The fallacy of constant numbers

Apropos of the New York Times article about a lawsuit in Brooklyn over bicycle lanes, John Cassidy writes in support of the lawsuit, which claims that the city’s addition of bike lanes is “arbitrary and unfair”. Cassidy’s argument is that the bicycle lanes make it easier to bike, and harder to drive (and park). Well, yes. That’s precisely the point! He takes us on an idyll of youthful hungover bicycling, returning to his house shaking. Now, he says dismissively, “cyclists want it easy.” Again, is it evidence of some slothful decline of the west that bicyclists lobby to make cycling easier?

Though his argument is initially emotional, Cassidy wants to make a reasoned argument:

I also question whether the blanketing of the city with bike lanes—more than two hundred miles in the past three years—meets an objective cost-benefit criterion. Beyond a certain point, given the limited number of bicyclists in the city, the benefits of extra bike lanes must run into diminishing returns, and the costs to motorists (and pedestrians) of implementing the policies must increase.

Given the current number of cyclists in the city, he’s probably right. But the point is that bike lanes can drive more people, who don’t want to return to their homes shaking, to cycle. Turning New York City into “Amserdam, or perhaps Beijing” is not as much of a joke as Cassidy makes it out to be. I’m all for being crochety, and find the archetypical Park Slope self-rightenouseness as annoying as the next guy, but really, American cities, New York included, are incredibly unfriendly to bicycles compared to the bicycle’s inherent utility as a form of urban transport. European cities have generally gotten this better.

Also, bicycles are cheap. Not everyone in the city has the same problems as Cassidy, who complains about having a hard time finding a parking space when he’s going out to dinner.

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