Yesterday, David Wilson, President of the Westchester (New York) Cycle Club, and a former political correspondent for Westchester’s Journal News, put together an extraordinary program of cycling and pedestrian advocacy, The Westchester Bicycling Summit, at the Westchester County Civic Center in White Plains.
Mr. Wilson brought together an impressive array of political leaders, cycling advocates, city and transportation planners, researchers and consultants, and cyclists and other interested citizens from across Westchester County. He also announced the formation of a new advocacy group for cyclists and pedestrians in this classically suburban community, The Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance, which will hold its first organizing meeting at 7:00 pm on Monday, May 11, at the Bronxville Library.
Attendees included The Honorable Nita Lowey, congresswoman from New York’s 18th Congressional District; Westchester County Executive Andy Spano; Westchester County Legislator Michael Kaplowitz; President of the League of American Bicyclists, Mr. Andy Clarke; Michael Oliva, Mid-Atlantic Trail Coordinator for the East Coast Greenway; Jackson Wandres, representing the RBA Group, planners and engineers who have consulted with the City of New York and other municipalities on Safe Routes to School and other alternative transportation projects; Westchester County Planner Lukas Herbert; Julie Bond of the Center for Urban Transportation Research; as well as local representatives of the MTA and New York State Department of Transportation.
The overall message of the day was clear. The writing is on the wall, and the time is right, to rethink how we plan and build transportation infrastructure. Traditional suburbs, like many of the communities in Westchester County, have long been remiss by planning most of their infrastructure with the automobile the only form of transportation taken into consideration. Shockingly, families move to Westchester for the peace and quiet, only to realize, in many communities, that they can’t safely allow their children outdoors to play, or even walk to school, because of the speed and volume of car traffic in their neighborhoods, and the absence of pedestrian and cycling-friendly improvements.
Despite her brave admission that she herself is afraid to ride a bike outdoors, Congresswoman Lowey gave the meeting her sense that the Democratic Congress, and the administration of President Barack Obama, would both look favorably on “green” infrastructure projects, and that she intended to see to it that both stimulus funds and regular appropriations would be made available throughout her district for cyclist and pedestrian friendly improvements such as bike paths, bike routes and new sidewalk construction. County Executive Andy Spano pledged that he would see to it that Bee-Line buses would install and permit use of bike racks, and that he believed that it was both likely and feasible that many of the projects now planned or underway, like the scheduled improvements to the Bronx River Greenway Corridor, would in fact go forward. Associate County Planner Lukas Herbert described significant near-term plans for major improvements to bike paths and bike routes throughout the County, and some of the complexities, successes and frustrations of getting those projects funded and built.
Andy Clarke, of the League of American Bicyclists, gave a fascinating presentation on their Bike Friendly Communities program (a version available here). Among other interesting facts, he noted that 85% of automobile trips nationwide are for recreational purposes, rebutting once and for all the tired common wisdom that automobile-only roadway improvements are “serious,” while projects that include bike and pedestrian friendly elements are somehow frivolous.
One point all interested parties agreed on: We will get the infrastructure we ask for, only if we ask for it. If we want green, walkable and bikeable communities in Westchester County, we as citizens have to step up to the plate and demand them. After some initial hemming and hawing, County Executive Spano confessed that, yes, the squeeky wheel gets the grease, and only citizen interest and participation will motivate legislators – at the municipal, county, state and federal levels – to deliver the funds necessary to build the kinds of bike and pedestrian friendly transportation infrastructure we want and deserve in our Westchester cities and towns.