Bike Lames! Straw Men on 10-Speeds in New York's Last Culture War

“I see people who buy $25 mac-and-cheese on both sides of this argument,” Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, told The Observer last week as he finished dinner at Rachel’s Burritos in Park Slope and prepared to hop on his bike for the 1-mile trek home. “And yet I do think it’s true. I think Marty Markowitz and his ilk have been buffeted over the last decade by change after change that remind them that we don’t live in old New York anymore. I think they’re feeling embattled by all these changes.”

During half that decade, the Bloomberg administration laid down roughly 250 miles of dedicated bike lanes. That is, generously speaking, less than 1 percent of the city’s roadways, but it remains one of the myriad ways the administration has subtly re-engineered the five boroughs, from the posting of calorie counts to the widespread banning of smoking.

Four of those boroughs have the worst commute times in the country, according to the Census Bureau. Meanwhile, MetroCards have surpassed $100 a month as service is curtailed. Bridge tolls have jumped to boot. And yet here comes the mayor and his men (and, in this case, one particular woman), painting green stripes all over town, promoting what many see as little more than a children’s toy.

“I think many motorists are mad,” said James Vacca, chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee and a representative of the car-heavy Bronx neighborhoods of Throgs Neck and City Island. “They feel under siege, and in many ways I don’t blame them. Gas is $3.59. They see the mayor proposing increasing parking-meter fees. They were hit with registration and licensing increases from the state. Insurance rates are higher. The parking ticket phenomenon. The blitz is unbelievable, and of much frustration. Add bike lanes to that, and it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

In a city where the teachers are already seen as terrible, where most people rent and do not personally pay property taxes, where public health care has long been as close as a ride to Bellevue, in this moment of national angst, New Yorkers need something to rally against. They have settled on bike lanes. Welcome to New York’s last culture war.

Bike Lames! Straw Men on 10-Speeds in New York's Last Culture War