A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, Though Most Of Them Are Usually Wrong

It’s still snowy and cold around here, but as long as the roads are passable I’m happy:

And by “happy” I mean “not actively banging my head against the wall.” By the way, when banging your head against the wall, always wAEr a HElmEnt:

Anyway, in today’s modern society what with its touch-tone phones, fiber-optic cables, and high fidelity stereo systems with Dolby sound, we’ve become accustomed to drawing conclusions from a single image, quote, or video clip. Consider this image, which I captured while walking by an International House Of Pancakes, or “IHOP,” restaurant:

The tableau caught my eye because one does not generally associate chain restaurants with dedicated bicycle parking, and so I made the following quip:

As tickled as I was by the irony, the reason for the dedicated cycle parking is probably far more prosaic. See, in New York City, you’re still not allowed to dine inside restaurants, which means they currently rely on delivery to stay in business. Furthermore, many New York City food delivery people use ebikes. So while I have not spoken with the management at this particular restaurant, I think it’s fairly safe to assume they simply repurposed the space to accommodate those delivery people given that nobody’s driving to the restaurant in order to eat there but people are still ordering delivery. (Though for all I know that cycle space has been there forever and I’ve only just noticed it.)

That last parenthetical notwithstanding, while I was making a joke that I pulled a Rip Van Winkle and awoke in a bicycling utopia, which is whimsical and amusing, the reality may be that this is a symptom of yet another New York City business struggling to remain viable, which is unfortunate and therefore sort of a bummer. Once they’re allowed to host diners again people will resume driving there, just as they do to the restaurants immediately north of the city where you’re already allowed to eat inside. While the pragmatism of the cycle parking is certainly a sign that business are adapting as best they can to the unfortunate circumstances in which they find themselves, it is almost certainly not some reflection that a sweeping livable streets pro-bike culture is taking over at IHOP Corporate, as some people who responded to the tweet seem to have assumed.

Similarly, in recent years, there’s been a trend among local advocates to note all the parked cars that remain buried for days after snowstorms and cite this as evidence that lots of people who own motor vehicles in New York City don’t actually need them. While I see their point, and while there are certainly too many cars, this has never really sat well with me as a way to advance policy, since it relies on the assumption that just because someone’s able to forego their car for a week they have no use for it–which is dangerous thinking, since by that logic if you don’t get laid for a week then you should be stripped of your genitals. (You may scoff and point out that you don’t store your genitals in the public right-of-way, but in that regard the anti-“manspreading” campaign could be the thin end of the wedge.) I happen to agree that New York City is in desperate need of parking reform (and I try to keep my legs as close together on the subway as I practicably can), but I also think predicating that on the usual post-snowstorm shitshow is both inaccurate and self-defeating. Consider:

Look around your neighborhood at all the fossilized Fords, ossified Audis and sedimented Subarus that haven’t moved since the big blizzard more than eight days ago. If their owners had to drive, presumably, they would have dug them out and driven.

Would they have, though? While I absolutely allow there is no shortage of selfish assholes who take up street parking just because they can, it’s really not hard to conceive of a scenario in which someone who “needs” a car might not go through the trouble of extricating it from beneath a mound of snow and ice. Maybe they were able to get a ride from a friend or family member for a few days. Maybe they splurged on an Uber. Maybe the thing they “need” their car for was cancelled due to the snow–or, yeah, maybe they don’t need to use their car all that often, but they still need it enough for the hassle and expense of ownership to be worth it to them. And who’s to define what “need” is, anyway? The city government? The drivers? The advocates? The commenters on Streetsblog?

This is an astounding comment. This person spent “nearly every weekend and every holiday” outside of the city, yet only got rid of their car after 18 years–including “5 years of mental preparation.” Yet if someone else who can’t afford a second residence near a train station yet wants to be able to get out of town now and again decides it’s worth it to them to get a car, well, that “holds no water.” Certainly car owners can be arrogant as hell, but there are few things more arrogant than knowing what’s good for everyone else, especially when you’ve already gotten yours and decided you don’t want it anymore.

Anyway, because apparently I still have enough time to be critical of stuff I read on the Internet instead of just getting on with my life, I tweeted thusly:

And the editor of Streetsblog admitted he doesn’t care whether or not people need their cars, he just doesn’t think they should be able to keep them on the street–and while I still think dismissing other people’s needs out of hand is counterproductive, at least this is honest:

He didn’t answer me on the car, by the way, and while it shouldn’t really matter whether he has one or not, it kinda does.

Anyway, if you subtract all the righteousness, the question of parking in New York City is quite a logical mobius strip. On one hand, freeing up the curb would certainly benefit more than just the people who can afford to own cars, and as such the city has a responsibility to do so. On the other hand, saying only people who have the means to pay for private parking should be able to own cars in the city seems unreasonable, plus who the hell wants to live in a city full of parking garages, anyway? On the other, other hand, this is America, and if you want something you have to pay for it. We’re already giving away all the parking, so what, should we start giving away cars now, too? And yet, here are people who may or may not have cars, and places to park them, or vacation homes, or lifestyles that don’t even require cars at all by any metric, declaring that while they may or may not need them, you definitely don’t, because you left some snow on it. Its all pretty mind-bending.

I’m certainly less qualified to solve any of this than most people, but it seems to me that dispensing with the shaming would be a good start.

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