James Vacca, Welcome to Sweeneyland

With his skeptical reaction to the latest poll showing majority support for cycling infrastructure, James Vacca has established himself as the city’s most authoritative voice for anti-bike nonsense.

To deniers like Jimmy Vacca, these folks don't count. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov

This week Transportation Alternatives released the results of a telephone survey of 603 likely New York City voters, conducted by the firm Penn Schoen Berland. Along with support for preserving transit and stepping up traffic enforcement, pollsters found that 60 of respondents support bike lanes.

As the Penn Schoen Berland findings are in line with that of recent polls by Quinnipiac and Marist, the chair of the City Council transportation committee could reasonably be expected to make a statement of some sort lauding the city’s progress in making streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But here’s Vacca, as quoted by City & State:

“I would think that many people who speak in favor of bike lanes may reserve judgment based on where the bike lane would be, and on whether it was affecting their community, their business strip or their small businesses,” said City Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the Transportation Committee. “On a case-by-case basis, while people are in favor of bike lanes, they may say, ‘Wait a minute, on this street it may not work.’ ”

On first read you might interpret Vacca’s remarks as a series of unsubstantiated assumptions strung together by weasel words — and you’d be right. But look closely. Not only does Vacca dismiss poll data with his bike lane-bashing straw man, he repeats the canard that bike lanes, and the traffic-calming effect that comes with them, are bad for business. And he again implies that residents have no say in where lanes will or won’t go in their neighborhoods, when in reality projects are subject to an extensive public review process. (Since the council has codified much of what DOT has been doing all along, it will be interesting to see what criticisms Vacca and company think up now that they’ve vanquished the transparency bogeyman.)

More poll respondents said they wanted to add bike lanes (43 percent) than maintain the status quo (33 percent) or decrease the number of lanes (17 percent). Rather than align with council members like Mark Weprin and Melissa Mark-Viverito, who have responded in thoughtful and productive ways to support for lanes in their districts, Vacca is tacking toward the NIMBY fringe. The only other critic of the TA survey cited by City & State was tried and true hater Sean Sweeney, who declared that “the people of New York have had enough of bike lanes.” With allies like Sweeney, Vacca is looking like less like a leader than a reactionary who refuses to be convinced on the merits of cyclist and pedestrian safety.