I wrote a letter to New York Post reporter Sally Goldenberg this morning in response to her awful coverage of last night’s Community Board 6 meeting on the Prospect Park West bike lane. (You can find reasonable coverage of the same issue at the Daily News, Brooklyn Paper, Brooklyn Spoke, How We Drive and Streetsblog).
I’m generally not a big fan of the letter to the editor. It feels like a pretty lame, powerless way to try to get one’s point across. But with the New York City bike lane backlash now in full effect and outlets like the New York Post and CBS2 apparently feeling completely unleashed to attack NYC DOT’s bike projects, I think New York City bike advocates need to start getting in touch directly with the editors and reporters who are responsible for crappy, dishonest coverage of bike issues.
Here’s why: Sally Goldenberg and her editors are probably very nice, normal people who generally want good things for their city, their community and their kids. As members of the city’s placarded class, the press often has a hard time relating to people who use bikes as transportation in New York City (like politicians and police, members of the press have parking placards and have a tendency toward serious windshield-perspective). Maybe they don’t know anyone who uses a bike for transportation. And they don’t see any bike dealerships sponsoring their coverage. And they are eager to poke holes in Bloomberg these days. And DOT’s bike and public space projects are one of the more visible, physical manifestations of Bloombergism. And we all know the bike coverage generates crazy pageviews. “So, fuck ‘em,” the editors think. There’s blood in the water. Bike lanes. Attack!
So, I want to try to start getting in touch with the Sally Goldenbergs, Marcia Kramers and Tony Aiellos of the world and letting them know that: Hey, cyclists are not freaks. We are not an abstraction. We are not outsiders or enemies or “the other.” There are tens of thousands of us and we are real New Yorkers with jobs and kids and, yes, some of us even drive cars too. All of this new bike infrastructure really matters to our daily lives. The way that they cover bicycle and transportation policy issues in New York City actually matters. We need them to start doing responsible, accurate, honest journalism.
So here’s the letter I wrote to Sally this morning…
I’m writing about your “Bikes Inflated” article in today’s Post.
I’m disappointed that you would give so much precedence to Norman Steisel, a disgraced former city official and his group of about 25 anti-bike lane NIMBY’s without bothering to interview anyone from Park Slope Neighbors, the Park Slope Civic Council, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, Transportation Alternatives, Community Board 6, Council Member Brad Lander’s office, or any of the many other individuals and organizations in the community who support DOT’s redesign of Prospect Park West and are very happy with how it is functioning. There were many of us at the meeting last night. We substantially out-numbered the folks who dislike this project. As a recent survey by the offices of Lander, Steve Levin and CB6 made clear, Steisel and his ad hoc “organization” do not represent a majority opinion in the community. They do not even represent a majority opinion on their own block.
Contrary to your story, the DOT’s data does not appear to be misleading at all. The NBBL’ers have been doing their traffic counts in front of 9 Prospect Park West, a building at the very far end of the bike lane near Grand Army Plaza (a traffic maelstrom that many cyclists tend to avoid). The NBBL bike counters are not seeing or counting any of the cyclists who are connecting to Prospect Park West via the well-traveled 2nd, 3rd and 9th Street bike lanes and entrances to Prospect Park. They are not counting anyone who might be biking in the South Slope, a neighborhood with, perhaps, the highest rates of bike ridership in the entire city. Given these facts, it does not seem all that odd that NBBL’s bike counts would be lower than DOT’s counts. Moreover, Steisel and his group have a clear bias on this issue. Why would we assume their data to be more accurate or legitimate than the City’s?
But here’s why I’m really bothering to write you: This bike lane on Prospect Park West is important. It provides me and my wife — for the first time ever — with a safe, convenient way to take our kids to the park, to school, to synagogue, and to our kids’ friend’s house in Windsor Terrace by bike. If the bike lane weren’t there, we’d be driving our car all over the neighborhood and spending lots of time looking for parking spots (or double parking and blocking traffic). Or we’d be spending money on car services. Or we’d be biking down 8th Avenue and PPW in 45 m.p.h. traffic, literally, threatening the lives of our children. Or we’d be biking on the sidewalk on PPW, annoying the heck out of pedestrians, which is what we used to have to do sometimes.
The New York Post’s coverage of biking issues has just been atrocious lately. It seems like your editors must have some political axe to grind against Janette Sadik-Khan. Or maybe you feel like anti-bike stuff is simply good copy for your core readership. I can’t pretend to know what motivates the editors of the New York Post. But as a professional, I think you owe us, at the very least, the courtesy of doing decent journalism and telling the real story.
For me, my family and lots of other Brooklyn families who are using and enjoying this incredibly valuable new piece of infrastructure, the Prospect Park West bike lane has quickly become an important part of our daily lives. The Prospect Park West bike lane is something that has made our day-to-day lives safer and more convenient. So, I want you to know that when you write stuff like this, and you fail to cover the other side of the issue, you are attacking something that really matters to a lot of people. And you are giving a selfish, discredited, minority opinion in our community a lot more volume and legitimacy than it deserves. Please do better journalism than this. People really care about this issue and even feel like their lives depend on it. It’s not a joke.
Park Slope Neighbors