Robert Moses and the Bikelane Backlash

Bike Lanes’ Growth in New York Brings Backlash –

While New York City appears at the forefront of a national trend to increase access to its scarce pavement, a review of the chronology dating to back to the beginning of the 20th century reveals this “forefront” to be more of a “crest” in a cyclical wave of politics. Somewhere in that mush of time Robert Moses transformed New York– how he did it is as important to cyclists today as what he did.

Cyclists should review the techniques and strategies of Mr. Moses for clues as to how to implement their vision through parallel  political and a-political processes. Here are my three cents:

First, frame the message: Moses was ‘giving’ parks and parkways to the people. Cyclists appear to be ‘taking’ from the auto and pedestrians. Since there is little debate as to the future demand, need or desire to implement a healthy and sustainable alternative to the auto, the onus will rest squarely on cyclists to reframe their message as a giving and not a taking.

Second, make no small plans: Develop and sell the entire network–not just the individual intersection. Its too easy for individualized local fights to overwhelm the value of an entire network.

Third, follow the money. Moses gave us toll roads (aka “parkways,” ahem) while Bikes remain basically free. Bike coalitions have largely been self financed and their respective political results suggest this meager purse power. Municipalities that want to encourage the muli-tmodal use of their roadways should immediately enforce a drivers/riders license requirement and impose a new use fee for cyclists that use the road (and not just ‘share’ or ‘borrow’ it). The use fee should start out high and decrease with the actual mileage traveled (or perhaps number of consecutive years renewed.)

I’d value your continued comment and thoughts.

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About the Author
Mason Kirby is an architect practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area of California.

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