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/ October 27, 2010
Disgruntled Drivers and Old People Organize Against Bike Lanes

Two highly kvetchy protests in the past two weeks targeted what could possibly be the City’s most solidaritous brotherhood: commuter cyclists. The Department of Transportation’s relatively recent expansion and update of the bike lane system has prompted  significant debate online, but Internet activism became activism activism for the first time this month — first in the East Village and then in Park Slope. Both protests were descended upon by hyperlocal press, leaving the comment boards aflutter and the protest organizers promising more.

The first protest, organized by one boisterous and grammatically inept Leslie Sicklick, drew an embarrassingly small crowd of objectors to the corner of 1st Ave and 14th St (read: five). The bulk of the complaints revolved around a common anti-Bloomberg theme, although some were most personal; Michael O’Connor, 63, told us he was there because his dog’s tail was run over by a bike rider on the sidewalk. For him, the new lanes were an “undeserved reward” for bad bike etiquette.

Bloomberg did these bike lanes not for environment or for people, but to get back at drivers. Someone at the Department of Transportation told me that,” Sicklick told me. She argued that businesses were losing “tons and tons” of money due to the lack of parking spaces. “I went into at least 30 business. All you have to do is walk down 2nd Avenue and check out all the businesses that have that my sign. They will tell you!” She was unable to remember the name of any of the establishments, however.

The argument that businesses are hurting along the 1st and 2nd Ave. bike lanes is not a new one. The “floating parking lane” installed to separate riders from the flow of car traffic means that some parking spaces were removed, and drivers can no longer pull up to the curb and quickly pop into a store. It poses something of an obstacle for delivery trucks, too. EV Grieve nicely summarized these arguments, but as of yet no survey has been made of the actual impact of the lanes on local businesses.

The pro-laners appeared calmly amused by Sicklick as she vehemently preached into tape recorders. “It seems like one person that is pissed off and somehow got a lot of attention,” said Village resident Micah Anderson.

The second rally this past Thursday took a different tone altogether. Park Slope simply doesn’t mess around. The turnout was roughly 200 people, three-fourths of which were Brooklynites of every age–parents brought kids, kids brought grandparents–who came out on bikes to defend the Prospect Park West lane, which was installed five months ago. Among the other quarter, those protesting the lane, the homogeneity in age demographic was striking; literally every protester could be considered elderly.

The anti-laners’ concerns were primarily aesthetic, and a few towed the “safety hazard” line. Bob Linn stood on a park bench and preached into a bullhorn. “It looks like the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel,” declared Linn.”Why do they think they can mutilate this extremely beautiful boulevard?” He felt that it did nothing to reduce the need for cars. “Its useful to maybe a handful of bikers. You can count the number who ride by in an hour on one hand.” He echoed the general sentiment of the anti-laners, arguing that riders could just use the lane that runs through Prospect Park. Linn was immediately bombarded with shouts from the pro-laners who reminded him that the park lane is one-way.

“I served in the army in Europe!” shouted bike lane foe Tony Srour. “They all ride their bikes the right way. They’re very cautious over there. Here, I have to look both ways! Even with the walk sign! Twice I was almost hit crossing with my grandson.”

We know looking both ways before crossing the street is an insurmountable impediment, but the safety argument has yet to gain quantifiable traction. According to city transportation data [pdf] dug up by HufPo, since the 9th Avenue bicycle path was installed, traffic injuries for all users has decreased by 56 percent, including a 29 percent decrease in pedestrian injuries. Those are no small numbers.

Aaron Naparstek spoke into a bullhorn in front of the pro-lane crowd. “This is about the sustainability of New York. This is about reducing our dependence on oil!” The cheers this comment elicited were downright warming.

The whole scene reminded me of the several times I’ve encountered the interesting camaraderie that comes with being a commuter biker in this city. There was that time I was almost doored by a cab and the guy riding next to me screamed at the driver for his negligence. There are the friendly nods between riders when we’re stopped at a light.

There’s something about using your body for transportation, and beating the shuttle bus to class by four full minutes ever time, and knowing you haven’t pumped out an ounce of CO2 in the process, that just feels so damn good.

May the lane wars continue. If nothing else, they’re reinforcing riders’ desire to keep doing how they do.