Bicycling in New York City: Know the Facts

Our city's commitment to creating safe streets for everyone strengthens the fabric of city life. New York at its best has always been a city of neighborhoods: a diverse city of strong communities and common spaces where neighbors come together to shop, eat, talk, walk their dogs and ride their bikes.

After all, streets and sidewalks make up 80 percent of New Yorkers' public space and need to serve all New Yorkers equally, whether you are walking, driving, taking transit or riding a bicycle.

For the last five decades, only motor vehicles have been considered in street design -- despite the fact that the vast majority of New Yorkers do not own or use cars. But these days, serious care and investment is being made to ensure that all New Yorkers have a place to travel safely -- including bicyclists.

Poll after poll has shown a majority support for bike-friendly street improvements, and as more and more New Yorkers choose two wheels, it's helpful to lay out the facts about why and how bicycling benefits New York. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about bicycling in New York that T.A. receives from the public.

1. Is bicycling a new thing in New York City?

No. Bicycling is an integral part of life in New York; the first bike path in America opened in Brooklyn in 1894 and now over 200,000 New Yorkers are biking our streets every day. In any given month, more than 500,000 adult New Yorkers use their bicycles more than twice for exercise or transportation. None of these numbers come close to representing the latent demand for safer streets, and the many more New Yorkers who would bicycle regularly if it were made safer and easier.

Over the past four years, City leaders have stepped forward to meet the challenges of our vast transportation network, growing population and demand for safer streets by investing in bicycling to make it safe and easy for more New Yorkers.

2. Are there more bicyclists on New York City streets these days?

Yes. The Department of Health (DOH) estimates that more than 500,000 adult New Yorkers use a bike at least once a month. According to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Commuter Cycling Indicator, there was a 13 percent increase in daily commuter bicycling between 2009 and 2010 alone. Our city has seen double-digit growth in bike ridership for four straight years -- effectively doubling the number of regular cyclists on our streets, according to the DOT's annual counts.

It's clear that, as bicycling infrastructure increases (be it bike parking or bike lanes), more New Yorkers are choosing bicycling.

The old expression, "if you build it, they will come," could not be more true than it is on the streets of New York City. Since 2006, the City of New York has laid down more than 250 miles of bikes lanes (just over four percent of the city's 6,000 miles of streets) and New Yorkers are flocking to use the lanes as fast as they're opened.

3. Do bike lanes make New York City streets safer?

Yes, very much so. Bike lanes bring along with them safety improvements for the entire street and every street user -- not just for people riding bikes. According to the DOT's Pedestrian Safety Study and the most recent Sustainable Streets Index, streets with bike lanes have about 40 percent fewer crashes ending in death or serious injury, and that's for all street users: drivers and pedestrians included. For example, after a parking-protected bike lane was installed on Manhattan's Ninth Avenue, all traffic-related injuries dropped 50 percent. Injuries to pedestrians dropped 29 percent and injuries to cyclists dropped 57 percent.

For example, protected bike lanes include pedestrian refuge islands in their design, which shorten the crossing distance of wide avenues for people on foot. Protected bike lanes typically include priority left turn lanes and signals, which help to improve vehicle flow and deter failure to yield to pedestrian violations -- a common reason for pedestrian injury on our busy streets.

Bike lanes can also reduce bicycling on the sidewalk, which decreased more than 80 percent following the installation of the Ninth Avenue, Grand Street, Columbus Avenue and Prospect Park West protected bike lanes. Unsafe vehicle speeds are the most dangerous traffic problem in NYC, causing more fatal crashes than anything else. Bike lanes can help calm speeding traffic. After a parking-protected bike lane went in on Brooklyn's Prospect Park West, incidents of speeding dropped 75 percent.

Building a bike lane is not just for bicyclists. Bike lanes are one way to realize a 'complete street,' or a street that recognizes and keeps safe all New Yorkers who use it.

4. Do more bicyclists on the street make it safer to ride a bike?

Yes, much safer. Intuitively, bicyclists know that it feels safer to ride a bike when there are other cyclists on the street with you. In 2003, researcher Peter Jacobsen published a groundbreaking report that confirmed bicyclists' intuition to be based in scientific fact. The "safety in numbers" effect identified by Jacobsen's research is this: The more bicyclists there are on the streets, the safer they are. The phenomenon can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as drivers' increased familiarity seeing bicyclists on the street or street improvements, like bike lanes, that often accompany a growth in bicycling.

