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Cycling in New York: A work in progress

A cyclist rides through Times Square. A recent study shows that bicycle commuting in New York City has declined in recent years.
A cyclist rides through Times Square. A recent study shows that bicycle commuting in New York City has declined in recent years.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

New Yorkers tends to think of their city as superior to all others in most aspects, but that's decidedly not true when it comes to bicycling. Yesterday, Gothamist covered a Furman Center analysis of census data that suggests bicycle commuting rates in New York may have declined slightly between 2007 and 2009.

New York has lagged behind other North American cities in increasing the rate of bike commuters over the last decade.

There's some question about the reliability of those particular numbers and whether the census may undercount the actual number of cyclists, but the underlying point is sound. In comparison to other major North American cities, New York has struggled to integrate bicycles into their transportation network over the last decade and is now clearly behind.

The Region 2 University Transportation Research Center published a report in March that highlights the scope of New York's problem. Of the nine large North American cities highlighted in the analysis, New York had the lowest share of bike commuters in 1990. More importantly, the rate has increased by significantly less than other cities.

New York went from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent, Chicago from 0.3 percent to 1.2 percent, Washington from 0.8 percent to 2.2 percent, San Francisco from 1 percent to 3 percent, Minneapolis from 1.6 percent to 3.9 percent, and Portland from 1.1 percent to 5.8 percent.

New York's poor performance is not random. The authors of the report offer some reasons why:

New York is a special case. Although cycling has almost doubled in New York City since 1990, it lags far behind the other case study cities in almost every respect. It has the lowest bike share of commuters, the highest cyclist fatality and injury rate, and the lowest rate of cycling by women, children, and seniors.

New York has built the most effective bikeways since 2000 and has been especially innovative in its use of cycle tracks, buffered bike lanes, bike traffic signals, bike boxes, and sharrowed streets. Yet New York has almost completely failed in the important areas of bike-transit integration and cyclist rights and falls far short on bike parking and cycling training.

Moreover, the refusal of New York's police to protect bike lanes from blockage by motor vehicles has compromised cyclist safety. New York has much to learn from the other case study cities, which have implemented a far more comprehensive, integrated package of mutually reinforcing policies to promote cycling.


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