Mayor Bloomberg has actively supported biking and bicycle infrastructure in NYC. He appointed bike-friendly Janette Sadik-Kahn as DOT commissioner, his administration installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes, and perhaps most importantly, he continued to support Sadik-Khan and bike infrastructure after the Post and Daily News derided him repeatedly for doing so.
To many of us in the biking community, Mayor Bloomberg’s support of cycling seems incongruous with the rest of his politics. In NYC, bikes have historically been tools of direct action, implements of empowerment for the working class, and a necessity for living in the city if you don’t make much money. Unfortunately, with Bloomberg’s decision to raid Zuccotti Park last fall, and his support of Atlantic Yards and other development projects that have slighted the poor and profited the rich, he has been actively oppositional to those other causes that biking has supported.
When viewed as such, the mayor’s administration seems schizophrenic; its split personalities being those of Janette Sadik-Khan and Ray Kelly. While Sadik-Khan has installed bike lanes at a historic rate, Ray Kelly’s NYPD has ticketed cyclists at a historic rate, mostly for dubious charges such as not riding in the bike lane (a state law which has a NYC exemption), not wearing a helmet (which only applies to those under the age of 14), and speeding by less than 5mph (for which there is not even a box to check on a speeding ticket). As the right brain of Bloomberg’s administration holds the hands of new cyclists and encourages them to get on the streets, its left brain harasses them, slaps them with fines, and discourages them the moment their tires touch the pavement.
So, how does Bloomberg stave off mental breakdown? Some argue that Ray Kelly’s NYPD is a force of its own, more like a spouse to the administration than a part of its body, and that Bloomberg can’t keep Ray Kelly from picking on the cyclist-children of his other marriage (with Sadik-Khan). This theory conjures an image of Grecian gods warring on the Mount Olympus of city government, while we mere mortals suffer the consequence of their conflicts. But I imagine there is something much more complementary going on in Bloomberg’s administration. Something more like the proverbial good cop, bad cop.
Bloomberg does not want empowered working class or activist cyclists, just like he does not want an empowered working class or activist public. Bloomberg wants a city of the elite, and he knows that some of the elites he wants in the city want to ride bikes. So he is faced with simultaneously encouraging elite cyclists and discouraging the historic community of cyclists in NYC.
When viewed as such, the mayor’s administration seems perfectly reconciled. Except for one glaring inconsistency: the lack of enforcement of vehicular traffic laws, especially when those violations result in deaths. Cars kills indiscriminately. Both the rich and poor, the politically powerful and the socially oppressed fall under the wheels of automobiles. According to City Hall data released last week, the amount of pedestrians and cyclists killed by automobiles has gone up 12% since last year, while tickets for deadly vehicular violations have gone down. With the death of Jessica Dworkin just over two weeks ago, and the acquittal of Ian Clement in a clear hit-and-run last week, the public seems more furious than ever about car culture dominating our city’s streets at the expense of the rest of us. The political climate is perfect for a crackdown on automobiles, for Bloomberg to fill this gap in his pro-biking policies and demand that the NYPD ticket vehicles for deadly violations and charge drivers who kill pedestrians and cyclists to the utmost of the law.
Again, some argue that the NYPD does not listen to Bloomberg, and that on this issue the NYPD is deeply entrenched in car culture and deeply at odds with cyclists. In this case, they may be right. We may be witnessing a clash of the titans that jeopardizes all of our lives, that throws us under the wheels of the modern day juggernaut – the automobile.
Bloomberg may be afraid to criticize Ray Kelly and the NYPD because they are equally as powerful as himself and in extremely good favor with the Post and Daily News. But the thing that has impressed me most about Bloomberg has been his willingness to fight for sustainable infrastructure and livable streets despite being criticized in some media outlets. And assuming that Bloomberg is not running for any office next term, he has little to lose politically by publicly asking Ray Kelly and the NYPD to step-up their work on this one issue where they have utterly failed New Yorkers. This is Bloomberg’s chance to patch a glaring hole in his comprehensive vision of sustainable infrastructure, to fully reconcile the split-personality of his administration, and to put the needs of the people over the political differences of NYC’s Olympians. This is his chance to secure his reputation as a mayor who helped create livable streets for all, both rich and poor.