Apr 13, 2011

An Open Letter to Senator Diane Savino

An Open Letter to Senator Diane Savino

Dear Senator Savino,

First off, if you walk away with any impression from these succeeding paragraphs, I hope it is predominantly one of receiving a fan letter.  A deferential giddiness pulses through my fingertips as I type these sentences, as if I were composing a letter to Bob Dylan or Billie Jean King. You are a beacon of hope among Staten Island elected officials.  After your December 2009 speech defending the Marriage Equality bill, I wanted to stand straight up and pledge allegiance.  Your tenacious support of mass transit, working families, and women’s issues consistently tugs on both my heartstrings and polling-hand.  

However, my adoration became tainted with dismay when approximately three weeks ago I was handed a postcard by a yellow-shirted volunteer at the Staten Island Ferry terminal.  I’d ridden the bus that day, as my bicycle was in the shop for some much needed brake repair.  As I waited for the boat to come to rest in the slip, I scanned the card: “Staten Island Ferry Report Card,” it read.  “Section 4: How do you get to the Ferry Terminal?  SIRT, Bus, Car/Dropped Off, Walk?”  

Though I was mildly irritated that it did not have a selection for bicycle, admittedly I am used to my mode being left off surveys, especially Staten-centric ones.  I soon boarded the boat and walked downstairs to sit by the bike racks.  One becomes familiar with one’s fellow cycle commuters, as we all must congregate in the same bike area before boarding (in the parking area below the terminal, which is alternately littered from the ceiling with sewage drips and pigeon droppings), we are searched daily for explosives by the guards before we are allowed to board, and we all must store our bikes on one of two racks on the lower level.  It is a close-knit grassroots community at its very essence.

As I filled out the Ferry Report Card on the way to Manhattan, I nudged one of my fellow two-wheeled commuters.  “Did you get this downstairs?” I asked, showing the card.  

He glanced. “Nope.  Do I have to go somewhere to pick it up?  No one was handing them out downstairs.”

According to DOT screenline count in 2010 (PDF), an average of 350 cyclists took the ferry to Manhattan (tallied on three different days respectively in May, August, and September—which logged just one shy of 400).  Sure, as a percentage of Staten Island’s population it is less than one percent (with the obvious grain of salt that not all Staten Island cyclists commute to work by bicycle, or may not take the ferry if they do); even as a percentage of ferry passengers it evens out to approximately one percent.  However, the cycle commuter numbers have not only remained steadfast for years, but also increased alongside those of the other five boroughs (PDF) since 2005.   With all due respect to those on your staff who composed the survey and designed the copy, are there so many more Staten Islanders who walk to the ferry that they warrant a mention and your bicycling constituents did not?  

As an NY1 reported recently commented, “It takes a lot of heart to be a cyclist on Staten Island.”  Island cycle commuters are some of the most effervescent and resilient citizens I have the privilege to interact with on a daily basis, to say nothing of the cycling community in the other four boroughs.   Every day we brave traffic, potholes, littered streets, and jeers; though our bike lanes may be ripped out from under our wheels, our bags searched by ferry security, and our bikes outnumber the spots on the ferry bike racks, still we ride—because that simple joy and all its benefits outweighs any negative obstacle.  

Senator Savino, you are lauded by many to be a champion of the underdog, dedicated to giving a voice to the underrepresented.  Please show the same courtesy to your cycling constituents.  Though our numbers may be small, we are here, and our opinions deserve to be counted. 

Best wishes,
Meredith Sladek

Meredith Sladek
Transportation Alternatives Staten Island Volunteer Committee

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