The Gray Panthers, a well-known advocacy group for seniors, issued a statement today condemning the now infamous battle over the Prospect Park West bike lane as “ageist.”
“The amount of hateful, snarky, and dismissive ageist remarks that we have seen in the debate about the Prospect Park West bike lane is incredible,” said Jack Kupferman, NYC Network Co-Convenor for the organization, who said the organization is taking no position on the two-way, parking-protected lane itself. “We must fight ageism everywhere, and many people have belittled seniors who have real concerns about the safety of the bike lane, many of whom belong to Seniors for Safety and Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, simply because they are over the age of 55.”
The statement references, in particular, comments left by anonymous commenters on Internet blogs and news websites.
But while snarky blog commenters may have indeed pegged the lane debate in ageist terms, a number of seniors have also come out in support of the lane.
Gene Aronowitz, 73, cycles frequently from his home in Sunset Park to Park Slope shops via the Prospect Park West bike lane, and said that he feels the street has been much safer – for bikers and pedestrians of all ages – since its installation last summer.
“Elderly people are really more vulnerable on the streets and you really have to be more sensitive to their concerns, but I’m not sure how much that applies to getting across Prospect Park West.”
Though Aronowitz did mention he’s seen some comments on blogs that he was “shocked” by, he feels that the majority of the bike lane battle has stuck to “legitimate concerns on both sides.”
As the Gray Panthers point out, a by Assemblymember Jim Brennan did show that while a majority of locals support the lane, 42 percent of those age 50 or older polled feel less safe the bike lane was installed.
“If we really believe in democracy and vigorous debate, then we cannot dismiss this group based on age,” said Mary Springer, another NYC Network Co-Convenor for the group. “Imagine the cry that would have gone up if there had been racist remarks used to dismiss legitimate concerns about the bike lane.”
But while SFS and NBBL have long argued that the lanes have made the parkside boulevard less safe for pedestrians of all ages, even filing a arguing for the removal of the lanes in March, at numerous public hearings and rallies, the lanes have drawn out supporters of all ages – from elementary school tikes staying up past their bedtimes to speak on the lane’s behalf, to 73-year-old Aronowitz, who has become a sort of unofficial spokesperson for seniors who support the lane.
The lane itself was also initially requested by Community Board 6, which boasts many older members.
“Some of the rhetoric employed by both sides of this issue has indeed been regrettable. But the previous configuration of Prospect Park West, with three lanes of speeding traffic and no provision for cycling, was inherently ageist by design,” said David Alquist, a Slope resident and member of the AARP [formerly, the American Association of Retired Persons], via E-mail.
Proponents of the lane, including the Department of Transportation, have maintained that the lane has improved safety on the pretty boulevard. The DOT has even planned to make further to the lane to enhance lane safety for all ages even further – which Community Board 6 also approved, unanimously.
"Ageist remarks have no place in the discussion of street safety and they obscure the fact that bike lanes make everyone safer: pedestrians, drivers and bicyclists of all ages,” said Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Michael Murphy. “That's why 70 percent of Park Slope residents support the Prospect Park West bike lane and that's why the AARP, supports bike lanes and other complete streets initiatives."
“The Gray Panthers should join with AARP to promote ‘Complete Streets’ and combat this kind of ‘design ageism,’” said Alquist. “While urging seniors to ‘not go silent’ in confronting semantic ageism, the Gray Panthers, by ‘not taking sides’ in the Prospect Park West debate, oddly perpetuate another variety.”