Winter 2001, p.14-15

Making the Grade 2000
T.A.'s Fourth Annual Report On Bicycling in NYC

Transportation Alternatives looks at the cycling conditions and what government agencies did to promote cycling in 2000. The idea behind the report card is to inspire government to improve their cycling promotion, and to provide a historic record of the cycling environment. The grades are also intended to provoke cyclists and government into thinking about what makes a good cycling environment. T.A. gives credit for bike projects completed in the year of grading, not the years of hard work funding, planning and engineering that came first.

The Overall Cycling Environment
Government Efforts: 2000: C+ 1999: C-
Cycling Environment: 2000: C- 1999: D+
Government's grade soars because of an unexpectedly fine effort by the NYC DOT. The much-maligned agency opened the long awaited permanent path on the Queensboro Bridge. It installed three new, innovative, bike lanes, and completed an improved entrance to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge path.

DOT's accomplishments were marred by a secretive operating style and poor outreach. Elsewhere, the Parks Department plugged away on its ambitious slate of greenways, but was slowed by a lack of high-level political support. City Planning continued high quality planning work, which was mainly ignored.

The local office of the State DOT was another bright spot as it literally bulldozed the city's Hudson River Connector path at Riverside South into existence. SDOT also continued rapid progress on the magnificent Hudson River Greenway in Manhattan. On the negative side, MTA/ Metro North continues to refuse secure bicycle parking at Grand Central Station, and MTA / Bridges won't release it's bicycle feasibility study.
The overall cycling environment gets a "C-" grade because the cycling environment is barely tolerable enough to keep everyday cyclists riding. Dangerous motorist behavior, double parking, scarce secure bike parking, atrocious street conditions, and many sub-standard bike lanes remain widespread. Whether due to good police work, or just plain luck, cycling fatalities declined from a historic high of 35 in 1999 to - a still very high 17 - in 2000.

The really bad news is that driving in the area has increased by a huge 17% since 1995. More cars means a degraded bicycle habitat. No matter how good cycling improvements are, large scale everyday cycling will not take hold until car use is reduced.

Momentum & Attitude
Government Efforts: 2000: B-
1999: C
Cycling Environment: 2000: B
1999: C
This subjective category gauges cycling's momentum. It is a rough barometer of public attitudes towards cycling and government efforts to promote it. The much improved grade is due to DOT's new bicycle projects, and a sharp decline in anti-cycling rhetoric by press, public and politicians. Some community boards were more positive about cycling projects than in previous years.

Safe Streets
Government Efforts: 2000: C-
1999: D+
Cycling Environment: 2000: D+ 1999: D
The slight improvement in the overall grade reflects the decline in cycling fatalities from a historic high of 35 in 1999, to 18 in 2000. The reason for the big increase in fatalities in 1999, and the subsequent decline in 2000, remains a mystery. T.A. left meetings with high-ranking police traffic safety officers confused about police strategies and analysis. The police view of cycling deaths seems biased towards blaming the victims. Their reports cite non-sensical crash causes like cyclists failing to yield to turning trucks, and erroneously report that none of the cyclists killed wore helmets. Overall, speeding, reckless, and dangerous driving are ubiquitous and streets remain too scary for many would be cyclists.

Large, extremely dangerous streets like Queens Boulevard, Flatbush Avenue, Canal Street and Northern Boulevard are still essentially off-limits to all but the boldest cyclists. Unfortunately, these are the most direct routes. Avoiding them creates another barrier to everyday cycling.

Crazed cab drivers remain an intractable problem in heavily cycled Manhattan. They stop far from the curb and in bike lanes, and speed with abandon. Still no safety education for motorists -- advertising, signs or training-- appeared in 2000. Many motorists continue to ignore the cyclist's right to the road.

Bicycle Lanes
Government Efforts: 2000: B+
1999: F
Cycling Environment: 2000: C 1999: C-
DOT scored big in the bike lane department in 2000. New lanes on Centre Street, coming and leaving the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, are excellent and help cyclists get to and from the bridge with greater ease and safety. Similar lanes -- some protected by bollards -- should be placed at all East River and Harlem River Bridges. At Herald Square cyclists got treated to a first for NYC -- a broadened lane separated from traffic with heavy duty plastic bollards. This excellent, protected lane is southbound on Broadway (between 34th and 35th), and accompanied by an eight foot wide lane northbound on 6th Ave. Herald Square style bollard lanes should be replicated citywide. Additionally, The Bronx's first bike lane was installed on Prospect Ave.

