The Bicycle Wars of 1893—Still Being Fought Today

It looks like the bicycle backlash is nothing new:

The Times described upper Broadway as “a regular race track” for speeding cyclists, one of them, operating without bell or whistle, killed 7-year-old Katie McGlynn just as she was exiting a streetcar at Broadway and 67th. “They make no noise and go by you with a rush,” said Police Capt. Elbert Smith. “You shout at them to slow down, but they are off before you know it.” But the fashion for bicycles soon waned.

No sooner did Michael Kimmelman declare the city safe for bikes than his colleague Christopher Gray, the Strestscapist, has besmirched them again.

So what does this have to do with the New York streetscape? The retreat to what is left of the sidewalks changes the very essence of the common public realm, just as certainly as if, say, tourists had to stay within the arcades surrounding St. Mark’s Square in Venice, or look out on Red Square from the porch on St. Basil’s. New York’s gridiron allows precious few vistas or plazas, but a citizen could at one time have viewed each block as an entirety, with walls and a floor. Now everyone must hug the baseboards.

The thing is, by most accounts, the bike lanes have decreased, not increased, the number of people using sidewalks because streets are now safer for cycling. One study found that lanes reduced on-sidewalk biking five-fold.

And Mr. Gray contends that “as the domain of the pedestrian—the everyman of the city—is gradually curtailed, so too is the sense of the city as a democracy of public space, open to all.” But as Streetsblog-founder Aaron Naparstek points out, this is not true, either. Not only has the current regime at DOT decreased the number of bikers on sidewalks, they have also increased the space on the streets for perambulating, as Mr. Gray indeed celebrates. Whoa be to the horse and buggy.

mchaban [at] | @MC_NYC


The Bicycle Wars of 1893—Still Being Fought Today