Winter 2002, p.8-9

Making the Grade in 2001
T.A.'s Fifth Annual Report On Bicycling in NYC

This report card is intended to inspire the government to improve its promotion of cycling and to provide a historic record. (T.A. only gives credit for bike projects completed in the year of grading.) Despite September's tragedy, 2001 saw momentous bicycling improvements. The opening of the Manhattan Bridge bicycle and pedestrian path and the completion of the Hudson River Greenway are enormous gains, and reflect years of hard work by the City and State. However, though the government focused on physical improvements, it did little to encourage or promote cycling.

T.A. assigns two grades. The first grade is for the combined efforts of the various public agencies. The second is for the overall state of that "Bicycling Basic."


Progress: Momentum & Attitude
Government Efforts: 2001: A- 2000: B-
Cycling Environment: 2001: A 2000: B
This subjective category is a rough barometer of cycling in NYC. It combines public and governmental attitudes and on-the-ground cycling improvements. It is not every year that the City completes not just one, but two momentous projects. The opening of the Manhattan Bridge bicycle and pedestrian path (with Commissioner Iris Weinshall's inaugural ride across it) and the completion of the Hudson River Greenway is the equivalent of a rare cosmic alignment. In addition to these new bicycle projects, the much-improved grade is because of DOT Commissioner Weinshall's interest in cycling and the newly energized DOT Bike Program. Overall, the agency showed much more cycling enthusiasm than it has in recent memory, but the NYC DOT cannot do it alone. A broader range of government agencies need to meet (and surpass) the DOT's level of support in order to make meaningful improvements to NYC's cycling environment.


The Overall Cycling Environment
Government Efforts: 2001: B-
2000: C+
Cycling Environment: 2001: C+ 2000: C-
This category evaluates the physical cycling environment in the City, its rideability and its ability to win bike commuter converts.

This year, the Government grade soars because of the NYC DOT's opening of the Manhattan Bridge, and the State DOT, Riverside South Development Corp., and NYC Parks' completion of a continuous Hudson River Greenway on Manhattan's West Side. This past year was the first time in over forty years that all of the East River Bridges were open to bicycles and pedestrians. The local office of the State DOT also continued to do solid work in 2001 and established a Non-Motorized Program led by Roger Weld.

Under the direction of the new Commissioner, Iris Weinshall, the City DOT lifted its veil of secrecy to cyclists and the wider public. In addition to opening the Manhattan Bridge, the DOT installed a strong slate of new bike lanes. Elsewhere in the City, the Parks Department plugged away at its ambitious slate of new greenways, but was slowed by the lack of high-level political support. City Planning continued its talented work; however, the Agency's bicycle and pedestrian group would benefit from moving its office to unite with its counterparts at the DOT.

The cycling environment gets a "C+" because it is still only tolerable enough to keep everyday cyclists riding; it does not encourage non-cyclists to take to two wheels. Government has not yet fixed widespread problems that discourage bicycling, like dangerous motorist behavior, double parking, scarce secure bike parking, atrocious street conditions and sub-standard bike lanes. Despite these problems, though, cycling fatalities declined from eighteen in 2000 to seventeen in 2001 (an average of one cyclist killed every three weeks).


Safe Streets
Government Efforts: 2001: C-
2000: C-
Cycling Environment: 2001: C- 2000: D+
The chaotic street environment did not change much. Though T.A. maintains a positive relationship with the NYPD, there was little progress on cyclist safety. The police have not instituted a safety education program for motorists - advertising, signs or training; and, not surprisingly, many motorists continue to ignore the cyclist's right to the road. Large, extremely dangerous streets like Queens Boulevard, Flatbush Avenue, Canal Street and Northern Boulevard are still essentially uncycleable. Unfortunately, these are the most direct routes, and avoiding them creates another barrier to everyday cycling. Though the DOT and NYPD did take action to make Queens Boulevard safer, the volume of press coverage that was necessary to force them to do so is appalling. The unchanged grade also reflects the small decline in cycling fatalities from eighteen in 2000 to seventeen in 2001. Crazed cab drivers remain an incorrigable problem in heavily cycled Manhattan. They stop far from the curb - often in bike lanes - and speed with abandon. At the end of 2001, T.A. teamed with the TLC to begin a cycling awareness campaign.


