Chuck Schumer: America Needs More Streets Like Prospect Park West

Senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer on the return leg of their journey this morning.

Senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer on the return leg of their journey this morning. Photo: Carly Clark

Senator Chuck Schumer broke his long public silence on the redesigned Prospect Park West in dramatic fashion this morning, leading members of Congress on a two-wheeled tour of the physically separated bike lane that runs past his Brooklyn home. Schumer used the occasion to announce that he’ll be introducing new legislation to promote investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this bike lane, and I just wanted to wait until this moment to say, ‘What’s not to like?’” Schumer told a press gaggle at Grand Army Plaza. “There’s much less speeding and more people feel safer riding their bikes to get around the neighborhood thanks to this new design. America needs more streets like this.”

Schumer’s bill, the Livable Streets Act of 2011, would make $3 billion available to states and cities each year for investment in walkable street networks and improvements to bicycle and pedestrian safety. The bill is intended to be part of the upcoming long-term reauthorization of the nation’s transportation law.

At the presser, Schumer was joined by California Democrat Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee and will shepherd much of the transportation bill through the Senate. Schumer said he’s been waiting since the redesign was installed last summer to show it to Boxer as an example of what bicycle and pedestrian investment can accomplish.

“Nothing beats a nice, long Brooklyn bike ride with my friends from Congress, but it used to scare them to death getting passed on this street by traffic going 40 miles an hour,” he said after leading a leisurely round-trip ride, in a light drizzle, to the opposite end of the bike lane and back. “Now you can start off comfortable and relaxed, and you see so many other people out biking. They’re going to work, they’re taking their kids to school.”

“You know, the President talked about ‘winning the future’ in his state of the union speech this year,” he added. “Well, we’re winning the future right outside my front door. This is what progress looks like.”

After the ride, Boxer said she looked forward to working with Schumer on incorporating his legislation into the final transportation bill. “You really get incredible bang for the buck out of projects like this, which make a whole lot of sense when you consider that 40 percent of all the trips we make in America are within two miles of home,” she said. “Factor in what you save from having fewer crashes and injuries and less wear-and-tear on the roads, and this is going to pay for itself.”

Invoking his policy muses, the imaginary Massapequa couple he calls the Baileys, Schumer noted that smarter zoning and safer streets could make bicycling a viable transportation option even if you have creaky knees and live in the suburbs. “These days the Baileys are getting squeezed at the pump,” he said. “Gas costs $4 a gallon. They can’t afford to make every trip by car. If we think we can drill our way out of this situation like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the other extremists who get marching orders from Big Oil, we’re kidding ourselves. We need better choices for getting around, and transit and bikes have got to be part of the mix.”

When asked about the lawsuit filed last month by opponents of the bike lane, Schumer defended NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and called the plaintiffs’ campaign against the redesign “a cynical concoction of distortions and lies.”

“Janette is taking it on the chin from what I call the culture of inertia, this small group of self-appointed people,” he said. “Here we have kids, families, and grandmas who finally feel safe biking on this street, and people want to sue it out of existence? We can’t give in to this shameless bullying. If we do not change, we will die.”