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John Petro

The Bike Lane Wars

In an interview with WNYC on Monday, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz explained his opposition to a new bike lane adjacent to Prospect Park.

Claiming that the bicycle lanes would "cause a great inconvenience" to nearby residents because of "horrendous" "traffic jam-ups" on the ten-block stretch of road, Markowitz went on to criticize the Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn because she "wants to make it hard for those that choose to own their automobiles."

But the most striking part of the interview comes early on. Markowitz refutes the notion that the city should be taking steps to reduce levels of automobile use and ownership in New York City. He laments there are some, presumably including Sadik-Kahn, who think "the philosophy of the city of New York should do and be whatever one can do to help minimize car owners."

But that is exactly what New York City should be doing. Don't just take my word for it. This is the same conclusion of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC--and for good reason.

The city's PlaNYC 2030 document examines the challenges that the city will face as it grows by another one million residents by 2030. Among these challenges: how will the transportation system meet the increased demands without increasing costly congestion?

Traffic congestion already costs the region $8.1 billion in waste a year and commuters spend an average of 44 hours in traffic jams. Add one million more city residents and New York City's "rush hour" will become a 12-hour daily event.

There is a solution, but I don't think Markowitz will like it. We must take steps to reduce the number of cars on the road, even as the city's population grows.

In other cities, expanding the road network is one option (though I would argue that it isn't the best option), but in New York City, there is simply no room to expand the city's road network unless we bulldoze existing neighborhoods and displace families and businesses.

PlaNYC concludes that the only viable option, the only way to prevent crippling congestion, is for more people to walk, bike, and take public transportation. It states in no uncertain terms that, "The city cannot physically accommodate another million people if auto use continues at its current rate."

The city has made tremendous progress in increasing the use of transit and, remarkably, bicycle commuting. Transit ridership is up 12 percent since 2003. And last June, the city's Department of Transportation announced the completion of 200 miles of bike lanes in just three years. These cost-effective investments in the bicycle network are paying off: bicycle commuting has increased 126 percent since 2003, taking stress off of our congested roads and subways.

These gains are good for the small percentage of city residents who have no viable alternative but to drive to work or for other activities. Each new resident that chooses not to own a car will mean one fewer car on the road. But in order for new residents to make this choice, we must make sufficient investments in transit and the bicycle network.

This means dedicated bus lanes to speed up the slowest bus system in the country. This also means that we need to continue to add bicycle lanes so that more New Yorkers feel comfortable and safe biking on city streets. And finally, we must step up enforcement of the rampant speeding that takes place on the city's roadways. One study found that one-third of drivers on the city's streets are speeding, which dramatically increases the likelihood that a collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist will be a fatal collision.

But first, the outdated viewpoint of elected officials like Marty Markowitz must change. More cars on the road will lead to more traffic congestion. More bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders will mean less congestion. I know which choice I prefer.

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Posted at 4:19 PM, Apr 15, 2010 in Urban Affairs
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