Responding to the New York Post’s Crappy Bike Coverage

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…

Hi Sally,

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.

Thanks,

Aaron Naparstek
Co-Founder
Park Slope Neighbors

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10 Comments

  1. eveostay
    Posted January 21, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Really, really great letter Aaron. As usual, not a syllable out of place. I hope you hear back from her.

  2. Posted January 21, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Love it!

  3. Posted January 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Very nice letter – I hope that Ms. Goldenberg and other journalists respond by producing more thoughtful journalism in the future.

  4. Posted January 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    The NY Post is just as dangerous and cancerous to progressive, harmonious NYC society, as Fox “News” is to the country as a whole.
    .
    Murdoch screams fire in a theater, just to gain salable photos of trampled bodies. The scum of the earth. He will destroy an entire culture, for personal profit.
    .
    This cannot continue…

  5. Gary
    Posted January 21, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Well said Aaron.

  6. Elaine
    Posted January 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Former New York Post employee here (although not in the newsroom): It was pretty clear while I was there that the tone of coverage in the Post was being directed increasingly from Australia, and had two major themes: media gossip and conservative local politics. So it perfectly stands to reason that they would bring into any such meeting as the one to which you refer a genetically encoded bias against anything that deprives someone of a liberty he or she already has — like the liberty to drive a car. And yes, you are correct, none of the decision-makers, most especially the editor, whose car picks him up and drops him off every day, makes it a habit to ride any other form of transportation than their own automobile. I mention these facts only so you don’t develop the false hope that anything you say will make a difference to them. But it sounds like you’ve got ‘em pretty well figured out.

  7. Ben from Harlem
    Posted January 21, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Aaron

    You are a fine writer and an excellent advocate. Great letter and keep it up. I wonder if the Post would print its typical 20 word excerpt on the Letters to the Editor page. You ought to try.

    Ben

  8. Brooklyn Native Son
    Posted January 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    It leaves any reasonable person incredulous that a group that advocates a mode of transportation, cycling, used by a tiny fraction of the population, claims that it represents a “majority”, while purporting that a group representing the vast, vast majority of the citizenry, pedestrians and/or car owners, is a “minority”.

  9. Dave 'Paco' Abraham
    Posted January 22, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    @Brooklyn Native Son…. the ‘majority’ claim is a reference to the extension surveying done to get public feedback on the changes. and the article above is right… a sweeping majority of people both with a few blocks, and within the area at large, love the change. I don’t think any cyclist is so delusional to believe they’re using the largest modeshare in the city…. but what we advocate is the tremendous benefits that come to all (drivers, pedestrians, cyclists alike) when these types of changes are made to narrow roadways, slow speeds, and shorten crossing distances.

  10. Posted January 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Native:

    I haven’t seen the 2010 Census data yet but, as of 2000, the majority of Brooklyn residents did not own cars. Car owners in Brooklyn are a minority and a relatively well-off minority at that.

    The PPW redesign doesn’t only benefit cyclists. It benefits everyone who uses that street. That’s probably why an overwhelming majority of the community is in favor of the project:

    http://bradlander.com/ppwsurvey

    That’s the majority I’m talking about.