Duncombe and I have said more than once “you can change the laws, but it won’t matter if the culture doesn’t change with it.” For lack of a better term, I’m going to call this – for now – a Culture Gap.

A change may be “the right thing,” environmentally, economically, socially, for justice, but if people aren’t ready for it the change wont happen. Worse, you may see a backlash against the policy or enforcement.

Sadly, this may be what’s happening in the argument over New York City bike lanes. An extensive New York Magazine article today dives into these ideas:

The DOT can put in bike lanes by the thousands, but the more important transformation will be internal: We are going to have to learn to accept a decrease, however minuscule, in our individual freedoms. For bike lanes to really work, New Yorkers are going to have to learn to share.

Sharing, however, will first require a commitment by all New Yorkers—and especially bikers—to abide by the rules of the road. “If you’re going to put more cyclists on the street, you have to make sure there’s more enforcement,” says Nancy Gruskin, a music teacher and activist based in New Jersey. And until recently, that hadn’t happened. “It feels very haphazard: You throw something out there and expect that the structure is going to build itself, and what happens is that you have civil war.”

Luckily, I think the cultural shift is already underway. Anti-bikelane activists will lose, eventually. They have to. There is a “teething process,” as a transportation advocate in the article put it – and I like the image of a cry baby it evokes – but the bike lane process could be smoother, more efficient, and more effective with some cultural work.

The next question is what kind?

Leave a comment