Saturday, April 17, 2010

Slumming it on the GWB: Lahood and Transport Policy; and more GREAT NEWS

It was too hard to believe: the third day of Passover, and the south walk of the George Washington Bridge was closed again.

Last year, the fourth year in a row that the New York New Jersey Port Authority has taken to closing the south walk for "construction" during prime daylight hours, I thought was the last.

But here we were again, slumming it on the north side of the GWB.

An entire family is standing at the bottom of the three part staircase, three girls in matching dresses from age 4 to 10, with their little brother aged 6, their mother, and their father carrying their bikes, in all six, heavy steel bikes up and down the massive staircases on the Jersey side.

I was on my racing bike with cleated shoes and I thought I had a problem carrying my bike up and down the stairs. Father was bringing the sixth bike over the massive sets of stairs by the time I arrived, and the family was almost ready to set off from thebJersey side to cross the Hudson.

Little did they know on the other side was another three sets of dirty steel stairways to welcome them to New York. Add human urine stains to greet them as they come down the stairway. Nice going, PANYNJ.

The PANYNJ administration never ceases to amaze me how clueless they are about the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.

In response to my inquiry as to why the south side--the one side with cyclable on and off ramps--is so frequently closed, especially on holidays when many cyclists and families will want to use it, a spokesperson for the PANYNJ said,

"We do apologize for the inconvenience that these closures cause, however, I think that sometimes we forget about the age of the Bridge and how many people use the Bridge daily resulting in significant wear and tear on the Bridge.  If the Bridge is not maintained properly, there will be no Bridge for any of us to use."

But this has been going on a long, long time, and the disregard for cyclists as viable modes of travel is endemic. First it was the good old excuse about terrorism when PANYNJ shut down both pathways from 12 midnight to 6 am every night about 6 or 7 years ago.

Then started the "construction", timed to perfection at the start of spring every year when cyclists are most likely to cross the bridge. As the spring progressed to summer, the endless closures had cyclists wondering how many times they would have to carry their bikes up and down the staircases on either side, some of them falling down the slippery dangerous steps in their cleated shoes.

Can you imagine if every spring they decided to do "construction" on the eastbound side of the roadway closing it off to all car traffic on several days of the week, instead of doing construction at night?  (In the meantime you can sign up for "construction alerts" at the PA website.

When the cycling community, including Richard Rosenthal, wrote letters of protest to the PANYNJ, they replied, "Well, the path is FREE," meaning, since it's free and cars have to pay, deal with it. To which we replied, okay, then have us pay!

It's no secret that most people, aka, motorists think cyclists are delusional in thinking that they should have equal rights.
 (Pic left, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood addressing the National Bike Summit held earlier this year)

In fact the issue came up on a national scale just last week.  United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a weekend bicyclist, was quoted saying that the government is going to give bicycling and walking the same importance as automobiles in transportation planning and the selection of projects for federal money.

According to a report in the Associated Press, "the former Republican congressman quietly announced the "sea change" in transportation policy last month."

"This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized," he wrote in his government blog, a Fastlane.dot.gov.

A manufacturers' blog called the policy "nonsensical." One congressman suggested LaHood was on drugs.

"The new policy is an extension of the Obama administration's livability initiative, which regards the creation of alternatives to driving — buses, streetcars, trolleys and trains, as well as biking and walking — as central to solving the nation's transportation woes.

LaHood's blog was accompanied by a DOT policy statement urging states and transportation agencies to treat "walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes." It recommends, among other things, including biking and walking lanes on bridges and clearing snow from bike paths," wrote the AP report.

Right a pic from LaHood's Facebook page where Facebook fans practically kiss the ground he walks on. And well they should.

And the response from the rest of community of Americans--car and truck drivers, so called "normal people"? The National Association of Manufacturers' blog, Shopfloor.org , called the policy "dumb and irresponsible."

"LaHood's pedal parity is nonsensical for a modern industrial nation," said the blog.


Lahood also has a Facebook presence where you can let your thoughts about his programs be known. Among the comments are some that just say, "I love you." Dear National Association of Manufacturers: did you get that?

This news bit was thanks to Carole Furman, a friend of the family who has recently taken up cycling with a fervor and zest that can only be described as delightful.

She and her husband Lanny Walters are planning to do a big trip with a cycling group traveling from Ithaca to Detroit, Michigan from June 14 to the 21st.

The ride is part of BikeIt.org, a ride to a social forum being planned in Detroit, which hopes to attract 5,000 cyclists, who are "voting with their legs for a greener, cooler, more just society," according to a statement by the group.

"It's about organizing ourselves to have a world of clean air, clean water, healthy food and health care, economic and racial justice," and "joining 20,000 other folks who will be coming by any means necessary to get there," they continued.

Furman and Walters are planning on riding 100 miles a day with support vans, tents and food for camping along the way. Some of the cyclists plan on lodging with people they know or at Bed and Breakfasts along the way.

"When we get to Detroit, there is a plan for a parade in which all the cyclists will ride.  That should be fun!  Anyone is welcome to join, ride part of the way, the whole way, or just come for the car ride, " said Furman.

Spring brings out the cyclists, but it also brings out the news. Down at Bicycle Habitat, Charlie McCorkell said he was in dire need of help in his shop.

Recession? What recession? Things are crazy down there, with a sudden demand for bicycles, accessories and clothing, reported McCorkell. 

(Right, a pic of the Project One from Trek that McCorkell is selling at his store. Hmm: Mean racing machine!)

"With our latest expansion (3,000 additional square feet on Lafayette Street), I am looking for a few well qualified staff people, an experienced assembler and at least two sales people, one of whom should be well versed in road bikes," said McCorkell in an email. He can be reached at the Bicycle Habitat,  244 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012,  212-431-3315, cmcbike@bicyclehabitat.com and at www.bicyclehabitat.com 

And if you thought that was enough for one blog: consider this. The Five Borough Bike Club will be holding their spring swap this coming Monday, April 19 at 7 pm at the Ground Support Cafe in Soho, 399 West Broadway, (near Spring Street). Owner Steve Sadoff is a cyclist and his new establishment is a bicycle friendly venue allowing bikes inside. He also has bicycle racks on order from The NYC DOT. 

"If the evening treats us to fair weather our meeting will extend out to the sidewalk portion of his cafe. The Ground Support is fast developing the reputation of being The Java Capitol of Soho!  It will be your chance to meet other cyclists in New York, sell some of your own stuff, sample some good coffee, and pick up some stuff you really need before the season starts in earnest," writes Barry Hartglass, 5BBC program supporter. 

And finally, Gal From Down Under reviews in video the blessing of the bikes last week held at St. John the Divine . See it here on her site.

Palisades update: River Road is still covered in fallen trees (see my last blog). If you have an update please email me at jbenepe@msn.com .