Eric Marcus

When is a bike lane anti-gay?

Filed By Eric Marcus | August 10, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: anti-gay, bicycle lanes, boy butter, Chelsea New York, chicken little, Copenhagen, homophobic behavior, New York City, republican

Sound like a joke? Well, when I read an article in my weekly Chelsea newspaper about objections to a proposed new bike lane on 8th Avenue (in New York City), I had to laugh. Not because it was funny, but because the complaints came from a handful of gay local officials who oppose the project on the grounds that it will have an adverse impact on Chelsea's "gay boulevard." I laughed because the objections sounded so stupid!

Have you ever been to Chelsea's "gay boulevard"? That's the wide, multi-lane, mostly treeless thoroughfare with narrow sidewalks that stretches from 14th to 23rd Streets. Not exactly Paris or Barcelona, despite the occasional sidewalk café.

The neighborhood definitely has a gay vibe, but it's far more diffuse than when I moved there fourteen years ago. Gay people, as they have all over the country, led the first waves of gentrification in the 1970s and 1980s. These days the more typical new residents are straight couples with young kids. Still, we've got three gay bars on 8th Avenue and three gay-oriented porn shops well stocked with Boy Butter and other staples of gay life.

So now the City of New York has decided to expand the bike lane experiment it started last year one block west on 9th Avenue. The existing bike lane and the proposed new one on 8th Avenue both use a design patterned after the bike lanes in Copenhagen, where bicycles get their own designated lane adjacent to the sidewalk. And the bike lane is separated from car traffic by a row of parked cars.

My partner and I love the bike lane on 9th Avenue because traffic is now restricted to three lanes and can't come roaring down the avenue or tearing around corners (regulated turn lanes were added for cars as well). We used to have terrible accidents at our corner caused by drivers pretending they were participants in the Indy 500 instead of temporary guests in a residential neighborhood. A few years back one woman was killed when speeding vehicles collided and one landed on top of her (while she was standing on the sidewalk waiting for the light to change!).

You might ask then, as I did, why anyone could object to the proposed bike lane on gay grounds. I think the underlying reason is that the officials felt dissed because they weren't included in the decision-making process. And they believe they were being left out of the discussion because they (and the businesses and neighborhood they represent) are gay. Oy.

I will admit that sometimes I overreact and think that homophobia is at play when it's not. But this is clearly a case where it's not and the officials leading the charge just make us look like a bunch of Chicken Littles crying wolf (forgive me for mixing my fables). And given that they're objecting to an innovation that favors pedestrians and cyclists over cars, they even sound a little Republican.

Now that's a reason to get upset!

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This is so ridiculous. It hurts our movement when people cry wolf over stupid things like a bike lane.

There are all kinds of reasons to oppose bike lanes (virtually none that I agree with!), but claims of insensitivity to the gay community? It just so happens that this proposed bike lane will be constructed on a street that is the commercial heart of a neighborhood where lots of gay people live and shop (and where gay tourists come and are inevitably disappointed not to find a 2008 equivalent of Christopher Street in 1976). The first of the new bike lanes was constructed several months ago one block west on a street that is less gay and more straight. There were some objections, but none because anyone perceived the project to be anti-straight.

I totally agree with you (Waymon) that we hurt ourselves and our movement when we cry wolf. Sure some of us (me included) can be a little hyper-sensitive when it comes to slights that we perceive to be based on our sexual orientation. All the more reason for us to ask ourselves twice (maybe three times) whether we could be mistaken before sounding the alarm. It's especially upsetting to see the alarm sounded over what should be a no-brainer proposal like constructing a new bike lane. We all benefit from a cleaner environment and safer streets. This is not a gay-straight issue and we just look stupid making it one.

This is not a gay-straight issue and we just look stupid making it one.


Gays sounding like Republicans? That's not the first time....

But there are great bike lanes like the ones your describe in Paris. It's great and makes getting around so much easier. The only problem are the people who use them as extended sidewalk, but if they're below the curb at the same height as the street, then people tend to stay out of them.

Guilty as charged! The bike lane is indeed at the same level as the road bed, but I've been known to step off the sidewalk and into the bike lane to go around slow moving tourists (gay and straight!). I will try to be more considerate of the bicyclists and stay on the sidewalk where I belong.
I've noticed that the bike lane is also getting use from people in wheelchairs who now have a safe place to travel without having to navigate NYC's notoriously uneven curbs.

HEy- I have the Indy 500 here AND bike lanes with the nice pattern. They've just finished putting them through the downtown area.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 12, 2008 9:20 PM

Also, is the underlying assumption on the part of those opposing, that LGBT folks don't ride bikes...?

Speaking as someone whose primary means of transportation is a bike, I say "More bike lanes!"