March 29, 2011 Promoting Bicycle Lanes as if They Were on the Ballot
By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM
Struggling to control the controversy over one of its signature transportation policies, the Bloomberg administration is embarking on an unusual kind of political campaign: convincing New Yorkers that bicycle lanes are good for them.
In a calculated shift, City Hall has turned to its savviest political strategist, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, to lead a stepped-up public-relations blitz aimed at strengthening support for the lanes and minimizing political fallout for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
It is rare for a deputy mayor to step directly into a municipal dispute over street space. But aides to Mr. Bloomberg say they have been increasingly frustrated in recent weeks over a spate of negative publicity for the bicycle lanes, which have provoked a lawsuit accusing the city of misrepresenting traffic data and widespread criticism for Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner.
The city, the aides concluded, had not been aggressive enough in making its case. “We allowed the other side to frame this debate,” Mr. Wolfson said in an interview. “That’s really the bottom line: our voice was missing here.”
Last week, Mr. Wolfson, a former adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, stepped in to fill that void. He composed a communiqué that laid out a sober, data-driven argument in favor of the lanes — the type of bullet-pointed memo more familiar to political spin shops than public agencies — and posted it on the mayor’s Web site.
The memo cited improvements to street safety and played down the growth of the lanes, noting that 255 miles had been added in four years, a small fraction of the city’s 6,000 miles of streets. In the past, the city has bragged about its swift expansion of the bike lane network.