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New York, a great city for bike infrastructure
2 June 2008 Rashaad JORDEN

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Maybe he is riding the Cheesesteak Express (Philadelphia, US)

As Bike Month recently concluded in New York, it’s a great time to inquire about the state of bicycling in the Big Apple. After all, the 17th Annual Bike Month saw more than 200-bicycle related events hit the city, such as the eight annual Bicycle Film Festival on Bike Month’s last weekend. And surely, beautiful summer days will surely entice more New Yorkers to get on their bikes.

But despite the plethora of events that satisfy bike enthusiasts, is New York a good city for cyclists? Cyclists seem to be squeezed out of Manhattan’s crowded streets as the city fights to reduce congestion. Much to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s disappointment, the state legislation failed to approve the city’s congestion pricing plan, which would have charged cars and commercial vehicles $8 to enter most of Manhattan from six a.m. to six p.m. on weekdays.

I received three opinions on the state of bicycling in New York. Wiley Norvell, the communications director for Transportation Alternatives (a non-profit organization that’s working to turn New Yorkers away from automobiles towards bicycling, walking, and public transport), speaks optimistically about the state of bicycling in the Big Apple.

“New York is a better city to bicycle in than in the past, and it’s a great city for bike infrastructure,” says Norvell, whose organization help run Bike Month along with the New York City Department of Transportation, Department of Parks and Recreation, and Department of Health. “And there are some amenities for bicycles.” He adds the city will add more than 200 miles of painted lines for cyclists, which will undoubtedly please the roughly 130,000 cyclists each day in New York.

Bob Nelson also sees positives for New York cyclists. Nelson, the public relations coordinator for Fast and Fabulous (a group that promotes cycling in New York’s LGBT community), says, “New York has the potential to be a good city for cyclists, because we have the population, building and service density that makes it convenient to get around by bike. You get around Manhattan on bike as it’s only 35 miles, and south of Central Park, you get around anywhere in a few minutes.”

130,000 cyclists per day in the Big Apple sounds like a decent amount. But according to Norvell, there would be a lot more cyclists on the streets of New York - if only they could find a safe location to park their bicycles.

“We need legislation that’ll help people find permits to park,” he says, adding that “tens of thousands of people in New York don’t bicycle because they’re worried about losing their bikes.”

And as in just about any other major American city, the overabundance of cars makes life difficult for cyclists. “On major road boulevards, we need more vigorous protection for cyclists.”

Nelson concurs that traffic is a hassle for cyclists. However, taking precautions make cycling a lot easier. “I have found that if I ride responsibly and wear bright colors, drivers respect me,” he says. “At night, I put a halogen light on the front of my bike, and it’s clear that drivers respect you and treat you more like another vehicle and not as annoyance. So I think it is up to us to advocate for better conditions and take precautions where possible.”

John Chapman, one of Nelson’s colleagues at Fast and Fabulous, isn’t quite so optimistic about cycling in New York. He echoes Norvell’s concerns about a lack of authorized places to lock up bikes.

“Basically, it’s an okay city for cyclists,” Chapman says. “However, there are not a lot of safe on-street or off-street bike lanes. Most are either marked or unmarked areas shared with car traffic and parked cars.”

More protected bike lanes, Chapman believes, would encourage people to cycle in New York. But he adds a massive change in the attitudes of drivers would also encourage more people to cycle.

“In many European cities, bikes and pedestrians are considered the main users of the streets, and car and trucks respects them. Not in NYC,” Chapman states.

Despite seeming rather gloomy about the state of cyling in New York, Chapman retains some hope for the future. He says the new 200 miles of bike lanes will help, and the city has hired consultants to increase bicycle commuting. Nelson likewise expresses optimism for the future of cycling in the Big Apple. “I see more bikers on the street on the street where I commute to work, so more people consider biking to work a real option,” he says. Nelson also see the city’s transportation commissioner, Janice Sadik-Khan, as being “bike friendly.”

That sounds great. “But,” Chapman concludes. “I think it’s going to take a long time to make any real progress.”

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