Data from a wide range of cities shows that every time the number of bicyclists is tripled, the driver-bicyclist crash rate is cut in half. The "safety in numbers" effect is happening in New York City as we speak, as documented by the DOT's Cycling Safety Indicator. We have never had so many cyclists on the streets, and yet it has never been safer to ride a bike. Bike lanes, which do a lot to encourage cycling, are helping to add to this important "safety in numbers" effect on NYC streets.

5. What kind of behavior does T.A. think is appropriate for bicyclists?

Bike riders are subject to the same laws as drivers in New York. When you ride your bike, it's your job to know the laws and to follow them, just like any other street user. T.A. thinks the most important thing a bicyclist can do is ensure the safe passage of pedestrians. To help foster a safe and polite bike riding culture, we've created the Biking Rules safety campaign. Visit the website for all you need to know about biking around the Big Apple.

At T.A., we believe that bicyclists can put an end to the 'me-first,' 'survival-of-the-biggest' attitude on New York's streets. Our goal is to encourage safe behavior in all street users and we call upon bicyclists to lead by example. If you are interested in our help promoting safe bicycling in your neighborhood, request a T.A. Bicycle Ambassador.

6. What about working cyclists?

Businesses owners are accountable for how their delivery people ride. T.A. has fought hard over the years to enact laws requiring working cyclists to wear lights, reflective vests and clothing that identify their employer. Our Bicycle Ambassadors work with business owners on request to conduct safe cycling trainings and provide bike safety information through door-to-door outreach based on community input. Delivery makes up 50 percent of NYC's restaurant industry and business owners have a huge role to play in promoting safe bicycle delivery.

T.A.'s Bike Friendly Business campaign exists to cultivate relationships with local businesses to encourage safe and lawful bicycling behavior. Peer pressure from customers and other businesses is what will spread the safe cycling message to businesses that employ cyclists. Be a part of the movement by talking to your local food delivery businesses and bringing them into the Bike Friendly Business campaign.

7. How does the Department of Transportation decide where to put a bike lane?

The decision to install a bike lane is a participatory process involving the city and local residents. In 1997, the Department of City Planning developed the New York City Bicycle Master Plan to make New York's streets safer for everyone by getting bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers out of each other's and harm's way.

Community Boards in every borough endorsed this planning template before it was published and made into NYC policy. The majority of the bike lanes installed by the Department of Transportation since 2006 come directly from this official plan. Bike lanes are also installed as the result of community requests and as a means to address traffic safety issues like speeding and high crash rates on a street.

By law, the DOT is required to present its plans to affected Community Boards at the outset of a project. You can find examples of past and current presentations on the DOT website. All bike lanes are built with local input and many are even initiated at the request of local residents trying to fix traffic problems in their neighborhood.

Community input continues throughout the project and improvements suggested by residents and businesses are often added to lanes later on. If you are interested in being involved in this conversation, it's a great idea to attend the Transportation Committee meeting of your Community Board. You can find out more information about your Community Board on

8. Can New York City afford bike lanes?

Yes, because bike lanes are so inexpensive. Bike lanes are just about the best use of dedicated transportation money for traffic improvement a city can make, given the combination of Federal grant money, the low cost of installation, the increased bike ridership bike lanes bring and the impact they have on street safety for all New Yorkers (see #'s 2 & 3).

Eighty percent of the total cost of the 250 miles of bike lanes installed since 2006 was paid for by the federal government, through a matching grant that can only be used to build and maintain bike lanes. The cost to the city to make bicycling a real option for all New Yorkers through safe street designs has therefore been only $1.6 million, virtual drops in the bucket as compared other transportation infrastructure investments.

Bike lanes not only save lives, they save money too! Traffic crashes cost New York City $4.29 billion in 2009, according to the DOT's Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan. Bike lanes have proven to drastically reduce the number of crashes (see #3).

9. How do bike lanes impact businesses?

Bike lanes can boost business. Streets that prioritize walking and biking, incorporated with amenities such as pedestrian plazas, have proven to boost local retail sales by 10-25 percent in cities around the world. In New York, when a bike lane goes in, the Department of Transportation reassesses parking regulations at the curb, adds loading zones and installs muni-meters that encourage shopper turnover.

