The Harvard University sociologist Lant Pritchett has proposed a sort oftaxonomy of social change that I find applicable to changing dominant transportation paradigms, which are really social paradigms. The four stages in the sequence might be labeled thusly: Silly, Controversial, Progressive, and Obvious. When applied to the the idea of bicycles serving as transportation in New York City, the stages of opinion have played out something like this:
Silly: It’s New York, you’d have to be crazy — or a messenger — to ride a bike. As more people began to do it, the tone shifted to:
Controversial: Bikes are dangerous, pedestrians are getting hurt, they will make traffic worse by removing space for cars. As these scenarios in turn failed to materialize, a new strand of critique began to surface:
Progressive: Biking proponents are nothing but an elitist, Copenhagenizing cabal trying to take over the city and turn us all into velocipede-loving socialists.
We would now seem to be entering the “Obvious” phase of the sequence, in which dissenters are spending less time arguing over the desirability or wisdom of the bike share program (which, it should be noted, enjoys the support ofmore than 70 percent of the citizenry) than they are over the precise location of bike infrastructure, and its day-to-day operation. The tone of this dissent has given it the characteristics of a classic NIMBY response — or perhaps, given New York City’s unique urban geography, a NOMB (Not On My Block) response.
I’d say we should all be well past the stage where the benefits of easy access to bicycles is “Obvious.” But maybe NYC will help get us there.