Bicycle Lanes
Government Efforts: 2001: B
2000: B+
Cycling Environment: 2001: C 2000: C
The DOT installed five very good bike lanes: Central Park West/Frederick Douglas Ave., Fort Washington Ave., Haven Ave., and the long-awaited Sunset Park Connector. The DOT made a good effort to stripe Staten Island's Richmond Terrace bike lane. However, the City has not installed separated lanes since 1999, when it put in a lane on Broadway at Herald Square. Kudos to the NYPD for making a noticeable difference in 2001 keeping midtown lanes clear during rush hour.
City agencies could do a much better job of publicizing new bike lanes and routes, and creating connections within the City's bike network. The DOT has yet to test any innovative designs, such as cyclist waiting areas ahead of traffic at intersections or contra-flow, two-way, median, curbside, raised or quickcurb delineated bike lanes. Currently, bike lanes are still marked with diamond symbols instead of bicycle logos, and many lanes remain substandard in width, providing little protection for cyclists.

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Bridges
Government Efforts: 2001: B+
2000: B
Cycling Environment: 2001: B 2000: B
The opening of the Manhattan Bridge bicycle/pedestrian path marks the first time in over forty years that all of the East River bridges have been open to cyclists and pedestrians. This is a tremendous accomplishment for the DOT's Bureau of Bridges. However, access to the Manhattan Bridge on the Brooklyn side is still perilous. This, and similar conditions around the other East River Bridges reflect the City's failure to connect these heavily-traveled routes with the on-street bicycle network.

The Bureau of Bridges continued to keep the City's Bike Programs out of the loop in 2001. As a result, the Bureau made many safety flaws during the construction. Since then, the Bureau has improved its community outreach and should continue to open up to key user groups like T.A., as well as adequately inform other City agencies of its plans. The stairs on the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges are still hindrances to cyclists. While channels, like those on the Manhattan Bridge, are an effective temporary measure, every bridge should be fully ramped.

Lost in 2001: the MTA Bridges and Tunnels' bicycle improvement study.

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Greenways
Government Efforts: 2001: B
2000: B+
Cycling Environment: 2001: B- 2000: C-
The NYC Parks Department, Riverside South Development Corp. and the NYC office of the State DOT and its Director Doug Curry, get a "B+" for their greenway work. The State DOT completed the fabulous Hudson River Greenway in Fall 2001. The Greenway stretches from the southern tip of Manhattan to 59th Street. To the north, Curry cleared a bureaucratic impasse by ordering the SDOT's Route 9A contractor to build the Hudson River Connector path between 59th and 72nd Streets. This critical link opened in March 2001 and extends the State's Greenway to the south (City greenways stretch to 181th Street). NYC Parks completed the Flushing Bay Promenade in Queens and the Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.

The big problem for the citywide greenway system is the absence of a patron at City Hall. The Parks Department, the city agency which builds greenways, must slog through resistance from other city agencies and knee jerk local opposition.

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Parking
Government Efforts: 2001: C
2000: C+
Cycling Environment: 2001: D 2000: D
Sparse secure bicycle parking remains the biggest obstacle to would-be commuters and utilitarian cyclists because of New York's intense problem with bicycle thieves and vandals. The DOT needs a full-time bicycle parking encouragement officer to work with transit station managers, building owners and managers, parking garages and businesses to create bike parking. In 2001, government plans to improve parking at transit at Bedford Ave in Brooklyn transit fizzled, and CityRacks did not take full advantage of placing bike racks in the "shadow" areas behind subway entrances. The DOT must be reminded that it controls the sidewalks; it should reevaluate its stringent guidelines for sidewalk bike rack placement. This public space is for the benefit of New Yorkers, not just the real estate ambitions of businesses.

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Transit
Government Efforts: 2001: A
2000: B
Cycling Environment: 2001: A- 2000: A-
Larry Reuter, head of MTA NYC Transit, deserves extra credit for maintaining NYCT's "common sense" bicycle policy as train ridership soared after September 11th. NYC Transit still leads the nation in bike access; it allows cyclists 24-hour use of the subway, though transit workers and police may keep bikes off crowded trains. Neither rain, nor mechanical failure can stop a cyclist equipped with a $1.50 MetroCard.

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