue protected bike lane was installed in 2007, injuries among all users dropped 56 percent.
  • The protected Broadway bike lane between 42nd and 35th Streets brought a 50 percent drop in injuries.

Given quality of life improvements like these, it would make sense for mayoral challenger Bill Thompson to promise to at least stay the course, if not to one-up the incumbent. And in his responses to the Transportation Alternatives Candidate Survey, Thompson comes across as a big believer in the benefits of livable streets. New MTA revenue streams, expanded BRT service, ramped-up traffic enforcement, on-street parking reform -- when playing to the TA crowd, the candidate is nearly pitch perfect.

But depending on whom he's talking to, Thompson is either eager to expand on the safe streets initiatives of the past few years or eradicate them on day one -- starting with a shake up at DOT and removal of the Grand Street lane.

If increased safety and community board approval wouldn't be enough for a project to be judged a success by Mayor Thompson, what criteria would he use? Though we were assured several times that the candidate supports bike lanes, our conversation with a Team Thompson spokesperson did little to clear things up.

"It's a wide range of factors," said the spokesperson. "It's not just the small businesses in the area, it's also the community. I can't comment on something in the future. I mean, obviously you have to look at each bike lane separately, right?"

Despite a lot of talk about "community," the spokesperson did not mention health or safety as factors in determining worthy projects.

"We've heard from the community. Not just the community board, but from small business community members, neighbors in the area that felt like the bike lane has actually hurt business in the area. Obviously with the economy the way it is, you want to do all you can to help the small businesses of New York. Again, I just want to make it clear that he does support bike lanes. He's said it over and over again."

So when it comes to livable streets initiatives under the Thompson administration, the litmus test won't be public health, or even environmental impact, but feelings and anecdotes. When you single out one of the city's most effective cyclist safety improvements for immediate demolition based on who's screaming loudest, a promise of theoretical support simply doesn't hold water. No matter how many times you say it.