Ed Driscoll

Mayor Mike and the Bike Path of Broken Dreams

At some point, “progressive” politicians looking to “Win the Future” seem boil the future of transportation down to two bipolar extremes: the train and the bicycle. Recently, George Will explained why Obama has the desire named streetcar:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”

Beyond the Northeast Corridor, passenger trains at least are a sort of muscular form of nostalgia. But what is it about the comparatively wimpy bicycle that so appeals to leftwing politicians?

In the latest issue of Commentary, in an article sadly not yet online, except in PDF form for subscribers, Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pop the pin on the “The Bloomberg Bubble,” in other words, the media cocoon which nurtured Mayor Mike’s carefully crafted hagiography — even more so than the failures exposed by Bloomberg’s inability to keep Manhattan streets clear this winter.

Near the conclusion of their piece, Siegel and Stern highlight Bloomberg’s obsession with rerouting traffic and pushing bike lanes down the trans fat and tobacco-free throats of New Yorkers, whether they want them or not:

Thanks to his concentration of wealth and power, Bloomberg was able, with the aid of a sometimes supine press, to present his personal policy obsessions as having been endowed with the force of historical necessity. Thus, when he set his sights on a West Side football stadium that would have produced massive traffic tie-ups in the center of Manhattan, the congestion that would have resulted wasn’t considered an issue. When he moved onto the national stage, a hastily conceived plan to tax cars for entering Manhattan was patched together to rebrand his mayoralty as green. But this newfound environmental consciousness had no binding claim on him; indeed, when he wanted to misdirect public monies to subvent the construction of a basketball arena on Brooklyn’s main and often impassible thoroughfare, Flatbush Avenue, the administration again dismissed problems of congestion with a wave of the hand.

Due to the structure of the city charter, the mayor has almost complete control of the streets. And Bloomberg has proved himself determined to create a new streetscape—closing down half of Times Square to vehicle traffic with plans to do the same for the shopping corridor along 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. And then there are the bicycle lanes, the pet crusade of his second transportation commissioner, a former business consultant named Janette Sadik-Khan.

In Manhattan and Brooklyn, Bloomberg decreed the installation of bicycle lanes on many of the city’s heavily traveled commercial avenues. Little-used and aesthetically unsightly, the Manhattan bike lanes are so important to the mayor’s vision for the city that they were shoveled clean even as the streets of the outer boroughs were buried in the Christmas storm.

Throughout the city, the lanes have made it more difficult to park, made the streets more congested, and made life miserable for truck drivers and delivery services that had to double park 20 feet from the curb to complete their rounds. These undeniable realities do not seem to matter to a mayor who seems to enjoy imposing change on the city whether it is warranted or not.

Which dovetails well into Mark Steyn’s brilliant take back in late 2003 on what made another leftwing northeast executive tick:

There was a revealing moment on MSNBC the other night. Chris Matthews asked Dr. Dean whether Osama bin Laden should be tried in an American court or at The Hague. “I don’t think it makes a lot of difference,” said the governor airily. Mr. Matthews pressed once more. “It doesn’t make a lot of difference to me,” he said again. Some of us think what’s left of Osama is already hard enough to scrape off the cave floor and put in a matchbox, never mind fly to the Netherlands. But, just for the sake of argument, his bloodiest crime was committed on American soil; American courts, unlike the international ones, would have the option of the death penalty. But Gov. Dean couldn’t have been less interested. So how about Saddam? The Hague “suits me fine,” he said, the very model of ennui. Saddam? Osama? Whatever, dude.

So what does get the Dean juices going? A few days later, the governor was on CNN and Judy Woodruff asked him about his admission that he’d left the Episcopal Church and become a Congregationalist because “I had a big fight with a local Episcopal church over the bike path.” I hasten to add that, in contrast to current Anglican controversies over gay marriage in British Columbia and gay bishops in New Hampshire, this does not appear to have been a gay bike path: its orientation was not an issue; it would seem to be a rare example of a non-gay controversy in the Anglican Communion. But nevertheless it provoked Howard into “a big fight.” “I was fighting to have public access to the waterfront, and we were fighting very hard in the citizens group,” he told Judy Woodruff. Fighting, fighting, fighting.

And that’s our pugnacious little Democrat. On Osama bin Laden, he’s Mister Insouciant. But he gets mad about bike paths. Destroy the World Trade Center and he’s languid and laconic and blasé. Obstruct plans to convert the ravaged site into a memorial bike path and he’ll hunt you down wherever you are.

Which sounds very much like Bloomberg today. During the middle of the twentieth century, Robert Moses dramatically transformed New York to keep pace as the automobile become the nation’s dominant form of transportation.  Today, Bloomberg punishes car owners, excuses away the root causes of terrorism, can’t get his streets plowed, and the replacement for the flattened World Trade Center is years and years behind schedule.

But he can build a bike path, dammit — so there. Or as Victor Davis Hanson wrote in January on “The Bloomberg Syndrome:”

Quite simply, the next time your elected local or state official holds a press conference about global warming, the Middle East, or the national political climate, expect to experience poor county law enforcement, bad municipal services, or regional insolvency.

But if you want to ten-speed down midtown Manhattan in January, have we got a mayor for you.

Update (3/6/11): Siegel and Stern have a look at the “Blooomberg Bubble” in today’s New York Post, which I believe is an abridged version of their Commentary piece. I’ve only just quickly scanned the Post version, which I believe lacks the item above on Bloomberg and his bike paths. But the Post article should certainly help to place them into the context of the ambitions, failings and fantasies of Bloomberg’s overall reign in the years since 9/11.