Historical Preservation

I went on a Jane’s Walk yesterday through the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, led by indefatigable local activist Pat Courtney. Pat knows a lot about Inwood, and this walk took us around to see some of the “contributing” buildings to the currently notional Inwood historic district. Buildings of historical interest are contributing; buildings without historical interest are noncontributing.

It’s nice to see that other people as well took time out of their weekend to go on this walk; we got to about 25 participants by the end, including local City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who lives in the neighborhood. He stayed for the whole thing and was not accompanied by staff members, which counts in my book as an expression of legitimate interest in the subject. Most of the folks were older than me, of the empty-nest generation that doesn’t have conflicting activities scheduled for Saturday morning.

At the RING Garden, at the intersection of Dyckman St & Riverside Drive & Broadway, Sandra Hawkins of Transportation Alternatives got up and spoke about how Dyckman Street had been the site of traffic violence for a hundred years or more, back to the time of the first West Side ferry that stopped at the western end of Dyckman Street, where it meets the river. That kind of history is important to remember, but not so important to preserve.

As we walked along, we saw multiple groups of recreational bicyclists, mostly headed uptown. I assume that they were enroute to rides through the Bronx and Westchester, or perhaps returning from spins in New Jersey on the west side of the George Washington Bridge.

From the standpoint of advocacy, I would call the walk a success in how it brought together multiple people of different viewpoints and backgrounds to share for the afternoon a single point of view, that Inwood had a distinctive history, worth commemorating, and that this history was told in part through its buildings and physical form. The effect of historic preservation is in its ability to unite buildings with their neighbors and to maintain the form of a neighborhood; traditional development relies on individual landowners making decisions about their property one at a time, without regard to the gestalt of the area.


Streetsblog Comments Worth Saving

Here are a set of comments I made to Streetsblog back in 2011 that I thought were worth digging up again and saving for future reference. I was a little more engaged in the commercial cycling business at the time, as you can see.


I can attest from personal experience that it is not easy or straightforward to shop for a liability policy for bicycles on the business level. Individuals may find it easier.

I believe that this problem is at least partially responsible for the poor cycling behavior of the delivery fleet. Riders are treated as independent contractors (with their own personal bicycles) because the restaurants can’t afford to pay a liability claim. More enforcement and more widely available insurance would make it reasonable for restaurants to put their riders on payroll and cover them directly under their own insurance policies. This would align safe and courteous riding behavior with what the boss wants. All the “bicycle-friendly business” campaigns won’t do a thing until business owners actively take responsibility for the behavior of their delivery fleet riders.

(I liked particularly the idea of the delivery fleet dressed as flight attendants and riding big Oma bikes. It’s a useful corrective.)


BicyclesOnly, thanks for sharing your thoughtful bicycling memoir and explanation for why you support TA’s policy. I agree with you, but have two caveats.

First and most obviously, the benefits to following the “Biking Rules” street code mostly accrue to other people. It’s not obvious that following Biking Rules will keep you, the rider, any more safe. One simple example: stopped at a red light next to automobiles. No cross traffic visible. Is it better to cross the intersection against the light and avoid turning autos or is it better to wait with the automobile and have them turn into your path? I prefer to cross against the light; call me a rebel!

Second, if it were true that “the small minority of cyclists who ride too aggressively” were all individual actors, than I would feel the same as you do; I would grudgingly accept that a behavior-modification campaign was the best way to win acceptance for cyclists.

However, if TA believes that “setting an example” is the way to change cyclists’ behavior, don’t they realize that the example is not being set by paid-up TA members with fluorescent clothing and front-and-rear lighting systems? For every Larry Littlefield in a blinking LED vest, there are a hundred cyclists in black nylon jackets riding without brakes. They are the ones setting the biking rules for everyone else.

In order to change their behavior, though, it makes more sense to coerce the businesses that employ them than to pressure the individual riders. Restaurants are reputation businesses, and should be held responsible for the behavior of their employees. It’s the job of the employer to make sure that employees are following the rules, not the job of random bicyclists on the streets.

Thought experiment: if restaurant delivery staff dressed like flight attendants, rode big heavy Dutch Oma bikes with GPS dynamo headlights and bright red taillights, and strictly obeyed the Biking Rules code, would that encourage or discourage other New Yorkers to ride a bike? I think the former.

The city heavily regulates the taxi fleet; why not the delivery fleet? Better regulation could improve service (bikes could have GPS built in, so customers could track their delivery online), improve safety (lights and reflectors), and reduce accidents (GPS-activated horn could beep when bike was being ridden on the sidewalk, and brake to a crawl when bike was going the wrong way), and enhance the image of cycling as a dignified and respectable way to get around, even with a couple take-out dinners in tow).

(From the same post)


My opinion is that the Biking Rules program reinforces the antibike narrative by creating an monochrome context in which many cyclists’ behavior is interpreted as “WRONG.” This prompts the antibike crowd to argue, very reasonably, that they are all for “RIGHT” biking, and that until all cyclists are “RIGHT,” “WRONG” cyclists shouldn’t be entitled to full use of the streets. Why build bike lanes when “WRONG” cyclists will just use them to maim innocent pedestrians, they say?

And even when articulate proponents of cycling infrastructure like yourself advocate for the benefits of extending more bike lanes so that people can be “RIGHT” cyclists, the dichotomy is stuck to you like a bear trap; opponents respond, ‘Yes, that would be great, but until we do something about “WRONG” cyclists endangering the lives of our uncles and aunts, we shouldn’t just give them more precious street space.’

It reminds me of the fight over needle-exchange programs. In that example, it was necessary to redefine and destigmatize junkies from offenders to victims before exchange programs were accepted as tools for harm reduction. As long as TA (and DOT) keep drawing lines with the majority of working cyclists on the outside, people riding bikes will never get the benefits that they deserve.