Help Is on the Way for Bicyclists

Sheryl CanterI live in New York City, and when I started riding my bike to work last year, I became acquainted firsthand with the obstacles to using this most efficient and green mode of transport. Here’s the short list:

Thankfully, help is on the way. New York City has turned decidedly pro-bike under Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Jeannette Sadik-Khan. And the non-profit group America Bikes is helping to bring bike-friendly changes to communities across the country.

An Early False Start in NYC

In early 1980, Mayor Koch visited China and saw bicycles dominating the streets rather than cars. He thought this was a brilliant solution to urban congestion, and came back to New York and installed bike lanes. The low concrete barriers separating the bike lanes were ineffective, and eventually removed.

Seven years later, that same Mayor Koch tried to ban bike traffic on three major avenues due to biking accidents. (This plan was strongly opposed and dropped a few months later.)

Doing Right by Bikes in NYC

Today, New York City is doing it right, with a comprehensive plan to make New York bike friendly. In 2006, NYC DOT committed to installing 200 miles of bike lanes over the next three years. Over 80 miles have been installed to date, and the city plans 1800 miles of bike lanes by 2030.

And that’s not all.

Protected Bike Lane on 9th Ave in NYCNew York’s Summer Streets program closes major streets to traffic on certain days. There are plans to create bike paths that are physically separated from traffic. And New York has issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for a bike share program.

Bike sharing is gaining traction in many towns and cities around the world. The idea is to place bikes in strategic locations, and let people pick them up where needed and drop them off near their destination. For example, Paris has 1,450 self-service rental stations about 300 yards apart. There are four times as many bike stations as metro stations, and the system has been a huge success.

There is a similar bike sharing system in Copenhagen, where EDF transportation expert Michael Replogle told me that 30 percent of trips are by bicycle, compared to less than 2 percent in New York today. Commissioner Sadik-Khan has brought in consultants from Copenhagen to help New York do what Copenhagen has done.

Bike parking is critical, and NYC DOT is working on that, as well. Last week some whimsical racks designed by David Byrne were installed around the city. The broader CityRacks program has plans to install free, convenient bike parking throughout the five boroughs.

There are private efforts, as well. In January, the New York Times published an article about a planned bike parking garage, with an attendant, in midtown Manhattan. At the time the developers were looking for funding – I don’t know if they ever received it. The nonprofit group Bikestation also provides parking, but they’re only in a few cities so far and New York isn’t one of them.

With the great progress New York is making, it won’t be long before I’m riding my bike to work again.

This post is by Sheryl Canter, an online writer and editorial manager at Environmental Defense Fund.

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  1. astroknott
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    All of your article sounds good. I have one complaint though. Its not with your article but a peeve I have with cyclists. At least the ones who ride cross country on 10 speeds. They seem to think they own the road. I can’t tell you how many times I have come up behind two or more cyclists riding side by side blocking auto traffic. They wont ride single file and let traffic pass. If it was a car driving at 15 miles an hour I would expect them to show common courtesy and pull over to the side so faster traffic can pass. But not cyclists! It’s no wonder that many of them get hit by cars. If they want to share the road then they need to show some courtesy to cars. They seem to think the road was made for them. I hate to break it to them but roads are made for cars. They need to get out of the way or stay on bike trails.

  2. Posted September 8, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I’ve never seen that. When I’ve seen cyclists when I’m in a car, they are always trying very hard not to get hit – as I am when I’m a cyclist. I don’t know if you’ve ever been the bike rider in this situation, but it’s very frightening to have a car pass you fast and close. What if you (the biker) went over a bump and veered a little to the left? That can easily happen on a bicycle. There’s balance involved – bikes are not as easily controlled as cars.

    Do you get aggressive when a bike rider annoys you? If so, next time try to remember how fragile flesh-and-blood is, and how vulnerable bikers are to being crushed by your ton of steel. More and more cities are providing bike lanes that are physically separated from traffic and I strongly support this.

  3. Peter Black
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    There have been attempts at changing state laws here in California for bikes: essentially, Bikers would regard stop signs as yields, and red lights would be treated as stops. In SF, bikes have become really popular. However, there is one man holding up the redesign of much of the city’s streetscape to make it more bike friendly. Essentially, this man believes that more bikes would equate to more idling by cars in the city. Therefore, the carbon footprint would go up. He’s literally brought the case to court, forcing the city to perform a comprehensive EIR of the bike plan…

  4. Posted September 8, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Well, that begs the question… WHO??

  5. astroknott
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Reply to Sheryl,

    Maybe they are more polite where you live. I may have given the wrong impression. They aren’t ALL jerks, most of them are very polite. But there is a sizable percentage of them, at least here, that are … um … shall we say … rear ends.

    And, yes I have been on a bike and I know traffic can be quite frightening. Which further amazes me that some of them seem to have such an …. “attitude”.

    And, no, I don’t get aggressive when they annoy me. I haven’t so much as honked. I have no desire to squash anyone. Besides, if I ran over a bike I might scratch my paint, or get blood on my car. We can’t have that. ;o)

  6. Peter Black
    Posted September 9, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink