NYC Mayoral Candidate Weiner: The Bike Lane Debate Has Been “Venomous”

Thursday, May 23, 2013 – 11:20 AM

Source: TransportationNation

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, holding up his Citi Bike membership key (Kate Hinds)

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, holding up his Citi Bike membership key (Kate Hinds)

Appearing Thursday morning on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, Anthony Weiner’s interview covered a range of topics. Brian’s last question: since the city’s bike share program launches in four days, what does the candidate really think about bikes?

“I was a little surprised to see in your briefing book item 19: give breaks to employers who promote biking to work,” said Brian, “since you famously said to Mayor Bloomberg in 2010 that if you become mayor, you’re “going to have a bunch of ribbon cuttings tearing out your effing bikes lanes.” And you didn’t say effing. Have you changed on this?”

“I have not,” Weiner said. “Look, I’m going to hold up my bike share tag. I love bicycling, I hope that more people do it, I look forward to the bike share program. It was a joke, I don’t think I’ll be having ribbon cuttings to do that, but I can tell you this: I think they succeeded in taking a unifying issue — the thing that people agree upon in this city, they like bicyclists, they like biking — and they made it a divisive one. And it shows you how you manage the city and how you pursue the job as mayor manages — how it influences how these issues get considered. Now you have people who are venomous about bike lanes, who — that if we had a smarter policy with more conversation and more consideration — then I think …you would have probably gotten to a similar place without having funny conversations like that.”

“By the way,” Weiner added, “I wasn’t the only one having that conversation. A lot of people talk about it. But I love bikes, and i would point people to the idea in my book which is to mirror the federal tax benefit that people get when they help their workers find bike equipment, find places to park and the like — I think that’s some way the city can help.”

Brian pressed him on bike lanes. “Are there any you would take out?” he asked. “Prospect Park West?”

“I don’t like the bike lane on Prospect Park West,” Weiner said, “I reserve the right to do things and policies and propose things — again, I’m not getting wrecking crews out or ribbon cuttings started — you know, I’ve not been a fan of that one, but I understand people are and I’m not looking to relitigate every bike lane in the city.”

Following his interview on the Brian Lehrer Show, TN’s Andrea Bernstein finally got to have that discussion on bike lane policy she’s been wanting to have for the past two years. (Listen to the full conversation above. And listen to the Brian Lehrer Show interview here.)

“You said you’re not going to relitigate every bike lane,” she asked. “Are you going to be looking to remove them? Expand them?

“Like a lot of elements of transportation policy and every policy, I’m going to take a look and see what’s working and what’s not,” Weiner said, while munching on some pretzels WNYC has left over from the pledge drive. “Look, as much as people want to take one joke which frankly reflected a zeitgeist  about bike lines that a lot of people sit around. Some of them curse them, some of them love them. There are some that I like, there are some that I don’t.  I’m not looking to relitigate every fight. And even some things I don’t like I might say lets keep it cause other people like them and they’re working.”

(photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

But, does he want to expand the bike lane network?

“I always want to increase the amount of bike riding that we have in the city, I like the bike share program, I’ve got (a station) right on my corner, I’m going to use it, I’ve got my fob in my pocket…but I will say this: the way we pursued this policy left a lot of people feeling like this was a policy that was brought down upon them in their neighborhood without a lot of consultation, without a real conversation about what it is we’re trying to do, and a larger vision. I want to try to change the tenor of that conversation, and make it more about the balance that we need to strike and figuring out the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things. But I want to do that with every policy.”

Weiner reiterated his belief that Bloomberg turned bike lanes into something contentious. “If I would have told you ten years ago that one of the big civic fights in the city was going to be over bike lanes,  you would have said ‘no, everyone likes bike lanes, what the heck is there to fight about?'” he said. “And the reason it became a fight is because we had a very heavy handed, not very responsive process that led people to be in rebellion.”

(Note, polls pretty consistently show bike lanes getting more than sixty percent approval.)

And — as Andrea pointed out — the Prospect Park West bike lane did go through the community board process.

“I get that,” said Weiner, “(but) the issue is whether there was a sense that this process was fair and opened and not predetermined…we have a tendency to want to see every election as ‘let’s go back and re-litigate that fight and see where you’ve been. For the most part most New Yorkers want to know in an election where you’re going to go forward. Here’s how I’m going to pursue the issue of biking. One, I’m going to try to offer them tax incentives, employers tax incentives, to make it easier to bike to work. Two: I’m going to try to make sure the bike share program works (and) works well, and that the process is open and thoughtful about where we put the stanchions. And I’m also going to say about bike lanes: I want to have a conversation about where we do them and how we do them and what tradeoffs we make when we do them.”

And Weiner wanted to make one thing clear: “I am not this anti-biking jihadist. I made one funny joke…and now we’re having a seven-minute interview about it.”

Listen to the Brian Lehrer Show conversation about bike lanes here.