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2008-05-18 3:32 PM
Bicycle Network Planning Workshop
It wasn't really clear from the invitation what the Bicycle Network Planning Workshop—Upper West Side Streets Renaissance Campaign Community Design Workshop: Bicycle Network Plan was going to be, exactly. On top of that, my experience of bicycling through the Upper West Side is to go past it on the greenway when I'm commuting to and from work. And I've never attended any kind of community meeting about anything, believing, essentially, that the more people you put in one room, the worse anything gets, most pertinently my temper. But they invited me after I filled in their survey, so I RSVP'd and said I'd be there.
Kathleen watched the boys yesterday so I could leave a little before 10:00 AM and ride down Broadway to the American Bible Society at 61st. There was no bike parking. That was slightly annoying but mostly funny, and I'd sort of expected it, so I brought a cable lock with me and locked the Matrix to the building. (And then worried about it for a couple of hours.)
There were maybe 40 people in the conference room, and I was underdressed. No one was dressed to ride a bike. That made a certain kind of sense, though, once I thought about it; I doubt anyone else rode as far as I did to get there. It's an Upper West Side group, and they're meeting on the Upper West Side. They're not riding there and back from the GW. And not everybody who rides a bike needs specialized bike garb. I own stuff because my round trip is 26 miles and it's just a good idea not to do it in my work clothes.
And anyway, I rarely fit into any group, so the feeling wasn't uncomfortable.
The other people at my table weren't bicyclists. They were people interested in urban planning and even after talking to them a little, I wasn't sure why they were there. But a little before the meeting started, a guy named Peter showed up carrying his helmet--the only other helmet I saw all day, though I guess there might have been some stowed under the tables.
After the usual hello-everyone introduction (during which happiness was expressed for the larger-than-usual turnout), they gave the floor to a guy named Michael King, who plans transportation systems for Nelson/Nygaard. I liked him pretty quickly; he's got a dry wit, he's intelligent, he knows his stuff, and he was loving, focused, and brief with his kid when she wanted his attention during his presentation. Four for four. He showed us a Powerpoint presentation that briefly introduced transportation planning concerns and included photos of solutions that had been implemented in places not irrelevant to NYC. "This," he said at one point, aiming his laser pointer at a photo of a dream bike path totally separated from cars in Beijing, "is Queens Boulevard."
And yeah. It was. I saw it. Queens Boulevard is where I did a big stretch of my commute before we moved to Washington Heights a few months ago so I could be right by a bike path, and his photo showed a stretch of this Beijing street that you could just swap right out for the place where I got doored.
All good. I'm behind him. Under most circumstances, I'm thinking, what can I do?
Before the Powerpoint, he'd taken a little survey to see who his audience was, breaking it down by gender, age, and whether you'd ridden a bicycle in NYC in the last month. I think there were six of us who were male, between 36 and 50, and said they rode. There were just as many who were female, over 50, and didn't ride--and that, he said, was who he wanted. That's who he needs to fix the transportation system for: His mother and grandmother, the people who aren't already out riding.
I'm still with him. I agree.
Then he asks who's a member of a bike club, and that's when I mess up.
Who knew being a member of a bike club would turn me into one of the two people he pointed at--not figuratively, we're talking actual fingers--during the rest of the presentation whenever he wanted to say exactly who he didn't need to hear from?
Had I known, I wouldn't have raised my hand--especially since I let my membership to the Five Borough Bickering Club (and if you hear anyone else use the phrase, that was me) lapse after the jillionth stupid argument showed up in my mailbox, and especially since I know exactly who he thought those raised hands belonged to:
Male, 20s, road bike enthusiast, rude, takes $5000 of gear on club rides and trades macho barbs with his packmates while trying to drop them on hills.
Yeah, I know that guy too. Screw you for dropping me into that jar.
It's not as though I'm unaware of google alerts, so you Transportation Alternatives guys, here's who really got alienated at your meeting--which you invited me to:
I'm 42. I have MS and a couple of paralyzed leg muscles. I bicycle because I love it and because I still can. I've done a couple of century tours for those same reasons, but I've never done a club ride and probably never will. I average 13.5 m.p.h. on long rides, and I'll be happy if it goes up to 14. I moved my family from Queens to Washington Heights with the idea of taking my children to preschool in a bike trailer and then continuing on to my day job. It hasn't happened. The short version is, there's no way for my wife to get the children and a trailer back home in the evening without becoming the pariah of the rush-hour A train. If there were a way for her to bike back with the trailer, she would, but she's not comfortable towing them crosstown to the bike path, 12 miles up the island, and then up the insane hill at the GW.
I'm a writer. I'm a filmmaker. I blog about my rides. I put bikes in my fiction.
On my cycle commute to work one morning, I saw somebody on the Greenway with a sign, something about better bicycle something. I stopped. It was your survey. I took a printed copy and then filled out the online version instead when I found it at your website.
You followed up by inviting me to the May 17 and May 31 meetings. It seemed like something that mattered, and I know I'm weak in the community participation department, so I imposed on my wife and changed the schedule of an entire family (my twins are three years old and they're both sick--this is a big deal) so I could attend.
Then I got blown off.
I'm the guy who shows up at the office lugging a folding bike in a bag on his shoulder. I'm the guy everybody at work asks about whether it's safe to commute to work, what kind of bike they should buy, whether they need a helmet, what I do when it rains... I'm the sole point of contact in that office for people who do not bicycle but might like to. I disseminate information. I talk about how great it is. I find out answers to their questions when I don't know. I tell them about Transportation Alternatives and let them know where the official NYC Bike Map shouldn't be believed. We talk about shoes, showers, locks, and how to carry your work clothes without creasing them.
I am what you want people to be.
And this makes me exactly who your speaker does not want to hear from?
I refrained from comment Saturday during the meeting because I wanted to think about it a little longer instead of just saying "Same to you, buddy," and walking out. As I said, I'm not in my 20s anymore. And as I also said, I actually like the guy, and I agree with his goals. But now that I've thought about it...even though it was a guest speaker cutting me out of the discourse, and not a TransAlt staffer, I don't have the warm feelings about TransAlt that I did last week.
During the break, after being written off as a roadie, I was outside, showing my locked-up folding bike to one of the people at the table who'd expressed interest in my commute and had been thinking about buying a similar model. I showed him a route he could take on the maps you provided each table, and I gave him my business card so he could email me with any questions about bike commuting.
You may want to think about who, exactly, you want to let your speakers marginalize. I would have thought it would be your enemies, not your allies.
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