I’ve been eager to get back on my bike, and have been carefully taking it out for a spin every now and again. I appreciate the time it gives me to think. And almost without fail my thoughts turn to my research and the internet. One morning last week, I stopped at a point on the Kent Avenue bike path along the East River in Brooklyn to look for a second. I remember the first time I’d stopped at the intersection, before there were bike paths or a waterfront to speak of, and couldn’t help but wonder, per usual, at how much has changed. I took a photo in each direction, and couldn’t stop thinking about the ‘policy’ of bike paths, and the enormous policy-practice gap when it comes to biking in New York City.
For anyone who has been a New Yorker for more than five years, the appearance of roads has changed dramatically. With the addition of many miles of bike paths throughout the five boroughs, bikers went from living dangerously at the very bottom of the transportation food chain (right next to rollerskating) to having a major (but marginally safer) road presence. As I gazed southward, and then northward, from my stopping point on the path, I wondered what policies determine the rules of the bike paths. Anyone who knows me as a cyclist knows I can’t stand it when another cyclist salmons (rides the wrong direction on a one-way path). Roads are already fairly narrow in New York, and adding an additional vehicle on a path that’s only wide enough for one bike just doesn’t seem smart. And yet it happens with regularity in New York City. (Don’t get me started about biking on the sidewalk.)
My curiosity led me to find this page on the Parks Department website. It clearly states that cyclists are never to ride on paths meant for pedestrians (i.e., sidewalks), and they are to ride in the direction of traffic. But we see the exact opposite all the time. It got me thinking: is there anything I can learn from comparing the policy-practice gaps that exist in education and cycling in New York?
Thinking about this reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague about my dissertation a few years ago. I hadn’t yet decided to research blogs, but I knew I wanted to look at the gap between policy and practice in classrooms — that space between the way a policy exists on paper and the way it exists in reality. While thinking out loud about this concept, my colleague asked so what? I remember being floored, and thinking, how can the ‘so what’ of my question be any more obvious? But the question stuck with me. My colleague’s point was, though it is often unfair and unjust, it isn’t rare in our society to have policies that aren’t abided by. Take comparable worth laws, for instance. Men and women are to be paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work; however, it is a well-known statistic that women still make roughly 70 cents to the man’s dollar.
Okay. So. We know policy isn’t always followed or enforced. How does this both resist and reproduce business as usual? Bikers may choose to take a dangerous route when riding the wrong way on a bike path to get somewhere more quickly (and may get a ticket or become injured as a result), but students who don’t have appropriate learning materials in their classrooms aren’t making a choice.
I’m not sure this comparison will go further than this blog post, but there’s something to be said for thinking about why we have so many policies that don’t match up with reality.