Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lost in History vol. 71: Party for Your Right to Ride!

On Tuesday night we had the pleasure of converging at a midtown bar, in a room full of people who like to drink and ride bikes (hopefully not, but probably sometimes, at the same time). However, instead of drinking and riding (hard to accomplish, let alone in a cramped Chelsea bar), we were standing around on our own two legs schmoozing, boozing, talking shop about cycling in the city and crossing fingers for the bike stuff raffle. Welcome to the first ever social mixer/benefit for the positive, progressive bike advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives.

Trans Alt (or TA) was founded in 1973, during the cresting wave of environmental action and organizations that also birthed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. Although Trans Alt is hardly as powerful as sweeping legislation or a major government branch, they are still effecting small and large changes on the streets of New York. TA’s predominant focus is on bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, in five different fields: Bicycling, Walking and Traffic Calming, Car-Free Parks, Safe Streets and Sensible Transportation. TA stresses that it is not focused only on cyclists – their goal is the best possible utilization of our multifarious mixed-use avenues. In their very helpful green transportation hierarchy, TA demonstrates how different a city block could be if it were occupied by 50 New Yorkers in cars vs. 50 New Yorkers on bikes vs. 50 New Yorkers on a city bus. Clearly, the mass transportation mode beats private autos, and the happy cyclists trump all.

A phenomenal 110,000 cyclists travel the city every day, whether commuting to and from work, riding for work (say, delivering food, packages and documents), or for leisure. All these people deserve safer bike lanes and off-street greenway paths to get to work and home (and the bar) safely; daily commuters need more indoor and outdoor bike racks to lock up their trusty rides — all of these are causes for which Trans Alt lobbies, in City Hall and Albany, for the sake of safer roads for everyone— cars included. Along with bike advocacy, TA works towards traffic-calming atmospheres, where local community groups join the Department of Transportation to achieve pedestrian-primary spaces (parks, streets. routes) throughout the city.

Back to the booze and the blab about bikes. TA’s first mixer/benefit (because when you think about it, cyclists only get together on their bike, which is hardly time to talk shop) was a rousing success. 150 happy people (out of TA’s 6000-strong membership) crammed into The Black Door’s back room, swilling free drinks and snacking on veggies and dip. The atmosphere felt more like an after-hours office party than a collection of strangers who prefer the cycle to the subway.

Nuckel, TA’s Membership Director shared some facts about Transportation Alternatives. First off, they’re growing rapidly: a few years ago they just had 7 paid staffers, and now they’re up to 20 full-timers and practically bursting out of their office (a few flights above The Black Door). Also, TA sees itself as the wonky, legislative side to the cycling community. (As opposed to Critical Mass, the take-it-to-the-streets direct action side — with which TA has no official affiliation, although members of TA ride CM all the time.) Wonky political pushers are important when dealing with mega-bureaucracies like NYC and the DOT — to get the Man on your side, you have to know how to talk to him. To that end, TA is involved heavily with small-time players with moderate agendas — like City Council members, a dozen of whom have signed an open letter to Police Commish Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg asking that the charges against Christopher Long (the Critical Mass rider who was knocked to the ground by a rookie cop) be dropped, and that a fuller investigation into the NYPD’s anti-bike tactics are opened. It’s a start . . .

On the whole, it was a lovely evening, filled with booze, bikes, and beautiful people, excited about all of the above. Unfortunately we
didn’t win anything from the Trans Alt merch table raffle, so after two free whiskeys and some veggies and dips, we mounted our freewheel singlespeed Fuji, snapped on our helmet, and headed east, along a lovely bike path that was planned specifically for us.

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