New Amsterdam Is Not Amsterdam

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time to rethink our bike-centric approach to mass transit

by daniel meltzer

this will not endear me to many of you reading this, and it will undoubtedly cause some trouble with a few friends, but i feel i need to say something about bikes.

bicyclists, and the biker lobby, are the new self-proclaimed environmentally friendly solution to everything from air pollution to traffic congestion to i don't know what else-the gulf catastrophe? ("well, if everyone rode bikes, and got rid of their cars, then we wouldn't need all that oil, and so?") well, everyone is not going to ride a bike, and the taxis, limos, tour buses, bentleys and 18-wheelers aren't going away any time soon.

i myself was a devoted rider until just a few years ago, when i gave up fighting the traffic and filling my lungs with car and truck exhausts on the streets, and retrieved some usable hall space when i got rid of the old 10-speed. what has inspired this? well, like many things, this had to build up some before i was ready to write about it.

after getting the nod from community board 7, the city has just approved a bike lane along columbus avenue, which will remove from use two traffic lanes on what is, at certain times of the day, a heavily traveled road and a designated truck passageway. (disclaimer: i am, in fact, a member of board 7, but i was on medical leave and hence was absent when the vote was taken.)

houston, we have a problem. actually, we have two problems.

for one thing, bicyclists do need to be protected from motor vehicles. but too many have not been all that responsible themselves when it comes to traffic laws and even the codes of common courtesy. many still ride on sidewalks. they generally do not stop at red lights. and they go the wrong way on one-way streets. many do not have horns or bells to warn you. delivery bikers have no lights, wear black at night and are notorious for going the wrong way. the nypd certainly has bigger fish to sauté, but stricter enforcement would help. biker/pedestrian collisions have not been rare in this city in recent years, some of them causing serious injury.

the city and the west side recently heralded the opening of the new, multi-million dollar extension of the promenade in riverside park. its two broad center lanes are marked for cyclists, with narrow, single-file lanes along the edges for pedestrians. try to walk hand in hand with your sweetie and one of you is at risk. the promenade itself, a designated cyclist "track" for want of another word, has been swarming with colorful, skin-tight racing suit-attired riders, many of whom conspicuously ignore the ubiquitous "go slow" signs. webster's new world dictionary defines "promenade" as "a public place for walking."

the other problem is that, as anyone with a basic knowledge of physics knows, when you squeeze an artery, the flow tends to get re-directed. as was observed when times square was shut to traffic to become a lounging area, cars and trucks and buses had to go elsewhere and all channels in that part of town were heavily trafficked to begin with.

we will have to wait and see if this happens here-will the southbound trucks head for broadway, which is already a tractor-trailer crawlway in rush hours? time will tell, as they say. but only, as i say, if it is tortured.


daniel meltzer is a playwright and o. henry and pushcart prize-winning fiction writer. his most recent production was a cable from gibraltar at medicine show theatre in manhattan.

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