What We Learned From the Daily News Bike Lane Debate

Celeste Katz, center, and Alex Nazaryan, right, work their keyboards for today's online chat about bike lanes. Photo: anjalimullany/yfrog

Earlier today I participated in a live chat debate on the topic of bike lanes, hosted and moderated by Celeste Katz. The chief sparring partner for supporters of bike lanes was Alex Nazaryan, who sits on the paper’s editorial board and joined a group of cyclists for an uneventful ride across the Manhattan Bridge the previous morning.

Number one takeaway: If you have something to say about street safety issues and you want the Daily News opinion team to notice, write a letter to the Daily News. Based on what transpired in the chat room today, the editorial board puts more stock in those letters than other public opinion data or facts about street engineering and transportation policy.

Here’s a compilation of Alex’s points from the debate. In some places I’ve interspersed commentary from other participants and comments that I typed in but did not get posted by the moderator. (You can check out the full transcript, including a lot of discussion about behavior and enforcement that I’m not including here.) This is the caliber of thought that goes into the opinions on bike policy written by the Daily News…

Alex Nazaryan:

Well, at this point, New Yorkers don’t really seem to want bike lanes. So enforcement might just be the thing to get people over on the side of bikers. You don’t want them to been as mavericks.

Participants then referred Alex to the recent public opinion polling by Quinnipiac, which found 59 percent support for adding bike lanes, and Marist, which found 66 percent support for bike lanes among NYC adults.

Alex Nazaryan:

The vast majority of the letters we get from ordinary New Yorkers seem to indicate otherwise. Not really sure if Marist poll is indicative.

I tried to post this response, but it wasn’t published: “Alex, both the Marist poll and the Quinnipiac polls that found tremendous support for bike lanes were conducted using statistically rigorous methodology. Letters to the Daily News do not constitute a rigorous survey of NYC opinion.”

But the moderators did run this from reader JBK:

NYDN believes it’s letters section is more reliable than Marist?

Alex Nazaryan (separate comments):

Our letter-writers are ordinary New Yorkers who live and work here, especially in the outer borough. You discount their opinions at your own peril.

There is another issue: the people who have, as a rule, wanted bike lanes are wealthier residents of Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn. I just don’t know of that much demand in, say, East Elmhurst.

Mike Epstein:

Alex: Perhaps you’ve not noticed the HUGE groundswell of demand (and support) for bike lanes in East Harlem? Stereotypes are easy, but often false.

Station44025:

Alex, that’s also not true. Last Marist poll showed over 70% approval for bike lanes among hispanic and poor.

Streetsblog:

Alex, they’ve been enthusiastically building out the bike network in the South Bronx for years. Low income New Yorkers tend not to own cars and adding safe cycling facilities helps get around, in addition to a robust transit network.

Alex Nazaryan:

Look, the truth it, Manhattan cannot ever be Madison or Austin, so I think there’s just a little dissonance here. As much as it’s great that people are biking, I do ultimately feel that the city can only take so much.

Streetsblog:

Alex, Manhattan and most of the rest of NYC is a much more conducive environment for cycling than Madison or Austin. The destinations are much more closely together, so we’re making shorter trips. The more trips we make by bike instead of by car, the more space will open up on the roads.

Alex Nazaryan:

I just think a lot of people come to this city and want to remake it in their own image. And the truth is, it’s a city where millions upon millions of people come on a daily basis to make a living. It’s hard to fit bikes into the scenario

Naomi:

I am pedestrian, transit-rider and cyclist. The narrative that has been framed by the Daily seems awfully narrow-minded and seems to be missing a much larger issue: Equity. As most of our urban core’s working-class residents are not motorists – consideration, space and funding for other infrastructure is needed.

Naparstek:

Wow, Alexander: That’s just a crazy statement. First off, NYC is constantly being remade into the image of new immigrants. That is *the story* of NYC. That’s what this ciy is all about. The Lower East Side morphs from Jewish to Italian to Chinese… Etc Etc in every neighborhood. When NYC stops transforming, it stops being NYC.

Alex Nazaryan:

Napartsek: I take an issue with both your tone and your facts. I think there’s a sense of entitlement among the “creative classes” that was not present in, say, immigrants from Poland or wherever else. You can’t just move here and expect that all of Brooklyn is going to become a greenway.

Streetsblog (comment did not get published):

Alex, you continue to pound the theme that only transplants, Manhattanites, and the “creative class” support bike infrastructure, in the face of recent public opinion data showing strong support among low income New Yorkers and voters in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn.

mst:

what do bike lanes have to do with “creative classes”? Bike lanes are used by people of all walks of life

Alex Nazaryan:

Not in my experience

megadonn1

…Drivers have to pay insurance, registration fees, etc. why don’t we do the same for cyclist. Make them register their bikes. Compel them to carry insurance. License them to operate their bikes on city streets…

JBK:

@megadonn1 – there is no reason to compel cyclist insurance because the cost to the cyclist of such insurance would be almost zero – no insurance company would be able to make a profit doing so. This is because cyclists cannot cause the massive damage cars can.

Alex Nazaryan:

Um, bikes can kill people too.

Kristina Rodriguez-Fowle:

all cyclists dont wear spandex and have 100 dollar shoes just for cycling. I wear my pj’s, my helmet and some regular shoes and go do some grocery shopping…i obey laws, i am cautious, i am a wife and mother..my family bikes with me. we are regular people who are too broke to have a car or take taxi’s. We are aware of all that can go wrong…I know we are not the only ones..do we not deserve a way to get to the market safely and quickly?