The battle for bike lanes requires a change of mind

9 months ago

Mom and dad stores tend to be pretty adept at recognizing situations that will help their bottom line (which often have thin, fragile bottom lines). So why is there a blind spot here? Perhaps it is that attention is drawn to horror stories – and some vendors are beaten when bike lanes appear.

I spoke with Cindy Hughes, co-owner of Fast Phil’s Hair Salon in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She said business dropped by at least 40 percent when the city removed nearby parking lots and built a bike path. Most of her clients drive (she tracks), many come from nearby towns. Very few have switched to cycling, and even they almost certainly won’t be cycling during the snowy Boston winters. So while Hughes supports bike lanes — “cyclists deserve safety” — she sees losing parking as an existential risk. “Look, 90 percent of my clients drive,” she told me. “For our business, bike lanes are a lot worse than Covid was.”

For others Fighting back is a culture, says Henry Grabar, author of Slate, whose book on parking paved paradisewill be released next May. Small business owners are often drivers commuting from other parts of the city by car, Grabar notes. They are also often longtime locals. “Typically, these are people with deep roots in the city, who were hanging around the city even before the area became what it is today,” he adds. Driving around the city is so normal for them that cycling seems strange and out of the ordinary, despite Covid-19 pushing it up with bike sales up 75 percent.

And there is a negative bias. “People who can’t find parking always talk about it,” Grabar notes. “But people who are just getting in or cycling won’t talk about it.” Thus, store owners will understandably perceive parking as an unmanageable problem, while an increase in the number of pedestrians or cyclists may not be noticed.

Psychology above all! Who knew, right? The sharp divide between shopkeepers and bike lane supporters seems to be consistent with our big culture wars over climate change. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the culture wars, it’s that the data isn’t very good at changing attitudes.

When Jeanette Sadiq-Khan was head of the New York City Department of Transportation in the early 2000s, she oversaw the creation of bike lanes and received a furious response from residents and business owners who vehemently argued that there weren’t enough cyclists to justify installing the lanes. . Now, she ironically notes, the lanes are so busy that opponents have begun to say that the problem is different: too many cyclists get in the way of cars. According to her, “the status quo is a hell of a drug.”

Maybe bike lanes will always be dangerous until enough people finally get really excited about climate change, which seems reckless. No have them.

Crises, after all, tend to open people’s eyes to opportunities. Restaurants and cafes have lost so much business during Covid that cities across the country have begun allowing them to build curbside seating areas where people can sit safely outdoors. It cut down on parking a lot, but because, well, a crisis, store owners saw no way out. Diners have loved outdoor seating so much that cities are making it permanent: New York’s study of several streets closed during Covid found shopkeepers earning more than they used to and diners digging into the outdoor lifestyle. If the data doesn’t change their minds, customers may.

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