Success! Commissioners Show Support

Last night the Bicycle Advisory Committee presented a 5-year strategic plan for bicycling at a work session with city commissioners. The five-year plan was developed from many of the ideas you have seen on this blog. City engineer Rob Ott, Civil Design Engineer Peter Clark, Bicycle Coordinator Intern Joey Lightner, and Senior Planner Lance Evans were all instrumental in bringing these ideas together into a formal plan and presentation, delivered by Peter Clark. Mayor Pro Tem Loren Pepperd and other commissioners unanimously applauded the quality of the presentation which former Mayor Bruce Snead called “professional consultant level” work. Commissioner Matta embraced the plan, but warned that budgets are tight. Commissioner Butler responded to Matta by noting that the plan has significant economic upside potential, as noted in the public comments by local business owners, Dave Colburn and Jeff Koenig. City Engineer Rob Ott added that the small amount of money required to get the plan started ($15,000 for the Moro Bicycle Boulevard) could potentially create the leverage we need to obtain larger grant funding to support the growth of the network.

The highlight of the evening was the comments from the public. Dave Colburn kicked things off by noting that the 1% sales tax addition at his own bike shop would nearly pay for the first year of implementation by itself. Add to that the 5 other bike shops (6 with the coming of Dick’s Sporting Goods) and the sales of bikes in the community easily pays for its own infrastructure. Miriam Clark followed by sharing the passionate support of the 200+ member strong Flint Hills Area Bicycle Club.

I was especially moved by Jeff Koenig’s speech, which I hope he might consider sharing on this blog. Jeff talked about his visit to Washington DC, where he met with our representatives to discuss bicycle issues and found a surprising amount of support, even in these tough economic times. As Jeff noted, one of the key drivers of the budget deficit is our spending on medical care, which is driven by … well as Jeff said, “We’re fat.” Nearly 1/3 of Americans are obese and 2/3 are overweight. Less than 1/3 of children are exercising more than 20 minutes/day. Jeff also noted that Manhattan is growing fast, and challenged us all to think about how we could possibly move 10, 20, or even 30,000 more people through this town. The bicycle provides the cheapest, healthiest, and most achievable solution.

Our chair, Brian Hardeman, followed with some strong examples from other cities like Portland, Oregon. As Brian noted, Portland has dedicated 1% of its transportation budget to bikes, and with great success. Over 5% of all trips are by bike now, making the investment pay off over 5-fold. As I noted in my own comments, 5% mode share means 5% less maintenance (a savings of $50,000 for Manhattan), 5% less need for infrastructure, 5% more parking, as well as a happier, healthier, more attractive community.

Community is the key. As sociologists such as Robert Putnam have shown, there has been collapse of community in America over the past century. But fortunately that is not yet the case in Manhattan. We still live in a town where you expect to know somebody everywhere you go. You walk and ride with your head up, greeting almost everybody you meet, and you expect everyone you meet to know somebody you know. We expect and receive kindness from one another. And while we have many of the resources of a big city, we have that “feel” of a small town.

The plan is a significant revision of the 1998 Bicycle Master Plan, building on many of the principles and ideas posted earlier on this blog. The new strategic plan shifts from costly (and often impossible to build) bike lanes on busy arterials to a peaceful and comfortable network of bicycle boulevards. There will still be bike lanes on wider streets and other places where they are appropriate and necessary. The plan also sets out guidelines for new developments that will ensure greater connectivity as Manhattan grows.

We live in the best of both worlds, a growing city … and a strong community. We think this plan serves both, and we were pleased to hear our commissioners agree and show their support.

Michael Wesch

Chair of the City of Manhattan Bicycle Advisory Committee, avid bicycle commuter, and a cultural anthropologist.

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4 Responses

  1. Diane Novak says:

    Thanks to everyone who turned out for the Work Session with the City Commissioners. You could tell everyone put a lot of thought into what they were going to say last night and it made a siginificant impression.

  2. Dan Scott says:

    I wanted to share this piece on bicycles and community that I read recently.

    “On a bicycle, citizens experience their city with deep intimacy, often for the first time. For a regular motorist to take that two or three mile trip by bicycle instead is to decimate an enormous wall between them and their communities.”

    The presentation and positive reception by the commission was a big step forward for cycling in Manhattan. Hopefully the Moro Bicycle Boulevard gets approved and starts our community on the path to even more bicycle and pedestrian friendly projects.

  3. Michael Wesch says:

    Great article. That pretty much sums up how I feel about biking in Manhattan. The comments were a bit disappointing (“a motor scooter is a superior technology”, etc.). I find that cycling around Manhattan gives me a completely different perspective on the town than I had when I was always driving my car. It is almost like there is this “other Manhattan” of which too few of our citizens are aware. Hopefully these changes to bicycle infrastructure will help them see it!

  4. bikram gill says:

    Thank for the hard work and making a case for bike riding in Manhattan. I am thinking of have a plate on the back of my bike that says,

    ” Live a little
    Gas No

    Some one who rides to work about 6km each way, come rain or sunshine exceptions being thunder or snow!

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