Two years ago, a Brooklyn City Councilmember proposed legislation creating the office of the Night Mayor, an advocate for local nightlife and independent art spaces based on Amsterdam's nachtburgemeester. The effort was successful, which raised the question: What other cool sounding mayoral appointments could we crib from our enlightened Dutch progenitors: Fresh Meats Mayor? A mayor who teaches people to not do this on public transit? Mandarin Duck Mayor??? The possibilities were basically endless.
Seizing on this momentum, safe streets group Transportation Alternatives called Wednesday for Mayor de Blasio to appoint the city's first-ever "Bike Mayor." The advocate would represent the interests of the city's growing contingent of regular cyclists—a group that includes about 828,000 adult New Yorkers—across multiple local agencies.
"There is no better time than now to appoint a Bike Mayor in New York City: the protected bike lane network is not growing fast enough to keep up with demand, an influx of people on two wheels is coming with the expansion of Citi Bike and impending legalization of e-bikes and scooters, and, just one week into 2019, two people have been killed while biking on New York City streets," the group said in a statement. "It is unique dangers like these that make the need for a Bike Mayor all the more urgent."
The idea comes from an Netherlands-based organization BYCS, which launched the Bicycle Mayors network "to uncover the massive economic, health, and environmental benefits of increased cycling capacity." In the urban paradise that is Amsterdam, the Bike Mayor's job was mostly to coordinate among the city's impressive cycling population—making sure bike lanes didn't become too clogged during rush hour, or ensuring that there was enough bike parking in place. But Anna Luten, who served as Amsterdam’s first Bike Mayor and now lives in New York City, told Gothamist that the situation is "completely different" stateside.
"You really have to focus here constantly, because it's so much easier to get a car door smashed in your face if you're not paying attention," Luten said. "In Amsterdam, vehicles are almost always paying attention to cyclists. It's very different in that way."
So what would a Bike Mayor do here, exactly? Could we grant the Bike Mayor unilateral power to repair shoddy infrastructure, or to bounce cops from bike lanes? Maybe its more of an outreach thing, where they hand out oversized megaphones for New Yorkers who want to spend a day shouting at reckless drivers. Perhaps the Bike Mayor is mainly focused on convincing the actual mayor to ditch his SUV and hit pause on the massive expansion of city vehicles.
According to Luten, a New York City Bike Mayor would primarily be an "ambassador for cycling," whose main responsibilities would be overseeing campaigns to get more people on bicycles. That sounds promising, though not entirely different from what the Department of Transportation has been trying to do for years.
Perhaps what we really need is a Bike Dictator?