Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Opinions are like...

Another NYTimes piece on cycling, this time on the Sands Street bike lane, and the comment section dissolves into one of those "Bad Bikers" sound-offs. It a tiring "blah-blah-blah-I-can't-hear-you" situation, where folks with grudges against cycling or complete streets advocacy confound a pet peeve with a public safety issue. Yes, bikers shouldn't ride on sidewalks. Yes, it's really aggraviting.

No, it is in no way comparable to the hazard posed by city streets that cater only to automobiles.

A study dropped a few months ago, about how cyclists are scofflaws; I haven't seen studies about pedestrians and I challenge any person with a grudge against bikers to ride down the bike lane on Broadway between Times Square and Herald Square and observe fewer than, say, two dozen pedestrians jaywalking and obstructing other traffic in the span of those eight blocks.

The bottom line is that mode-based orthodoxies are useless here. Almost everybody disobeys some public space law, etiquette, or right-of-way: drivers speed, blow red lights, and change lanes capriciously. Bikers lope through reds, hopefully after yielding to other traffic. And pedestrians walk where they please, when they please - they drift out into the street while waiting for lights, they walk in the bike lane, they jaywalk, they step out from between parked cars.

What's important is bringing order to the madness - prioritizing more efficient, clean, and safe forms of transportation into the center of a dense city. The notion of "complete streets" isn't about a powerful cycling lobby, it's about trying to divvy up public space so that we don't have to grab and grapple over what remains after the cars get their share.

Hopefully with that process underway, we all can start to be programmed to yield to each other a little bit more frequently, and to tolerate each other a bit more, with the knowledge that finally, we're not putting each other in danger all the damn time.

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