Thanks Mr. Bloomberg

Republican mayor Bloomberg of New York City is proposing to follow London’s lead in implementing congestion charging: fees required to bring cars into most of Manhattan. (The proposed fees are about half those of London’s.) It’s been proposed before, but this time let’s hope it sticks. Opponents are calling it a tax on the poor. I think said opponents should examine the more radical poverty of automobile dependency, enslavement to an expensive mode of transit that effectively curtails the right to walk or ride a bike in safety and ease. On bikes, Mr. Bloomberg has also favored softening the regulations on pedicabs within the city, though the motor taxi lobby is prevailing with the city council to keep practical transit options inhumanly heavy.

For nearly four years we worked in Manhattan, the US city with the highest population density. We then moved to San Francisco, the US city with the highest car density. We’re now in Portland, with among the highest bicycle commute rates in the US. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that I can’t imagine San Francisco or Portland following NYC seeking to curtail car use so directly any time very soon, helping restore their streets to the conviviality they lost to cars. Here’s Park Avenue as designed:
park avenue was a park
Yeah, it was a park. What did your streets look like before cars, or do you live in a place designed for cars and people who don’t question their need or their demands?

8 thoughts on “Thanks Mr. Bloomberg”

  • Ian Hopper

    I don't know.. I'm too young to remember what it was like round here before the total dominance of the car... (Novato/Marin County/CA) That's sad isn't it?

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  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson April 29, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    What about people who are physically incapable of riding bicycles, like my late father? Without his car, during the last several years of his life he would have been homebound.

    Also, I live in West Virginia, called not without reason 'the Mountain State'. There are parts of Charleston which would be difficult to get to on a bicycle unless you were in tip-top physical condition and using a top-of-the-line machine; an ordinary person on a typical mid-grade cycle would find it impossible.

    And what about people living in the south and southwest, where for most of the year it is too dang hot to bike? Or in parts of the midwest, where it is for a great deal of the year too dang cold? I grew up in Minnesota; biking there for a good part of the year was a good way to court frostbite, hypothermia, and pneumonia. I've visited my aunt in Phoenix, AZ., and biking there for a good part of the year would be to court severe sunburn, heatstroke or (at best) arriving at one's desination too odiferous to be socially acceptable.

    I don't like cars much myself, and I make a strong effort to use mine as seldom as possible, but sometimes they are necessary.

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  • Todd

    The fact that cars have changed our settlement patterns and overall way of life so to depend on them is not an argument for their necessity or good; it is simply confirmation of our addiction. Cars (and bikes) have existed for only a tiny fraction of human history, of course. What if your late father had been living in any other time or place free of cars: would he or anybody else even understand the hardship you are referring to? He would likely have lived in a multi-generational household in a walkable settlement: Charleston of the 1800s? Is it a natural human requirement to travel dozens of miles daily in the scorching sun or across frozen plains or in steep mountains, without sweating, or have cars merely made it seem so, socially unacceptable not to do so? Who or what is deciding for us how we must live? Are we not the tools of our tools? Our dumb, blind, runaway industrial processes?

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  • Erik Sandblom

    And what about when I visit my grandmother at the bottom of the Mariana Trench? The Mariana Trench is 10km deep, off the coast of Japan, so there's no way I could dive that deep without a motorised submarine. Sure, this kind of energy use is killing the planet, but visiting my grandmother at the bottom of the trench is more important than the health of the planet. And who's to say my grandmother should move, after living 50 years at the bottom of the trench?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariana_Trench

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  • Jim

    Bruce's argument, carried to its logical extension, proposes that we set our policies based on the weakest member of society in the most difficult circumstances conceivable. Everybody in my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances rides a bike for transportation at least some of the time. Many of them (myself included) ride everywhere, and even ride during the Minnesota winter and manage to fend off frostbite, hypothermia, etc. Most of us even enjoy it! Oddly enough, none of us resemble superstar athletes, and all of us have physical limitations that prevent us from doing all the things we could do if we chose to be car-dependent.

    Here in Minneapolis on the last day of April, it is clear and sunny and highs in the 70s are predicted. It's mostly flat here, so you don't need to be Lance Armstrong on a super-bike to get over the hills. I plan to run some errands later on my fixed-gear bicycle. I will go to the bank, post office, and probably the grocery store. While I'm out, I'm certain that I'll encounter hundreds of people driving around running errands similar to my own. Undoubtedly some of these people suffer from conditions and circumstances that would prevent them from getting around under their own power as I do. But many, if not most, are perfectly capable of pedaling 2-3 miles on flat ground in beautiful weather. Some of them even have bike racks mounted on their cars so they can take their bikes to recreational destinations on weekends. I talked to an old guy the other day who gets around under his own power. He rides a tricycle by my shop several times per day, often with various items being transported in baskets on his trike. I doubt his speed ever exceeds 5 mph. When he stopped to talk to me about doing some work on his trike, it became clear that he was blind in one eye, had a gimp arm, and had enormous difficulty walking just the few meters from his trike to my shop's front door. Many people in his age category (80-90?) and with fewer health difficulties consider themselves homebound, I'm sure. But I have seen this old geezer riding by day after day for the past 16 months.

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  • Val

    One of my favorite customers was a fellow with so many infirmities that it was painful for most people to spend much time around him. He had trouble standing, talking, or walking. He used two canes to support his weight, and the trip form my front door to the chairs where he could sit down (about 8 yards) took over a minute. We customized a recumbent trike for him, and he would ride it 10 to 15 miles at a time, and not slowly, either. He was amazingly cheerful, and an inspiration to me and to others. You never know what people are capable of with the right opportunity and motivation. If there were more opportunities to use something besides a car, and more motivation, we all might be amazed.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Cars are not the only form of climatised transport. Many cities in the USA and around the world have extensive climatised pedestrian networks. These can be underground, ground-level or above ground.

    The Montreal network has 32 km (20 miles) of paths and offers access to 80% of all office space and 35% of all commercial space in downtown Montreal. It comprises several metro and train stations. I don't think bicycle riding is allowed, but there's nothing stopping a change in the rules should the will arise. Riding on smooth marble floors is very nice. You don't spill your take-out.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_city

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  • ainsley

    Mayor Bloomberg has since proposed another congestion plan for downtown Flushing in Queens, NYC, which happens to be where a major subway hub that many that use public transportation to get into Manhattan depend on- say for those days too rainy/snowy to ride your bike. Only this time it's not the cars that he's charging- it's pedestrians commuting on foot. Let us all hope that none of his congestion pricing plans are ever passed in any New York City, and that no similar plans are passed elsewhere.

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