Still problematic are bike lanes unprotected by bollards. They remain parked, driven in and monopolized by cabs, and because of their design and ridiculous parking regulations are a nearly impossible enforcement task for traffic police.

Hint to DOT: Lane planning should not be a state secret. Let the public know what is going on.

Read the latest news on this subject.

Bridges
Government Efforts: 2000: B
1999: C+
Cycling Environment: 2000: B 1999: C
Hooray! After a twenty-five year wait, the permanent, full-time, bicycle and pedestrian path opened on the Queensboro Bridge. T.A. crusaded since 1979 to get this critical link fully restored. At last, a giant, multi-decade long, obstacle to cycling between Manhattan, Queens, and northern Brooklyn is gone. The installation of the new approach on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, with accompanying lanes is good. But, the new Brooklyn Bridge entrance is a watered down version of what T.A. worked for throughout the 1990's.

The DOT's Bureau of Bridges, cited here in 1997, 1998, and 1999 for a "head in mud" approach to the public, has markedly improved its outreach. The Bureau should take the next step and actively reach out to cyclists and pedestrians. Less exciting is that MTA Bridges and Tunnels buried a study to assess bicycle improvements on its bridges.

Read the latest news on this subject.

Greenways
Government Efforts: 2000 B+
1999 B
Cycling Environment: 2000 C- 1999 C-

The NYC office of the State DOT, and its Director Doug Currey, get a "B+" for their greenway work. The agency will complete the fabulous Hudson River / Route 9A greenway in the Fall of 2001. The greenway stretches from the southern tip of Manhattan to 59th Street. To the north, Currey cleared a bureaucratic impasse by ordering the SDOT's Route 9A contractor to build the City Parks Department's Hudson River Connector path between 59th and 72nd Streets. This critical link will open in March 2001, and extend the State's greenway to the south with City greenways stretching to 155th Street.
The big problem for the citywide greenway system is the lack of a patron at City Hall to clear roadblocks and red tape. The Parks Department, the city agency which builds greenways, must slog through resistance from other city agencies and knee jerk local opposition.

Read the latest news on this subject.

Parking
Government Efforts: 2000: C+
1999: C-
Cycling Environment: 2000: D 1999: C-
Sparse secure bicycle parking remains the biggest obstacle to would be commuters and utilitarian cyclists. Secure parking is a must because of New York's intense problem with bicycle thieves and vandals. In 2000, government did more to address the bike parking problem. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC), the regional transportation planning body, funded T.A. to produce and distribute a how-to brochure aimed at encouraging building managers to install indoor parking. Councilmember Carrion introduced a bill requiring the equal treatment of bikes and freight in elevators and buildings. Unfortunately, the proposal was stopped dead by building owners.

Also positive, was a flurry of planning for secure cycle parking at area transit. T.A., under contract to the State DOT, began drawing up plans for parking at Staten Island transit stops. Late in the year, T.A. and the 34th Street Partnership began working for secure cycle parking at Penn Station. Again playing the role of villain, the MTA / Metro North vetoed secure parking at Grand Central Station.

It took almost a decade, but the DOT's CityRacks program is proving to be a big success. It installs hundreds of racks every year, and has paid special attention to parking at subway stations.

Read the latest news on this subject.

Transit
Government Efforts: 2000: B
1999: B
Cycling Environment: 2000: A- 1999: B
Cyclists continue to enjoy the immense benefits of unrestricted legal access to the NYC subways. NYC Transit deserves credit for its "common sense" policy which allows cyclists 24-hour use of the subway while still allowing transit workers and police to keep bikes off of crowded trains.
PATH did away with permits in 1999, but still prohibits bikes during peak periods. The fine record of transit achievement would be better if the MTA provided secure parking at Grand Central and Penn Stations. Parking of any kind at suburban rail and major NYC subway would also help.

Read the latest news on this subject.