Northern Exposure

I’m not much of a worrier, but there’s something underway in Toronto that’s keeping me up at night. Their new mayor, Rob Ford, has taken aim at bike lanes and mass transit: “Roads are built for buses, cars and trucks, not for people on bikes,” he’s said, and he’s acting on his impulses, ripping up livable streets improvements as fast as he can.

Normally, I’d shake my head and mutter something about how misguided he is, but New York City has a mayoral election fast approaching, and some of the candidates are saying things that don’t sit well.

Sure, Council Speaker Christine Quinn took time to pose with a Citi Bike, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer promised to make mass transit a centerpiece of his campaign. But Comptroller John Liu loves to stir up trouble when it comes to the economics of livable streets—he recently published a scaremongering report warning that bike share would generate a firestorm of frivolous lawsuits. And the candidate I know best, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, told an audience of Brooklyn donors that bike lanes are often “ill conceived” and pledged to put the brakes on the rollout of safer street designs in favor of a more “incremental” approach.

Yikes! What’s worse is that Bill is a good guy, a neighbor of mine and, until recently, a livable streets stalwart. So what happened? When did the tide change? I can’t say for sure, and I’m not convinced it truly has, but I do know that there are some well-connected, deep-pocketed people in this city who have an outdated view of our streets—and all the mayoral candidates on speed-dial.

So how can we compete? How can we keep Times Square car-free and Prospect Park West safe? How can we guarantee bike share succeeds and pedestrian plazas continue to pop up in all five boroughs? How can we make sure New York City doesn’t suffer the same fate as Toronto?

Simple: Say something. Speak up. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Tell prospective candidates that you’re a voter and ask how they’ll improve biking, walking and mass transit. Go to their forums, listen to their speeches, get involved, and when the time is right—in person and at the polls—remind them that New York City’s a better place because of its livable streets.


Paul Steely White
Executive Director
Transportation Alternatives