T.A. is working with the growing number of NYC businesses who are showing their support for bicyclists and bike lanes through our Biking Rules Business campaign. To locate or nominate a bike friendly business in your neighborhood, visit the campaign's website!

10. What kind of relationship does the NYPD have with bicyclists and T.A.?

T.A. regularly works with the NYPD to be a voice for bicyclists and to promote data-driven enforcement. The NYPD's job is to enforce traffic laws for all street users. Lately, we've seen an increase in ticketing for cyclists, due in large part to complaints from the public about bad bicycle behavior paired with the enormous increase in bicycling on our streets.

Enforcement will be successful when it targets the most dangerous behaviors at the most dangerous locations for all street users. As bike ridership grows in New York, enforcement is one way for the city to educate bicyclists about the rules of the road, which is why T.A. has piloted a Give/Get Respect campaign over the years. Bicyclists are no different than other road users when it comes to the rules of the road. Bicyclists in New York have the same responsibilities and rights as motor vehicle drivers. T.A.'s Biking Rules campaign is a great place to read up on the laws, and to hear our take on the courteous bike riding culture we believe needs to be fostered by bicyclists on NYC streets. Bottom line: Always yield to pedestrians.

At the same time, T.A. is vigilant about overzealous enforcement. Amidst the increase in valid bicycle tickets, we have also witnessed an increase in tickets written for behavior that isn't illegal, or that does not address dangerous behaviors, but rather uniformly targets bike riders in one location. We keep track of such tickets via our online ticket form -- these are often dismissed in court. In this area, T.A. continues to work with the NYPD to encourage data-driven enforcement that focuses on the most dangerous traffic violations -- the ones that risk the lives and limbs of thousands of New Yorkers every year.

Most recently, we successfully partnered with the NYPD and other bicycle and pedestrian advocates to develop a new enforcement policy for the Central Park loop drive, whereby the NYPD uses discretion to prioritize pedestrian safety, rather than simply targeting every bicyclist who runs a red light. Any cyclist who does not stop for a pedestrian trying to cross the loop drive will be ticketed. This enforcement adjustment better balances the needs of the many users who are making the most of the Central Park loop drive for both recreation and safe travel.

T.A. is working hard to help the NYPD adapt to New York's changing streetscape and we're keeping up with the latest developments in traffic enforcement thanks to T.A. initiatives like the recent Saving Lives Through Better Information Bill and our current FOIL requests for NYPD data on cyclist summonses. Look for best practices like NYPD officers patrolling on bicycles and targeted Give Respect/Get Respect outreach as signs of T.A.'s tireless advocacy with the NYPD.

11. What is public bike share and when will New York City have a program of its own?

Public bike share is a way to give city residents more transit choices, by way of low-cost, public-use bicycles that are securely parked at automated kiosks located at public transit stops and other popular destinations.

New York City is currently pursuing a public bike share program of its own, with the goal of empowering New Yorkers with a new option on the menu of transportation methods available in New York City. The program is planned to be implemented in the spring of 2012 at no cost to taxpayers. If implemented, New York City's public bike share program will be the most extensive in the country and will empower New Yorkers with a new freedom of mobility for very little cost;annual membership in the program would cost less than one monthly Metrocard.

For years, T.A. has advocated for a public bike share program as a means to better integrate bicycling into the Big Apple's world-renowned public transportation network and to give New Yorkers more public transit options. You can find very useful information about the community planning and implementation process for the New York public bike share program on the Department of Transportation's website.

12. How can I support more bicycling in New York City?

Join T.A. Our advocacy depends on financial support from New Yorkers like you. Our members help produce our campaigns and bring about real change on NYC streets. Join at whatever level makes sense for you, and be part of the solution, creating safer streets and a better city for bicycling.

Declare yourself a New Yorker For Bicycling. By doing so you will be joining the tens of thousands of voices who agree that more bicycling is good for New York City! It will also ensure that you stay up-to-date on the ways you can be involved in the community process that helps win safer streets for biking in New York.

Take a minute to find the contact information for your Community Board and City Council Member. More biking and safer streets in your neighborhood start with your voice, so share your priorities with the people representing you, today.