Ithaca's "Critical Mass" Bicycle Rides

Bicyclists have begun to make Ithaca an easier place to live in and to pass through, by demanding-- after years of polite lobbying-- that bike lanes and bike paths be installed. Cars will move easier when bicycles become a safe way for many residents to travel for shopping, commuting, and to schools, meetings and parks, because bikes will have separate lanes. There would be faster police, ambulance and fire response in a city with more bikes and fewer cars, because bike traffic can step completely aside. Every bicycle would be one less car for motorists to wait behind.

The 20,000 Ithacans living within ten blocks radius of the Commons are today more likely to drive automatically to malls than to walk or drive a few blocks downtown. But safe bike lane access can help make the Commons again a family destination for shopping and relaxing.

Any rare American city which gives priority to walking, bicycling and transit can become a prime destination for visitors seeking a new urban experience. There are such cities throughout Europe, and their car-free centers are magnets of social and commercial life.

As well, bikes cruising streets at night are like free patrols, making the night safer for walking, while discouraging burglary and drug sales.

Perhaps best of all, greater reliance on bicycles will decrease pressure for tax increases, because two-thirds of our City's budget is a direct or indirect subsidy to automobiles (line item analysis '92), for road building and repaving, for parking ramps, personnel, insurance and debt service, etc. Every bike trip thus retains several dollars in the local economy by reducing the need for road repair, by reducing payments to distant insurance, oil and car companies. More dollars retained produce more local jobs.

Why else are bicycles a practical travel alternative? Automobiles fill this valley and our children's lungs with toxins which lower resistance to disease, accelerate aging, and shorten their lives. A healthier community pays less for medical insurance and care.

Each of us knows at least one person who has been killed or seriously injured by automobiles. Every year greater numbers are killed and maimed in Tompkins County. During Ithaca's 48 trolley years (1887-1935), there were a total of five trolley-related fatalities. Between 1880 and 1910 bicycles were Ithaca's primary transport and, according to County Historian Gretchen Sachse, there were "few, if any" fatal bicycle collisions.

Moreover, cars have become tanks in the war against nature. Their ever-expanding roadways are spreading suburbs and devouring essential farmland; their thirst for oil causes tanker spills and prompts wars for control of oilfields. Half of global warming is said due to car emissions, and most of our trade deficit is due to oil imports. The United States has a ten-year domestic supply of oil (The Economist, 9/2/97).

Last week, 60 bicyclists took over city streets for an hour to show our rejection of City Hall's uncivil obedience to automobile priorities. We have seen the 1975 Bike Plan ignored for 22 years, and the efforts of the City's Bicycle Advisory Council ignored for seven years. Most recently, the mayor has declined to appoint a quorum to this committee. Tape recordings of a recent Board of Public Works meeting (7/29/97) confirm the opposition of staff and commissioners to accommodating bicycles. BPW

has consistently ignored the safety needs of bicycles, neglected its formal liaison obligations, and neglected to install safety signage as agreed three years ago. They have neglected to spend $80,000 of federal money allocated for bikes. Finally, the next city council will include a majority who appear hostile or indifferent to bike paths.

Therefore, this Friday, October 17, at 5:00pm in Woolworth's parking lot, larger numbers of cyclists will gather to carry this process further, by not only riding through city streets in a leisurely yet legal manner, but by beginning to stripe a bikeway at a dangerous entrance to the new Route 89 bridge, where kids cross to Cass Park. Mayor Cohen has been asked to cut the ribbon.

Bicycles will become part of an orderly and exciting process of revitalizing this community. We are asking City Council to allocate at least 2% of the DPW budget to bike lanes and to begin installation no later than spring.

Glover is a member of the City of Ithaca's Energy Commission.