This recent story in USA Today and a recent ride on the Ashuwilticook trail in the Berkshires caused a few thoughts about bicycling to pop into my head. As one who has ridden a bicycle regularly in urban and suburban areas for over 50 years, and as one who was hit by a car while cycling in the Albany area a few years ago (fortunately, the injuries inflicted by the hit and run driver were minimal), it is clear to me that places allowing for safe on-road cycling near where many people live are rapidly disappearing. The future of this activity is on paths and roads that are physically separated from motorized traffic. Many great cities outside the USA have extensive networks of such bicycle paths, which benefit society by providing means of economical, non-polluting transportation, diverting automobiles from crowded roads, and providing healthful opportunities for exercise and recreation.
What’s not to like? Apparently, in New York City, plenty. Drivers of autos resent any infringement on their turf, which has expanded over the years (when I lived there, I was shocked to find that autos generally were allowed on park roadways in Central and Prospect Park (OK, I get the need for crosstown access through Central Park, but not for traveling on the other park roadways). Olmstead would spin in his grave if he could see how his park lanes are jammed with taxis and other traffic. Mayors from Koch to Bloomberg have had the uncanny knack of locating bike routes and lanes where they will tick off the most motorists. And cyclists who ignore traffic laws to the point of terrorizing pedestrians and who engage in inappropriate demonstrations have exacerbated tension between cyclists and motorists.
Motorists need to be a little more “live and let live,” particularly in urban areas where the automotive-centered lifestyle has exacted large costs in terms of traffic jams, air pollution, depletion of resources devoted to public transit, and use of land for roads and parking lots. An extensive network of bike lanes can improve the quality of life for residents, ease the strain on roads and transit facilities, and even attract tourists. Montreal has done it, as have many other cities around the world. New York should be world class in this area, too, and our region, with lots of abandoned rail lines crying out for productive re-use, should be a regional leader in developing off-road bicycle routes. Everyone would benefit, and the monetary investment required would be relatively small but would produce large rewards.