Cycling in New York Is No Longer an Extreme Sport
By Ethan Rouen
One might think that riding a bicycle through the horn-honking, taxi-swerving streets of New York City would scare away even the bravest of the spandex-clad set.
But in fact some 6,000 cyclists will mount carbon-fiber racing machines, commuting clunkers and the occasional unicycle on Sunday for the 21st annual New York City Century, a ride that has become safer than ever thanks to the cooperative efforts of advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives and the bicycle-friendly administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
About 80 percent of the 100-mile tour (there are a series of shorter options too) will be on a network of bicycle lanes and paths that continues to grow every year, making New York City a cycling mecca for commuters, exercise enthusiasts and tourists who can take in a majority of the sites without breaking a sweat -- or a limb.
"Sometimes New York City's fast-paced streets can seem intimidating, but all the new bike lanes are changing that, as are all of the new cyclists on the streets," said Caroline Samponaro, the director of bicycling advocacy for Transportation Alternatives.
The city is increasingly becoming a bike-friendly metropolis, with dozens of new bicycle stores and miles of new bike paths circling the city. As a result, bicycle use is up 26 percent, according to the city's Department of Transportation.
In 1997, the city developed a plan to create 1,800 miles of bicycle lanes throughout all five boroughs. The plan languished until 2007, when Bloomberg announced PlaNYC, a strategy to make New York more sustainable by 2030. Part of that plan involved speeding up the development of the bike routes.
In two years, 200 miles of bicycle lanes were added, major arteries like Times Square were closed to cars and the number of cyclists exploded. The city now plans to add 50 miles a year until all 1,800 miles are completed.
"We've spent a lot of time investing in our cycling infrastructure," Janette Sadik-Khan, the commissioner of the city's Department of Transportation and a bicycle commuter, told CNBC last month. "If we're going to accommodate a million more people in New York City by 2030, we're not going to do it by having a million more cars, so we need to engineer sustainable forms of transportation into our network."
The current strategy includes the continued addition of bicycle paths through parks and protected bike lanes along busy streets like Broadway, where barriers separate cars from cyclists. "Protected bike lanes are a design solution for our widest and most unruly avenues," said Transportation Alternatives' Samponaro.
In a city where 56 percent of automobile trips are less than three miles -- often three miserable, traffic-filled miles -- the new infrastructure is creating new reasons for people to exchange their keys or subway passes for a two-wheeler.
In the past 10 years, daily cycling in the city has increased by 123 percent, according to Transportation Alternatives, while a study by the city found that bicycle commuting is up 79 percent since 2007. This increase has occurred as the city has seen a dramatic drop in the number of cycling accidents and fatalities.
But it's not only working stiffs populating those new bike lanes. Tourists have also discovered the ease with which they can get from the Brooklyn Bridge, say, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- about five flat, scenic miles, and you can ride protected bike lanes most of the way.
Bicycle rental companies have sprouted around the city, especially near Central Park (which is car-free most of the day) and Riverside Park along the Hudson River. The next step, according to Transportation Alternatives, is to create a bike share program along the lines of those in Paris, Montreal and most recently London.
Offering a ride share, where people can pick up and drop off bikes at designated locations throughout the city, would provide flexibility in commuting options, as well as a way to ride in the city without having to park bikes in already tiny apartments.
"Public bike share holds the potential to only encourage this trend toward safer, saner streets for all New Yorkers," Samponaro said.
On Sunday, people from around the world will get a snapshot of New York's continuing transformation into one of the country's most bikable cities. Bicycling magazine currently ranks the Big Apple ninth among cities of more than 100,000 people; Minneapolis is in first place.
"It is simply not as scary on the streets as it used to be," said Ross French, who has been cycling in the city for 34 years and volunteering at the New York City Century for more than a decade. "I think drivers are more aware of the presence of bikers and are therefore less aggressive and more cooperative."
Submitted by kim on September 22, 2010 - 12:53. categories [ ]