If you're working in the transportation industry, you know there are basically two ways to contribute to the amazing shift in perspective going on in our country towards livable streets: Advocacy or Consultancy. On one hand, you can work with a non-profit organization or advocacy group to push the envelope and make a stir. This is the perceived over-the-top approach because the norm is so far away from where things could really be. For example, in a saner world, the Critical Mass bike rides that have long rubbed New York City Police the wrong way would not be necessary because thousands of bicyclists would already be respected and given appropriate space on city streets. But someone has to scream "Wake Up!" On the other hand, you can choose to work "from the inside", slowly and craftily transmitting your message in the rank and file world of government or business. In this case, you'll be seen as the oddity, the non-conformer, the one with "rose-tinted glasses". In truth, both of these roles are important to attacking the status quo from multiple fronts.
This past year has been a "pinch me" experience for all of us advocating for a more rational use of our city's streets. The momentum towards a nationwide friendlier urban realm has picked up at an amazing rate, and if United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's words earlier this week, " you have a full partner at the US DOT in working toward livable communities", are to be taken at face value, we are not stopping any time soon. That makes me think advocacy efforts that were once considered outlandish, such as city-wide bike lanes displacing auto travel lanes, are now in some instances ready to be handed off to consultants who "get it" to finish the job. This makes sense because over the past decade, many consultants have embraced the once radical ideas of advocacy groups, even acting as advocates themselves to some extent. When this happens, advocacy groups can shift their focus to the more outrageous ideas that continue to push the envelope. And boy do I have just the plan for New York City!
While connections to Manhattan for pedestrians and bicyclists from New York's outer boroughs include multiple bridges along the East River (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, Queensboro), the only bridge access to Manhattan from New Jersey is the George Washington Bridge, which is way uptown. Unless they have the time and energy to travel fifteen miles out of their way (yes, I know some do), pedestrians and bicyclists who are not within a reasonable distance to the GWB are limited to the bus, with no bicycle accommodations, subway (PATH train) with bikes restricted during peak hours, or a much more expensive ferry service. Two very large tunnels (Lincoln and Holland) do provide access to the heart of Manhattan; however, they are restricted to automobiles. But hey bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups! What if your next major agenda included approaching Port Authority New York/New Jersey to discuss the viability of reserving one of the tunnel tubes for bicycles and pedestrians only? Imagine the thousands of bikers and walkers who could travel across the Hudson River from Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, and Union City! This would free up capacity on the subway, make the tunnels a more equitable public facility, offer alternatives to those who find the mass transit fare a significant expense, and maybe even persuade some local commuters to come into the city by bike rather than car. It would also transform the way people commute and travel around these outlying cities.
So come on advocates! Are you up to the challenge? Leave the doldrums of lane striping and bike racks to the jacket-and-tie consultants, that's so 2006! Why not pass the baton, and take the next step towards a regional agenda that further cuts away at the flood of cars inundating the city every morning? This would give us all another reason to ask each other for a pinch.