Every year, T.A. grades New York City cycling conditions and government efforts to promote cycling. This annual report card is intended to provoke cyclists and government to work towards a better cycling environment. T.A. assigns two grades to eight “Bicycling Basics.” The first grade is for government efforts to improve cycling conditions. The second is our assessment of actual real life conditions. We give credit for cycling initiatives completed in the year of grading, not the years of hard work that came first. This year we have added a new feature: A public opinion grade based on 1,300 responses to our January 28th Web survey poll. For full survey results, see www.transalt.org/survey2003.
(l-r above) Mayor Bloomberg, NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe, Manhattan Borough President Fields, New York State DOT Commissioner Boardman, New York State Parks Commissioner Castro and NYC DOT Commissioner Weinshall at the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway opening.
This rough barometer grades public attitudes towards and government efforts to promote bicycling. This year, New York City cycling moved two pedals forward and one pedal back.
For the first time since the 1980 Kotch bike lane, City Hall directly backed a major cycling project. It paid off. The 32-mile Interim Manhattan Waterfront Greenway won widespread public praise. Despite the positive reception, though, New York City greenways remain poorly connected to bridges and bike lanes and are often crowded and chaotic. Similarly, East River bridge use hit a historic high, but access to the bridges remains inconvenient, confusing and dangerous.
The New York City Department of Transportation striped a record 21 new bike lanes in 2003. Plus, the agency increased car-free hours in Prospect Park. The Parks Department worked hard to build and restore paths for the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway and the Department of City Planning produced new neighborhood greenway plans. The State Department of Transportation continued redesigning the Hudson River Greenway and developing greenways in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Yet, alas, another year passed without government action to create secure bike parking, the number one obstacle to everyday cycling. Finally, reckless cyclists, especially those riding on sidewalks, fueled anger towards bicycling.
How safe and congenial is it to ride and park your bike in New York City?
The Interim Manhattan Waterfront Greenway has shown city cyclists the benefits of bike lanes that connect greenways to the street grid. But overall, conditions remain tough. There are few connections between bike lanes, greenways and bridges, and rush hour access to the East River bridges is tolerable only for seasoned riders. While the City DOT deserves credit for creating 27 miles of new bike lanes, few of the new lanes connect to major destinations, especially bridges and greenways. Also, city government loses points for its continued failure to help create secure bike parking, cyclists’ number one demand, or to publicize cyclists’ right to the road.
In sum, cycling conditions in most of the city are still only tolerable enough to keep everyday cyclists riding and encourage the boldest non-cyclists to take to two wheels.
New York City streets remain dangerous and chaotic. Speeding, dooring and failure to yield to cyclists are ubiquitous. Direct routes, like Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens Boulevard in Queens remain too dangerous for most bicyclists. Motorists injure roughly 4,000 cyclists a year; this number has not declined over the decade even though pedestrian injuries have declined about 30%.
The New York Police Department TrafficStat initiative and the City DOT’s attention to danger spots have made the most dangerous intersections safer, especially for pedestrians. However, the City still needs to change the overall culture of dangerous driving through efforts like London’s “Kill Your Speed, Not a Child” media campaign. The state legislature deserves an “F” for continuing to delay legislation allowing New York City to use speed enforcement cameras and increase the city’s supply of 50 red light cameras; London has 600 enforcement cameras.
The New York City Department of Transportation’s bicycle program installed an impressive 21 new bike lanes this year, totaling 27 miles of lanes. Nine of the new lanes connect to other lanes, greenways and bridge paths. The agency’s design innovations on parts of the Interim Manhattan Waterfront Greenway are especially encouraging. These innovations include a reverse flow lane at 24th Street next to the FDR, European-style bike signals at Dyckman Street and 10th Avenue and a separated on-street lane at 155th Street and Harlem River Drive.
However, the agency needs to study these lanes seriously given that it has intently focused on bike lanes as its primary tactic to improve cycling. The City has not adequately measured cycling activity and crashes before and after it has installed lanes. Bike lanes may reduce speeding and overtaking crashes, or they may force cyclists into the dooring zone and make motorists more territorial—or both. Citywide, bike lanes are in poor shape. The busiest lanes have worn markings, unfilled street cuts and many metal plates.
The East River bridge paths are the backbone of the city’s cycling network. In 2003, East River bridge bicycle traffic hit a historic 4,000 crossings per day, a big increase from 2,300 in 1993. The City’s basic maintenance of the paths, like clearing snow and garbage and replacing lights, is far better than it was ten years ago. Cycling activity would be even higher if the City made the bridge paths easy to find, safe to access and well-connected to bike lanes and greenways.
One of the biggest issues facing cyclists is the dangerous access to bridge path entrances, especially the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. (The bumps on the Williamsburg Bridge are also a big hazard.) Despite numerous requests, the City DOT has not made these bridge entrances safe for cyclists.
Not surprisingly, car-free
cycling in New York City is very popular, and the Hudson River and Manhattan
Waterfront greenways are spurring a surge in everyday cycling.
Because of New York City’s incorrigible thieves, secure bicycle parking, especially at workplaces and transit stations, is the key to encouraging more commuter cyclists. Yet key city agencies have done little to help, and have often hindered, bike parking initiatives. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services recently ended a ten year policy of allowing tenants’ bikes into the Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street. After complaints, the agency placed a guard at the building’s outdoor racks, but declined to allow City employees to bring their bikes into other city buildings. Eight city councilmembers introduced an unsuccessful bill to require all commercial buildings to allow tenants’ bicycles inside.
The City DOT’s CityRacks program installed no bike racks and approached no public or private institutions to develop bike parking.
Where else in the world do cyclists have 24-hour access to an enormous subway system? Thanks to easy subway access, neither rain nor mechanical failure can stop a cyclist equipped with a MetroCard. We must have phrased our online question wrong, because the "cycling reality" is that MTA/New York City Transit’s "common sense" bicycle policy is the best transit deal city cyclists have anywhere in the United States. Token booth closures are an inconvenience, but easy subway access remains a boon to bicycling in New York City, especially during a huge increase in ridership.