If biking is as wonderful as you describe, why aren’t more people doing it?
I think of New York City as being a transit- and walking- and bike-oriented town, but some people are stuck in this view that streets are for driving, and to put a bike lane here or a bus lane there or even to widen the sidewalk somehow takes what’s rightfully for drivers. What Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan have shown New York and the world is that streets are flexible. There are ways to design and manage them so that while there’s still room to drive and park, there’s much more opportunity to walk or bike. This reinforces what cities were created for in the first place: transaction, human interaction and quality of urban life. That doesn’t just have to be for quaint cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam.
In terms of transportation, is there an ideal city that you use to measure New York’s progress?
New York is special because it’s so complicated and big and diverse. It’s unparalleled, and I don’t think it has a peer city. What we’ve done and like to do is cherry pick the best practices from different cities. In terms of bike-shares, the city that New York probably has the most to learn from is London, which is probably the closest to NYC in terms of population, density and economy. Also, the Barclay’s bikes there have been working quite well. We’ve also been looking to Boston and Washington – their bike-share systems are much smaller, but still very successful.
So what do you say about those bicyclists who run red lights or hop onto the sidewalk from time to time?
We want the NYPD to enforce the law, but what we’ve seen is a lack of discretion and prioritization. We’ve seen a lot of tickets for what I’d term “harassment infractions,” such as giving a ticket to a woman for having her handbag dangling from her handlebars. Or even tickets for not having a bell. I mean, it’s smart to have a bell on your bike, but it’s much more important to enforce against people riding on the sidewalk or going the wrong way against traffic. Really, what we’d like to see is across-the-board prioritization of the NYPD’s limited resources used on infractions that are causing the most harm.
How do you respond to people who say it’s no fun arriving at work all hot and sweaty in the morning?
You know, that’s a really common reason people cite for not biking to work. The fact is, the only way you’re going to get sweaty or to the point where you’re not presentable is if you’re trying to be a triathlete on your way to work. If you’re someone who has to dress up in a suit, bike slowly. You’re not trying to kill yourself; you’re not trying to break a speed record. If it’s a really hot summer day, I’ll bike to work in a T-shirt and keep some shirts at work. Maybe do a trucker’s bath in the bathroom or something. But if you look at how the bike-share program has gone in London, if you look at the number of professionals who are cycling, it’s just a matter of pacing yourself and not treating it like a race.
Whatever happened to the Segway? Wasn’t that supposed to revolutionize urban transportation?
Dean Kamen, the inventor, came in and met with us years ago when the Segway was first coming online. He tried very hard to pass legislation that would allow Segways to operate on city sidewalks, and we fought that tooth and nail because it was our assertion that city sidewalks are crowded as is. To have a 70-pound motorized vehicle on a crowded New York sidewalk is just not a good idea. He disagreed. We ended up battling it out with him in Albany, and we ultimately prevailed. But with all newfangled transportation technology, I think everyone is looking for the silver bullet, whether it’s a Segway or a pod car or a hovercraft. I don’t know about you, but ever since I was a kid people have always been promising the magic technology that’s going to save us from our transportation troubles, and it just never happens. I’m a big believer in what works, and if you look at other big cities around the world, most trips are less than two miles. Almost 40% of trips in our fine city are a mile or less in length, so let’s focus on some good old-fashioned shoe leather and bicycling.