The age of the bike controversy

Make text smaller Make text larger

Readers responded vehemently — pro and con — to our “Disrupting the Grid” column


  • On Fifth Avenue. Photo: Doug Davey, via flickr

Bicycles, for better or worse, are swiftly multiplying on the streets of Manhattan. So too, it seems, are the self-referential celebrations mounted by advocates to trumpet their ascension.

Did you know May is National Bike Month? Or that Bike to Work Week runs from May 15 to May 19, climaxing with Bike to Work Day on May 19? Of course, the Five Boro Bike Tour on May 7 was inescapable. But perhaps you missed Bike Expo New York on May 5 and 6?

It was against backdrop that we turned to readers to ask two simple questions: “Is the bicycle the scourge of the city or a saving grace? Does it diminish our street life and imperil the grid, or does it green Manhattan and make urban life more livable?”

The context was a column, “Disrupting the Grid,” that ran in the May 3 issue and proved a bit controversial, in which I argued that the orderly patterns of Manhattan’s street-grid system, which dates to 1811, were being undermined in the Age of the Bicycle.

As the signature design for the island’s roadways, the grid bestowed discipline and order with its straight lines, right angles and linear street walls. It was my contention that an untrammeled, unregulated proliferation of bikes, accompanied by an ill-planned, ill-designed grafting of bike lanes and infrastructure onto the grid, sowed disorder, diminished street life and fostered a climate of fear among pedestrians.

Reader response came fast, and sometimes furiously. Typically, it was thoughtful. Always, it was interesting. Via emails, phone calls, tweets and online comments, at least 64 people with strong opinions vented. Roughly 40 percent sang the praises of the city’s biking culture; 60 percent demonized it or criticized the pedal community’s wayward ways.

And yes, my central thesis was subject to some ridicule:

“I can’t tell if this article is a joke or a really long satirical Onion-style piece,” wrote a reader identified only as “Alex” in an online comment. “Douglas Feiden, you are either really hilarious in making yourself sound like a backwards fuddy-duddy, or have no real connection to reality.”

A correspondent named “Vooch” agreed, saying, “It must be satire ... It’s gut-busting funny.”

Actually, I can assure Alex and Vooch, the column, however executed, was an attempt at a cri de coeur to alert City Hall to the follies of radically re-engineering Manhattan’s streetscape to accommodate the stampede of scofflaws.

“Glad that finally someone is bucking the trend and describing the reality of the bike culture in NYC and its negative impacts,” wrote the landscape architect Edmund Hollander, whose fluency in the grid hails from his designs for street-level gardens on Murray and Sullivan Streets and rooftop gardens on Park Avenue and Central Park West.

Hollander, whose eponymous firm is based on Park Avenue South, offered a modest proposal: “How about license plates for bikes and registration fees, like cars, to help pay for and support the infrastructure?”

It’s a first-rate idea. User fees are a form of taxation that might put the brakes on over-saturation, give government a means of regulating the market, maybe keep ne’er-do-wells off the streets and even fuel a robust enforcement regimen where none currently exists.

“They all should be issued ‘mini-plates’ for their bikes, and when they go thru lights, ticketed!” wrote Sherry Ahimsa, who lives on the Lower East Side. “I’m writing to local officials. Maybe you can also.”

The column’s focus was on the impact of bicycles on the street-level, or horizontal, grid. But Upper East Side resident James Mahoney argues they’re also proving detrimental to the vertical grid, meaning the forest of skyscrapers that spring from the intersection of street and avenue.

“Bikes are insinuating themselves right into our office buildings,” he said. “I for one do not welcome them.”

Mahoney is right. Under the 2009 Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law, cyclists are permitted to park their bicycles in or near their workplaces. As the city Department of Transportation helpfully notes on its website, many offices have unused “dead space” in their reception areas that can be utilized for bike parking.

Funny, I always thought a business had the right to decide how it wants to use its reception area, not the DOT. But that’s a column for another day.

Make text smaller Make text larger



Image Grocer at the crossroads

Will the 38-year-old Westside Market lose its cozy if cramped home on Broadway and 77th Street? Or will the outpost re-up by November 30 when its lease expires?


Image No boundaries
Family is a joke — at least on TV
Image Contesting the ‘Con-Con’
Pols, unions, citizens, advocates, lobbyists, special-interest groups – and strange bedfellows – take to the barricades over the November 7th referendum on a...


Sign up to get our newsletter emailed to you every week!

  • Enter your email address in the box below.
  • Select the newsletters you would like to subscribe to.
  • Click the 'SUBSCRIBE' button.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters


Local News
2017 Building Service Worker Awards
  • Oct 17, 2017
City Arts News
Seeing India through color lenses
  • Oct 17, 2017
Local News
How sleep affects your weight
  • Oct 18, 2017
City Arts News
Rewinding VHS tapes in a digital age
  • Oct 17, 2017
Pressing buttons
  • Oct 16, 2017
Local News
Contesting the ‘Con-Con’
  • Oct 17, 2017
Local News
No boundaries
  • Oct 17, 2017
Local News
81st St. bridge project near completion
  • Oct 13, 2017
Local News
Grocer at the crossroads
  • Oct 18, 2017