The battle between motorized vehicles and pedal-powered rides such as bicycles has been part of life in New York City for a long time. An activist group, Transportation Alternatives, has been pushing cycling in the city as a way to reduce accidents, congestion and pollution since the late 1960s.
Big push began in the late 1960s
This group and others have not only advocated for bicycle riders, but have also argued that bike riding is an essential part of the city’s transportation infrastructure and as important as buses, subways and taxis. In fact, some have said that bike riding is more important. In 1968, for example, a demonstration in front of the General Motors building proposed banning motorized vehicles from Manhattan altogether.
In 1972, other activists urged the city to provide free bikes for everyone. In 1973, the groups went public with a bike ride down Fifth Avenue that snarled traffic in all directions for miles. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, bike riding became much more popular, and the city established a few bike lanes on major streets. However, these disappeared when the oil crisis abated and the city’s economy improved in the 1980s.
The prosperous 1980s slowed bike advocates to a crawl
During this time, the pendulum swung the other way, and there were proposals to ban bicycles from Manhattan. However, Transportation Alternatives soldiered on, obtaining grant money in the 1990s and achieving the support of a few people in the city’s transportation departments. However, change was slow until 2007, when bike advocate Janette Sadik-Khan was appointed head of the city’s Transportation Department.
2007 saw a big change at the top re bicycling
Sadik-Khan brought several leading Transportation Alternatives members into the department, and change occurred quickly. However, some critics have responded that the inmates have take over the prison, criticizing Sadik-Kahn for appointments such as that of Jon Orcutt, who once ran Transportation Alternatives.
The changes were speedy: Hundreds of new bike lanes and pedestrian plazas were developed, parking spots disappeared and streets became narrower to slow traffic. Although banning cars from Manhattan won’t happen any time soon, the city’s bike share program – almost free, as proposed in the 1970s – will start at some point soon. Expected to be ready by July, there have been delays in the assembling of the bicycles and stands. City officials are hoping that the bikes will still be ready before the snow flies.
Despite its role as part of the power structure in New York City, Transportation Alternatives continues to advocate for the non-motorized. It is currently encouraging the New York Police Department to conduct more thorough investigations of accidents between pedestrians, bike riders and cars. The goal: To reduce speeding and reduce traffic deaths to zero. It has also proposed wider bike paths across the Brooklyn Bridge, discussed earlier in this blog.
Source: New York Times, “For bike advocates, delayed gratification,” by David Goodman, Aug. 10, 2012.