06 March 2014

Cycles In The Sky

I took a walk on the High Line (Is that the title of a Lou Reed song?) shortly after it opened.  I enjoyed its green space and overall attractiveness.  But I also had a sinking feeling in my stomach.  About two years later, I realized why:  Upon returning about two years later, it had become, essentially, an elevated version of Times Square with more trees and more expensive lattes. It became an "it" destination for tourists to the Big Apple in a way that the Viaduc des Arts, after which it was modeled, never did in Paris. 

Now, that all might be unrelated to what I am about to discuss, save for the fact that a proposed bicycle highway made me think about the High Line.

No less than Sir Norman Foster, Britain's most prolific architect (and a passionate cyclist) backs a "Skycycle" thoroughfare that would allow two-wheeled commuters and tourists to whisk into, out of and through Central London.  The elevated lanes would be built above existing railroad tracks so that buildings and other structures would not have to be demolished.

On one hand, I like the idea.  One thing I actually liked about riding in the Five Borough Bike Tour, as well as other organized rides, was the opportunity to ride on elevated expressways (and the lower deck of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge) that were closed to automobile traffic.  Although I missed the street-level contact I'd normally experience in riding through some Brooklyn neighborhoods I know well, I enjoyed the views of the harbor and waterfront.

Some might argue that building an elevated bicycle highway might entice people who are intimidated by traffic into riding to work.  That may well be true, if the increase in the number of cyclists following the construction (or, in some cases, segregation) of bike lanes on New York City streets is any indication.  However, as Mark Ames points out in the Sustainable Cities Collective blog, a bicycle highway is probably unnecessary.  He argues that there is plenty of room for cyclists and pedestrians on London Streets, but not for cars.  Therefore, he says, the solution is to limit the number of cars in the central city, which London does through a "congestion surcharge."

Mike Bloomberg floated the idea of such a levy for Manhattan below 60th Street.  It was about as popular as the notion of banning bagels.  The loudest objections came from family-owned construction companies and the like that are based in the far reaches of the outer boroughs but do much of their business in Midtown and Downtown. 

I hope that our current Mayor, Bill de Blasio revisits the idea.  Perhaps he will if he's elected to a second term.  From what I've seen, he is smart enough to realize that if it's simply not possible to squeeze more cars and trucks into Manhattan right now, we might be near that point.  I don't think he'd want to be remembered as the mayor who was in office when Manhattan froze in a state of permanent gridlock.

Then, about all anyone will be able to do is to sip those $15 lattes on the High Line.

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