New York City rethinks the monopoly cars have on streets

This piece from The Sydney Morning Herald highlights the multiple challenges faced by governments attempting to make cities more bicycle-friendly, and presents a familiar narrative in the ongoing cars vs bicycles conflict. As the story reports, New York City, a place which has long privileged motorists, is going on a ‘road diet’, to make space for a growing number of cyclists.  Motivated in part by the death of an Australian tourist who was killed riding her bicycle in New York City one year ago, and the increasing popularity of urban cycling, these attempts to make New York City more bike friendly have necessitated the removal of a number of parking spaces and eliminated some traffic lanes altogether. Not everyone has welcomed these developments however, and motorists and other interested parties have gone to various lengths to block the changes. According to the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, motorists in New York City consider free parking and unfettered access to roads a right. Bicycles are perceived as infringing those rights, thus streets and footpaths have become “contested terrain”.

Meanwhile, a ‘movement and place’ framework has been developed in New Zealand to tackle the ongoing challenge of balancing “the needs of developing urban locations with the means to travel between them.” The framework, which was first developed in London, addresses the need to create liveable cities. It considers ‘place’ first, and then addresses questions of movement and mobility, and  acknowledges that limited space means that everything can’t simply be squeezed in. Cars are no longer given priority, but instead are balanced against the needs of cyclists, pedestrians and public transport.

The opposition to changes in road infrastructure in New York City and other cities to make them more bike friendly is hardly unique, and we face similar issues in other large, car-centric cities such as Sydney. Stories such as these demonstrate that a commitment by local governments to improving cycling infrastructure and making cities more bike friendly, while absolutely necessary, only addresses part of the problem. Changing the expectations, attitudes, and sense of entitlement held by a significant portion of motorists, is a different problem altogether.


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