Newly minted mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is at the top of an uninspiring pack according to some polls. Prior to his self-destructive sex scandal, Weiner had served with some distinction as a liberal firebrand in the US House of Representatives, but, according to some accounts, he had always dreamed of Gracie Mansion.
New York is a famously live-and-let-live city. We enjoy scrutinizing our political scandals, but we also give second chances. Weiner’s personal proclivities are not of much interest to those of us who care about the physical city and hope the new mayor takes up the commitment to improve public space and foster urban sustainability pursued by the Bloomberg Administration. Still, Weiner’s actions raise questions about his judgment.
New York is also a famously hotheaded town. Prior to his underwear debacle, Weiner seemed hell-bent on differentiating himself from Bloomberg by taking on a great menace to the city—at least to the headline and editorial writers of Murdoch’s rags—bike lanes! At a dinner for the New York Congressional delegation, Weiner erupted at Bloomberg, saying, “When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing? I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your (expletive) bike lanes.”
Weiner now claims he was joking and has recently been photographed cruising around town on a Citi Bike. But I’m not so sure we should take him at his word. Senator Charles Schumer—Weiner’s former boss and congressional delegation colleague—and his wife Iris Weinshall, a former Department of Transportation Commissioner under Giuliani, have been on a weird crusade against the Prospect Park West bike lane, a bike lane Weiner objects to for how it looks: “I’m not crazy about the aesthetics of the Prospect Park West bike lane,” he told Capital New York. “You know, that beautiful open boulevard is now more congested.”
Weiner also counts on tremendous financial and political support from the Orthodox Jewish community, support he rewards with extremely hawkish, pro-Israeli statements. Let us not forget that prominent members of the Hasidic and Orthodox communities have opposed bike lanes in their communities, arguably for threatening the insularity of their neighborhoods. Weiner’s position on bike lanes may reflect narrow-minded political commitments over broad-based urbanistic thinking.
Weiner’s comments do not reflect well about his thinking on transportation policy or urban planning. Frankly, they sound dumb. His 64-point “Keys to the City” plan offers one item about bicycling: an anodyne recommendation for businesses to incentivize commuting by bike.
The advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has issued a survey to the mayoral candidates to clarify their views on issues of importance to pedestrians and cyclists. The results are due at the end of July. Let’s hope Weiner, and the other candidates worthy of serious consideration, respond with ideas that are more sophisticated than a headline in the Post.