Housing Complex

Bike Hate Has Lots of Causes, But Partisanship Isn’t One of Them

Could this have happened without imperialistic governance?

The New York Times' sprawling profile of the NYC Department of Transportation director Janette Sadik-Khanone of many, but the first to really illuminate the backlash she's fighting among the city's political elite–has engendered a rash of introspection among urbanists. Why do they hate us? goes the refrain.

Matt Yglesias chimes in with one of his favorite urban arguments: It's a problem of lingering partisanship in otherwise staunchly Democratic cities. "Bloomberg is for bike lanes. The bike lanes are controversial. And Bloomberg’s not a Democrat. So someone has to take the anti-Bloomberg side on bike lanes, and those 'someones' wind up being the Democrats."

I'm really pretty sure that has nothing to do with it, and distracts from the fundamental issue: New York politicians have a very highly developed sense of turf, and undiplomatic efforts to alter "their" domain without their consultation will encounter resistance. I learned this very well while writing about a neighborhood powerbroker in SoHo who fought a bike lane on Prince Street simply because Sadik-Khan–whom he called "Robert Moses in a skirt"–wanted tried to put it in without asking him first.

“We defeated Moses, and we’re going to defeat Sadik-Khan. I’ll be around and she’ll be gone. Got it? Quote,” he told me. “She’s not been nice to me. …” My editor, in his wisdom, didn't let me include the last line: "And she's gonna get fucked."

With those kinds of personal power dynamics, you don't even need partisanship to create a wall of resistance. I think Yglesias has it backward: People hate Bloomberg because of how he puts in bike lanes, more than they hate bike lanes because of what party Bloomberg (sometimes, when politically advantageous) belongs to. Now, here's something Adrian Fenty would ask: Could Sadik-Khan have achieved the radical change she sought without busting up egos and shooting herself in the foot? Maybe not as quickly–but now she runs the risk of having her change undone once Bloomberg finally exits.

For more nuanced analysis, read this Observer piece, which calls the fight "New York's last culture war."

For the local angle, read David Alpert, who transposes New York's bike hate to D.C.

Photo via flickr user adrimcm.

Comments

  1. #1

    People fear change. I think it's that simple.

    They like change in the abstract - in the political campaign sort of way. When it gets down to brass tacks, however, everyone's a little more skittish.

  2. #2

    Believe it or not, it is even worse in Austin. I had a pickup truck tailgate me IN THE BIKES-ONLY LANE before pulling up beside me, pointing a shotgun out the window, and yelling "Hey f*g**t, get off the road!"

  3. #3

    Doesn't this just show that most people are shallow ego driven losers? These morons would fight over a pile of shit in "their" district. God I hate people.

  4. #4

    I agree that people fear change, but I think that means that we have to thoughtfully implement it and manage it. The lack of civic responsibility in our culture is annoyingly pervasive-- people spend a lot of time griping about the "they" that imposes stuff on citizenry without helping to bring about the change that is desired, and recognizing that there's a broad spectrum of reaction, responsibility and rights.
    When has yelling at someone and threatening them (especially with profanity) ever made someone think, "gosh you're so right, and I want to do exactly as you ask?" It's what makes me want to close my ears to both sides of this argument.

  5. #5

    WHAT KILLS ME IS THOSE NON-RIDERS CRUISING IN THE STREET, CONSTANTLY LOOKING OVER THEIR SHOULDER SADDLE ASSERS NOT KEEPING UP WITH THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC LIKE THEY ARE SIGHTSEEING.

    NO PLANNED ROUTE JUST PEDDLIN' DURING THE EVENING RUSH 'CAUSE THEY DIDNT WANT TO PAY FOR PARKING OR TO FUCKING LAZY TO GET UP AN HOUR EARLIER TO CATCH METRO. THEY ARE THE ONES THAT ARE RUINING IT FOR THE FOLKS THAT RIDE WITH PASSION.

  6. #6

    Bike riders in the town are the most arrogant bastards, they blow by stop signs and totaly feel that they are above the traffic laws and road cortesy! You want to ride a bike in DC then register it with a valid I.D. and pay a fee each year to ride it!

  7. #7

    I had a rider run into the back of my truck... granted no damage was done, but seriously - how do you NOT see whats in front of you? Had it been the other way around, I would have been in some serious trouble.

  8. #8

    Yes Rick, because drivers never behave as though they're above the law by parking in bike lanes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPfS6TZ21rg

  9. #9

    This only seems non-partisan to someone with a childish view of what is and is not "partisan". Are there pro-cycling conservatives? Yes, but they're outliers. Democrats who are anti-cycling consist pretty much entirely of the center-right corporate whore wing of the party. They're for whatever's sending them bushels of cash. Bikes & bike lanes are just good public policy, and the right thing to do; where's the upside in that?

  10. #10

    You completed certain fine points there. I did a search on the subject and found nearly all folks will have the same opinion with your blog.

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