New York as a Biking City? It Could Happen. And It Should.

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Getting through this whole crisis depends on city leaders’ capacity to think ahead, not hunker down. Robert Moses, New York’s storied planning czar, plotted during the depths of the Depression so he could be ready when the money materialized. Whatever else one might say about Moses, he knew how to get stuff done.

By contrast, New York today has become good at shooting down new ideas, celebrating defeat over compromise, pointing out why any big, costly initiative is not worth pursuing because something else also needs doing, as if a great city shouldn’t find ways to do more than one thing at a time.

Well, now is the time.

The Regional Plan Association, a not-for-profit pillar of the planning establishment, recently released a report that points a way forward. It lays out a master plan for 425 miles of interconnected, high capacity, protected bike lanes in the five boroughs. Last summer, the city issued its own proposal, called Green Wave, in response to an alarming spike in the number of bicyclists killed. The Green Wave promised to add 30 miles of protected lanes a year, up from 20 miles.

Alas, the plan has already fallen behind schedule. Only 480 of the city’s 1,250 miles of bike lanes are presently protected. Studies show an average of 11.5 disruptions per mile, meaning that some car or truck is invading and endangering a bike lane every other block. The combination of our car-friendly mayor and obstructionist community boards packed with not-in-my-backyard, or NIMBY, opponents of bike lanes has been deadly for the development of the city’s cycling network and for cyclists.

The R.P.A. report takes the community boards rightly to task. It provides a road map for mayoral candidates in 2021 willing to stand up to NIMBYs — describing how “a mix of scenic greenways, wide boulevards, car-choked commercial streets and quieter back roads” can be converted into a “citywide, continuous, connected, conflict-free” network of priority lanes. Cycling is “critical infrastructure,” the report emphasizes, a point made all the more obvious now that New Yorkers have become wary of subways and buses.



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