Publisher's Letter: Reality Testing
Am I nuts? My neighbors in Long Island City, Queens - including the guy who stayed up late into the night so he could squirt squirrels with his garden hose, and the guy who whitewashed the stones and trees - were sure I was. Who could imagine anything kookier than riding a bike to work, the grocery store or a night out? The neighbors were genuinely concerned that my wife, a seemingly normal young woman, consorted and cycled with me.
Likewise, I wondered about my neighbors - squirrel squirting aside. Some had not taken the subway for decades, or even walked the five blocks to the local supermarket. Rather than take the train they complained about back-ups at the Queensboro Bridge and finding free parking in Manhattan. Doctors call an individual's ability to understand what is real and what is not "reality testing." The definition of reality raises lots of interesting philosophical issues that are properly addressed with aid of a pint or four of fine beer. Let's just say the guy receiving messages from UFOs through the aluminum foil on his head is probably a bit outside the mainstream.
Sometimes I worry about my sense of reality. At a recent oversight hearing on bicycle and pedestrian safety held by the City Council Transportation Committee neither the police nor DOT bothered to show up. According to the Mayor's Office, conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists have never been better. But, in light of the record number of cycling deaths in 1999, City Hall recommended a new law that increases the fine for riding on sidewalks. Simultaneously, Brooklyn Community Board 6 (Park Slope and west Brooklyn) voted against neckdowns - an extension of sidewalks at corners that are one of the most effective pedestrian safety measures - because four free parking spots would be lost per intersection. In the slightly bigger, but still hard to understand, picture, traffic in NYC increased 20% in the last seven years but it is still forbidden to seriously discuss tolling the East River Bridges or charging more for on-street parking. OK, enough about the night stalker who soaks squirrels with a garden hose, and all the rest of the whirl pool of irrationality that transportation policy in this town swirls around.
Some good news is that the Department of Transportation has quietly put together a nice package of new bicycle improvements. In early summer, DOT finished installing hundreds of new bike racks, put in The Bronx's first bike lane on Prospect Avenue, created well designed new lanes north and south of the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, and leveled the bike/ped entrance to the Queensboro Bridge. These are the kind of low profile, smart improvements that really benefit bicyclists. In fact, with these improvements, DOT's bicycle program has sprinted ahead of its pedestrian and traffic calming efforts. Important pedestrian projects like Times and Herald Square show no sign of moving and the Downtown Brooklyn Project is on the verge of implosion because of DOT recalcitrance.
Keep your fingers crossed that the Mayor will extend his recent personal epiphany to include thinking anew about parks, people and neighborhoods.