Monday, January 29, 2007

buses vs. bikes?

Over the weekend AANews ran a story about how the proposed bike lane on Fifth Ave. conflicts with bus parking for the Hands-On Museum. First the bike lane was hindering the God-given right to park on the street. Now it is threatening the safety of 40,000 innocent children.

As the Calthorpe recommendations and the newly-passed Non-Motorized Plan move from discussion points to implementation, we can expect more points of conflict to arise. It is an unwritten rule of planning that public participation is minimally effected by public meetings, hearing and workshops, but directly related to the time before breaking ground on new projects. Furthermore, the outcry is likely to lean more towards emotional appeal as the deadline approaches.

This is not to say that the safety of children visiting the museum should be overlooked. Yet, is the bike lane location the only, or safest, option? Other locations for idling buses have been considered, but have been rejected because of safety concerns in road crossings or neighbor's distain of buses parked on "their" street. As a result, museum staff is feeling boxed in.

"I'm very concerned about the safety of the school children," said Carol Knauss, director of operations for the museum. "I want to be a good citizen, but we really don't want to move."

All the same, it is clear that there are viable alternatives. From the article, it appears that the safest option for the kids was abandoned because of neighbor complaints. Maybe this issue should have been framed as kids' safety vs. neighbors' sense of street asthetic instead of buses vs. bikes. the neighborhood has been fortunate that their preference has been accomodated so far, even at the potentially reduced safety of kids visiting the museum. Now that new plans to implement stated community goals no longer make that possible, we have to reconsider the pull of a few residents vs. the community at large.

The broader question may be, "why are the streets unsafe for kids in the first place? the danger can hardly be attributed to a bike lane. More likely it is the large volume of high speed traffic running through the center of town. The DDA points out that the Fifth Ave redesign is intended to reduce that risk, making Fifth Ave. a safer and more pleasant place for pedestrians.
DDA director Susan Pollay said the redesign for Fifth Avenue will dramatically slow the traffic, and the Ann-Fifth intersection would have curb "bulb-outs,'' in which the corners jut into the intersection a little. That will make the actual street crossing distance shorter and safer, she said.

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