Photo: Thomas Le NgoGiven the inflamed debate that’s going on in New York right now over bike lanes in general and one bike lane in particular — on Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West — I wanted to get some perspective from the eminently reasonable Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).
Founder and cochair of the Congressional Bike Caucus, Blumenauer is a dedicated bike commuter who has been working for years to improve bike infrastructure in his hometown of Portland.
“It’s all about choice,” said Blumenauer by phone this morning. “In too many communities, people have to burn a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk. That’s not freedom. That’s tyranny.”
I asked him what he thought of recent remarks made by his fellow legislator Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) about bike lanes in New York City.
Weiner, a prospective candidate in the city’s next mayoral election, was quoted thus in a recent New York Times article:
“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing?” Mr. Weiner said to [Mayor Mike] Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. “I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”
Weiner tweeted a couple of days later that he was “joking,” but has yet to return requests for further clarification from this reporter.
Blumenauer told me he thinks Weiner is making a bad bet by dissing bike lanes, even in jest.
“I think Anthony’s quick with a quip, and I’m sure that there are some people that he’s picked up politically, but I think he’s reading it wrong in terms of the long-term politics,” said Bluemenauer. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s wrong in terms of how cities operate.”
Blumenauer noted the national tide is running the other way. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and Chicago’s new mayor-elect, Rahm Emanuel (D), have just enthusiastically committed to building new bike lanes — not getting rid of them.
“This is where America is going,” said Blumenauer. He added that he’s invited Weiner to have a look around Portland to see how that city has diversified its transportation modes: “I did it when he ran for mayor last time. I said, if you’re serious about this, why don’t you look at some of the urban laboratories, and Portland is acknowledged to be one of them.”
The congressman remembers how controversial getting bike infrastructure built used to be — even in Portland. The first path he advocated for, a trail that went around a golf course, made people mad. “You would have thought that we were kidnapping children and small pets,” Blumenauer told me. “The public hearing was not very nice. But in the course of two years, public opinion changed 100 percent.”
(Full disclosure: I used to work for Streetsblog, which has been mentioned in a lawsuit seeking removal of the Prospect Park West bike lane, mentioned above.)