Volume 78 / Number 13, August 27 - September 2, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Buffered bike lane will help, won’t hurt
The new proposal for a bike lane through the heart of Chelsea has resulted in battle lines springing up along Eighth Ave., threatening to put the brakes on an innovative plan that seems very much in tune with the community’s reputation for progressive thinking.

Last month a group of gay activists criticized a proposal for a buffered bike lane along what they referred to as “Gay Boulevard,” claiming the city and community board did not properly consult the gay community before introducing the project.

The leadership of Community Board 4 appeared blindsided by charges that the gay community was slighted during the early planning process, forcing the board to re-evaluate its early support for the lane in the face of this new criticism.

This caucus of concerned board members feared the bike lane would hurt one of the L.G.B.T. community’s most cherished stretches by negatively impacting gay-owned and -themed businesses, and generally disrupting activity along Eighth Ave.

While the activists’ worries highlight the need to reach out to businesses along the avenue — both gay and straight — the ratcheting up of rhetoric to make the board appear insensitive to the gay community is misguided.

In general, bike lanes are a forward-thinking step to making the growing metropolis more pedestrian- and environmentally friendly. Certainly, the unforeseen impact on businesses, and their complications with truck deliveries, needs to be assessed and mitigated as much as possible. But to interpret the Eighth Ave. lane as an affront to gay residents and gay businesses discounts concerns of the larger community and unfairly casts the board as unsympathetic to its gay residents.

Many on Board 4 would take offense at the implication of negligence toward or disregard of the gay community’s voice in this or other matters. Making the lane a gay issue will only create divisions among the gay community’s members and threaten future projects in Chelsea by unnecessarily politicizing broad-based planning.

We agree with supporters of the bike lane, many of them gay activists themselves, who feel L.G.B.T. advocacy would better be spent on more important causes within the community. Is quibbling over the lane worth the effort, considering the ongoing strides being made toward loftier goals like same-sex marriage legislation?

It is true that the gay community should be afforded the same input on matters affecting their neighborhood as a local civic or block association, but choosing the bike lane as a flashpoint seems counterintuitive to community progress.

The overall debate does represent a positive step toward bringing all concerned parties to the table to further the dialogue. While the community as a whole continues to analyze the bike lane, we hope the project’s detractors will base their criticisms on hard evidence — and not on a political agenda.

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