January/February 1998, p.3

A Good Month For The Good Guys

Working at the cutting edge of environmental advocacy is hard work even on a good day. With common sense and optimism seemingly in such short supply among decision makers and the press, it's nice to see that T.A. and our allies scored some big wins in late 1997.

In December, the Straphangers Campaign sniffed out a big budget surplus at the Transit Authority which they parlayed into a media campaign for rider benefits that resulted in the Governor announcing weekly and monthly transit passes and 11 for 10 discounts. The passes are a big boost for the resurgent transit system and good for bicyclists and the environment because they will help get drivers out of their cars. In November, after a five year fight which yours truly worked on, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign persuaded the Governor to stop the expansion of the I-287/Cross-Westchester Expressway. Instead, an advisory committee including environmentalists and local citizenry will consider building rail transit or other options.

T.A. won some victories of our own, including seeing the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project to its public release. With this, the revolution that T.A. helped start on downtown Brooklyn's streets is well underway. For the first time in the city's modern history, neighborhood groups are to have a formal say in how their streets are used and the City has recognized that streets are more than conveyances for the car. The task for T.A. is to ensure that the collaborative planning process works and to establish area-wide traffic calming projects in other neighborhoods. T.A. also won when our vision of pedestrian safety - based on improving conditions for pedestrians rather than teaching them how to stay out of the way - was accepted by The Bronx Borough President and the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee. Now T.A. is being paid to create a "Safe Routes To School" project at twelve Bronx elementary schools, and we have the resources to mount an intense campaign to curb dangerous drivers with traffic calming and pedestrian friendly design in some of the city's roughest neighborhoods. Lastly, T.A. fought back an attempt to end bicycle parking at two centrally located private parking garages in Midtown Manhattan. With just days notice, T.A. members flooded the garage owner with letters and T.A. enlisted the assistance of government agencies as diverse as the City Departments of Consumer Affairs, Transportation, Planning and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Coordinating Council.

These sweet wins almost wash away the bad taste left by the hysterical media bike bash of late November/early December. The press abandoned any pretense of rational thought after a food delivery cyclist killed a pedestrian on an Upper West Side sidewalk. Headlines screamed about "Attack Cyclists" and the usually stolid Times editorialized about "an attack on everyday life" by a "scofflaw culture." Excuse me, but isn't just slightly - let's say maybe a thousand fold - out of proportion? Bicyclists should not be on sidewalks, period, no excuses. Hell, I am sick of sidewalk cyclists rolling by a foot away from my 8 month old daughter's stroller. But give me a break. For every time a cyclist has whisked by me on the sidewalk, there must be ten times I was aggressively bullied or endangered by a car as I lawfully crossed the street in a crosswalk. Statistics back my perception. 13,000 pedestrians are hurt and 230 killed each year by cars. Whereas cyclists kill one pedestrian and strike another 450. I accept that journalistic standards are low, but the blindness and onesidedness of the bike bash was hard to stomach. And Mayor Giuliani, during this turmoil would it have been so hard for you to say that bicycling was good for New York, even if cycling on sidewalks is not?

John Kaehny
Executive Director