Bloomberg didn’t have to ride a bike to get it

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg launches the Citi-Bikes bikeshare program May 27, 2013 (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

Tuesday was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s last day in office after twelve years. Among his accomplishments is a transformation of his city to one that is much more bike and pedestrian friendly than the one he found.

He added 360 miles of bike lanes and 16,000 parking racks. His administration created fifty-nine new public plazas out of former vehicular travel lanes producing seventy-one miles of pedestrian space. The number of bicycle commuters in the city has almost doubled in six years. And a million trips per month are taken on the new bike sharing system in New York, which has 95,000 subscribers.

Even though he is not a “cyclist,” Bloomberg saw the value in turning the mean streets of NYC into green streets. The return on investment is rising real estate values, increased retail sales and a more livable city that makes it easier for businesses to attract and retain a talented work force.

But here’s the thing. Bloomberg is never seen on a bike. In fact, his spokesman had to assure the public that he knew how to ride one, even though he can’t recall the last time he did.

Times Square has been transformed from a traffic nightmare into a public square. The result has been faster through times for cabs and increased sales at neighboring businesses.

And that’s wonderful because it makes the point so well. Creating bike and pedestrian friendly places is great for cities, even for those who never ride. Bloomberg didn’t do all this because he personally wanted safer places to ride his bike. He did it because he was convinced that creating the kind of places that were good for riding would create a better city overall.

What’s true in New York is true in any community. There is simply no downside to making a place more bike and pedestrian friendly. Doing that creates better, safer, more pleasant urban places. If it means a little less auto parking or a narrower vehicle lane here or there, that’s a small price to pay for all the benefits.

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