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Archive for March, 2011

Fares are just taxes by another name

March 30, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

So says Noam Chomsky in his book Class Warfare (pdf). This means that an increase in fares is an increase in taxes. We should oppose these tax increases, which are very regressive, aimed at everyone but the rich — (in part) because, generally speaking, rich folks don’t take public transit.

And now that bike-sharing schemes are increasingly falling under the umbrella of ‘public transit’, it is likely their fares and fees will be raised, too — for example, up to 70% for Paris’ Velib system (hat tip: World City Bike).

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a socialist to be against raising taxes against those who can least afford it — even relatively conservative/capitalist institutions like the Editorial Board of the New Jersey Star-Ledger understand that raising public transit fares is a tax that is going to make it even more difficult for working families to get by. Even avowed individual capitalists understand that class war is being waged by the rich against everyone else, and the rich are winning.

There may be reasons why we may decide that having non-rich folks pay more in taxes for public transportation is required or desirable, but for me, I’d rather we have rich folks start paying some taxes — and corporations, too.

Who are ‘the haters’ in NYC?

March 14, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Prospect Park West has a cycletrack (not shown in Google Street View imagery) — it may be going away.

The New York Daily News has harsh words for this particular band of bike lane opponents:

Why do normal, rational people turn into spittle-flecking, pitchfork-carrying mad villagers when confronted with bicyclists and bike lanes?

That’s a pretty strong characterization.

Implicit in the argument to keep the cycletrack/bike lanes on Prospect Park West is the fact that the presence of these bike lanes effectively allows people to bike there. Yes, people are technically, legally, allowed by law to bike on Prospect Park West, but we know that without the bike lanes, most people don’t do it — for obvious reasons, like, it’s scary as all get-out to do so. So, restated, we can say that removing these bike lanes will effectively prevent people from biking on Prospect Park West. OK.

Now let’s move to another street in New York City — this one not in Brooklyn, but in Manhattan. Brad Aaron, writing for Streetsblog New York, referred to opponents of the ’34 Street Redesign’ as ‘haters’:

With the axing of the 34th Street pedestrian plaza, you can bet the haters — the “real New Yorkers” for whom pedestrians and bus riders are obstacles on the other side of the windshield — smell blood in the water.

I’ve made the case before that we should allow people to bike on 34th Street — even going so far as to suggest allowing it if only for the politics (of getting your overall project goals accomplished). Proponents of the 34th Street Redesign are on record as supporting the street as a ‘Transitway’ — that is, a street for pedestrians and cars and buses, but not bikes — that is, the redesign will have no bike lanes, no bike infrastructure at all, in fact, save perhaps, for some bike parking somewhere. So, proponents of the 34th Street Redesign want to effectively prevent people from biking on 34th Street. OK.

So, my question is — who are ‘the haters’ in NYC?

Would you build a street without sidewalks?

March 04, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Riffing off yesterday’s post about our need to prioritize non-motorized transport over motorized, I thought of a parallel situation that might help make things a bit more clear about the obvious need to provide dedicated space for cyclists — namely, the title of this post:

Would you build a street without sidewalks?


To build a street, or rebuild a street, without sidewalks would be crazy, or 1950s America, or third world, or worse. It’s just unthinkable — at least for ‘livable streets’-type folks — to consider building a street today without at least pedestrian access. And that, generally speaking, means sidewalks.

No matter what the actual implementation, however — be it sidewalks or some other form of traffic calming/shared space/etc. — most of us would agree that we should allow people to walk on a particular street — whether a new street, or a street being redesigned — and they should be able to walk safely, comfortably, directly to their destination, and be able to hold onto their dignity while they do it. The same should apply for cyclists.

If you would not build a road/street/bridge/tunnel without sidewalks or special accommodations for pedestrians, then you should not build a road/street/bridge/tunnel without cycletracks or special accommodations for cyclists.

Update: Pedestrians need sidewalks, cyclists need cycletracks — it’s not complicated.

Update: Articles like this do a good job of arguing for sidewalks, but they don’t ever - to my knowledge - address the need for cycletracks. We need to make that automatic.

If for no other reason, do it for the politics

March 03, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Too many streets continue to be optimized for motorized traffic at the expense of non-motorized traffic — in particular, bicycle traffic. We should not allow this to continue to happen.

An example we’ve mentioned before is 34th Street in Manhattan/NYC. It seems whoever is pushing for changes are having a bit of trouble:

Pedestrians who navigate Midtown’s crowded sidewalks won’t get as much as they could have from the proposed 34th Street Transitway. The Times reported last night that NYC DOT will not pursue plans for a pedestrian plaza between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue as part of the project.

But let’s look at the current use of the street — what types of modes does the street currently accommodate?

OK, so bikes aren’t currently allowed to use 34th Street. Fine.

So, the redesigned street is going to allow bikes to use it, right? Maybe we’ll get some sharrows, or a narrow bike lane, or maybe even a buffered bike lane, or maybe what is actually, minimally required, a cycletrack, right?

No. None of that, actually.

This redesign will benefit motorized transport — buses — and pedestrians, and it will do it while keeping cyclists from being able to use this all-important corridor.

So, let’s just put aside the motive question, and let’s not even worry about where this particular design lives on that continuum between incompetence and sadism — instead, let’s just go straight to the politics.

If you actually wanted a street redesign to be implemented, would you:
a) offer a design to allow cyclists to use this street, or
e) prevent cyclists — the city’s most vocal livable streets constituency — from using this street?

Obviously, more than a few folks in New York City thought that e) was the correct answer. And this is causing problems — there is not enough support for this project.

If you would like to bike around New York City, and in particular, Manhattan, are you going to go out of your way to get excited about and support a street redesign which prioritizes motorized transport over cycling, and which may, in fact, actually legally prevent you from riding your bike on 34th Street in the future? You are already barred, practically-speaking, from using this street, but you’re going to go out of your way to support a project which will continue to bar you from using this street?

Of course, not.

In fact, you could even decide to, for several good reasons, oppose this project. As we know, any project that attempts to force people to ride the bus without offering them a dignified alternative is going to produce a heap of problems — namely, automobile traffic, angrier drivers, less political support for continued street improvements, etc.

This same process is playing out all over America — in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, etc.

The lesson?

Even if you despise cyclists and cycling with the very core of your being, if you want to get your project implemented, then consider allowing cyclists to use the redesigned street. If for no other reason, do it for the politics.