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When Your Mayor Is Afraid to Bike In Your City

Mayor de Blasio (center with Borough President Eric Adams and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg) was last seen riding a bike in August, 2018. Photo: Natalie Grybauskas

Mayor de Blasio said he is not ready to take his own advice about commuting via bike because his road skills need “work” — though a mayoral spokeswoman later claimed Hizzoner was only joking.

At an otherwise unrelated virus presser, Hizzoner said that he “needs to work” on his biking skills before pedaling to work in his own Vision Zero town, a comment that left reporters and activists slack-jawed given how many people are currently riding on unsafe streets where more than 220 people were killed last year, including 29 cyclists.

After initial publication of this story, a mayoral spokeswoman said the mayor was joking, and accused Streetsblog of “sensationalizing” the mayor’s comments — but reporters who were there also had the same reaction as Streetsblog. Spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie also said the mayor “needs to tune up” his own bike before taking it out for a spin. But the comment — whether serious or in jest — don’t change a thing: the mayor has only been on a bike twice in his nearly six-plus years in office. And people see the mayor’s reluctance to bike as hypocritical: if he can’t do it, why should the rest of us have to deal with the dangers?

“Mayor de Blasio is failing to lead by example and show New Yorkers that no one should be afraid to bike on their own streets,” said Bike New York’s Laura Shepard.

It goes beyond mere mayoral frailty. City streets should be safe enough that anyone — not just professional or experienced riders — could choose biking as a mode of transportation, especially in a crisis, but also every day in a waterfront city that needs to do more to combat climate change.

“What the mayor doesn’t get — and may never get— is that the goal is to build a city where no one has to ‘work on his biking skills’ in order to decide to bike to work, school or anywhere,” said safe-streets activist Doug Gordon.

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Those numbers would certainly increase with better infrastructure and a mayor who leads by example. Around the globe, cycling has grown in cities where mayors have joined their constituents in biking — such as Paris, whose Mayor Anne Hidalgo once famously said, “all Parisians will be biking!”

Hidalgo didn’t just make an empty promise; she rode in solidarity (and also restricted cars in many areas of town) and her constituents followed: Since 2018, the number of cyclists in Paris has more than doubled, according to one French outlet.

That’s why Transportation Alternatives (and members of Community Board 7) has called for the mayor to immediately implement changes, including:

    • create a zero tolerance policy on vehicles — city-owned, private, or commercial — blocking bike lanes, and cease any cycling-specific NYPD ticket stings. (The mayor said earlier this year that he would create a Vision Zero Unit within the NYPD, but no details of that unit, or its efforts, have been provided.)
    • build pop-up bike lanes, like those deployed during the UN General Assembly last September, “since the Green Wave plan can’t be implemented overnight,” Harris said.
    • quickly reconfigure key East River crossings, including dedicated, separated cycling paths on the Brooklyn and Queensboro bridges. The Queensboro Bridge is especially crowded because pedestrians and cyclists share a single path on the north side of the bridge. The numbers of walkers and cyclists were increasing on that span even before the current crisis, and the numbers are certainly not easing, as Streetsblog reported this week.
    • fast-track permitting and construction of sidewalk and on-street bike parking, and require that office buildings allow employees to enter with bikes
    • expedite the expansion of Citi Bike in underserved neighborhoods, roll out more stations and bike valets in Manhattan’s Central Business District, and subsidize a Citi Bike discount program to incentivize new riders.

On Tuesday, de Blasio said he hadn’t seen the suggestions, but would take a look at them.

“I haven’t seen them. I’ll happily look at them” he said. “We’ve obviously devoted a lot of police resources to clearing out bike lanes, we’ll keep doing that. We’re dealing with a crisis here with many, many elements, whatever we can do that we deem appropriate to help make it easier now we will.”

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