What Beats the Rats and Boogeymen?
Before my wife, Zoe, gave miraculous birth to our now three-month-old twins, Ivy and Ray, I worried about the world we were bringing them into. Monsters have always lurked under the bed, but with global warming and rising intolerance it does seem like there are a lot more boogeymen these days. What kind of city will Ray and Ivy live in?
When my first daughter, Anna Jane, was born almost seven years ago, I asked the same question, imagining on this page her future city packed with car-free streets, protected bike lanes and high-quality transit. That future is much closer today than it was in 2008. We have a safer citywide speed limit, Queens Boulevard is in the middle of a game-changing redesign (read about it here) and Mayor de Blasio recently announced plans for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue. Even a few campaigns that seemed impossible when Anna Jane was born are now part of Ivy and Ray’s reality, like the transformation of Times Square and a Right of Way law that protects walkers and bikers.
These campaigns were conceived by activists in TransAlt committees or members of Families for Safe Streets, and won by their hard work with the help of TransAlt’s wide network of friends. In an interview later in this issue, Janette Sadik-Khan points out that our network of friends has never been stronger, and those business, labor, neighborhood and health partners are as vital to successful campaigns as they are to keeping them in place. “Your vigilance is required,” she says. How true that has proven lately.
The truth is that as long as you and I stand on the side of justice and fight for a better way, there will always be rats and boogeymen trying to knock us down.
Just as Ivy and Ray were coming into the world, a cadre of strange bedfellows took aim at the Right of Way law, threatening to water down the power of the policy. Times Square’s public plazas came under fire, too, with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton proposing that Broadway be turned back into a flood of cars. Mayor de Blasio, surprisingly, said he might agree. And I was still in the hospital, holding my wife’s hand, when one of the leaders of the anti-Right of Way cadre texted to tell me that when we returned home from the hospital with our two newborn babies we would find picketers waiting outside our apartment, along with a giant inflatable rat. (The menacing rat was to be a symbol for yours truly, leader of the New World Order of Bicyclists.)
I worried: Did I not repeat enough the statistic that proved the Right of Way law was already saving lives? Did I forget to tell the mayor the story of the grumpy New York deli man I met who loves the new public space in Times Square? Had we not been vigilant? There was a moment when I thought that my two new New Yorkers would live in a city where these campaigns had been won, then lost.
The truth is that as long as you and I stand on the side of justice and fight for a better way, there will always be rats and boogeymen trying to knock us down. As good New Yorkers and good Americans, we do what we can, at the ballot box and with the power of the purse, to vote down the Donald Trumps, divest from the Exxons and slay the other monsters of our day. We keep fighting and we stay vigilant. Our horizon is the city where we want our children to live.
Thanks to a friend at City Hall, the rat was called off. As the summer of 2015 wound down (and Ray and Ivy approached the two-month mark), the Right of Way law and Times Square were both saved. The stories are long and complicated, but it boils down to friendship: You and the other TransAlt faithful took action, signing petitions and showing up for important meetings, and that turned the tide.
For me, being a part of this team is the best part of my job. I know I am just one human and you are, too, but all of us together are a powerful force for change and, increasingly, quite a wedge against the rollback of history.
Ray and Ivy will grow up and face the world, and their own boogeymen. I will always be a dad who worries, but I will continue to be vigilant, for the Right of Way law and Times Square, and our next campaigns, too, like the challenge of getting the word “accident” out of our lexicon. (Read about it here, where Eben Weiss, a.k.a. Bike Snob, explains why soiled diapers are very different from car crashes.)
Until then, and the next time we change New York, you’ll find me changing those diapers.