Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bike Lanes and Gender Politics in New York

“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing?” Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. “I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”
(NYTimes article here). That's "progressive" Rep. Weiner (Dem) of Queens and Brooklyn, mind you. Unsurprisingly many speculate that "the backlash against Ms. Sadik-Khan has become unusually ferocious and personal in part because she is a woman". And when we add the highly masculinized/testosterone-pumped social meanings attached to driving a car, it's plausible to read this backlash as partly growing out of a sense of emasculation by some. After all, the facts speak strongly in Sadik-Khan's favor:
DEVOTEES refer to her as “J. S. K.” and lionize her as the brave and forward-thinking city planner who ushered in a golden age for bicyclists, pedestrians and environmentalists. Two-wheeled ridership has doubled during her tenure; European-style rapid-transit buses now ply exclusive, camera-enforced lanes; and fewer people have been killed in traffic accidents on New York’s streets than at any time in the past century, according to city records.
And, moreover, it's not as though the original transition from a built environment favoring non-car transit to a car-hegemonic model was a rational/democratic one. The decision to slash and burn New York's old pre-car character was undertaken by the maniacal tyrant Robert Moses without the consent of those whose lives he uprooted and smashed. So, if there is a concerted effort to move away from this model toward a model that values human life, walk-ability and alternative transport... what's the problem? The ruling class only complains of lack of democracy when they don't get their way. When they're not consulted they whine of "big labor" or "populist tyranny".


fwoan said...

What is Weiner's problem with bike lanes?

Richard said...

Bike lines are a big issue in congested cities like NYC and SF. In SF, my impression is that the bicyclists seem to have a slight upper hand, but proposals to allocate part of the street to bikes are always contentious, prompting a flood of complaints from people who travel around the city in cars, and especially from those who commute. There may also be a class element here, as I suspect that many people in SF (with which I am somewhat familiar) use bikes because they cannot afford the cost of a car there on top of their astronomical rent, and the same may be true in NYC, too.

Beyond this, Sadik-Khan reminds me of another transportation reformer many years ago out here in California, Adrianna Gianturco, who tried, unsuccessfully, to wean Californians off the need for more and more freeways back in the first Brown administration in the 1970s. As you might expect, she was considered brash and confrontational, too.