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New York City is the most populous city in the US, and one of the most significant not just nationally, but in the world. Known not just for its iconic landmarks such as Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, and Central Park, but for being the cultural hub of the United States, if not the entire West.
But beyond Broadway and Wall Street, there are new trends emerging. The trend of urban cycling can be seen globally, and NYC is no exception. Whilst congestion might come into mind when you think of transport in the city, cycling is becoming an increasingly popular way to travel, and people are indeed swapping four wheels for two.
In this article, we’ll look at cycling in New York, from statistics on ridership to viewpoints from interesting stakeholders. We’ll also look at if and how the city is becoming more accommodating to cyclists, and whether it’s really a safe place to cycle.
New York: The New Bike City?
NYC is not just a haven for Wall Street bankers and Broadway enthusiasts; it’s also emerged as a rising star among cycling cities. Beyond the realm of bike messengers, a thriving cycling culture is taking hold.
While most people regard the city that never sleeps as a place of car-fuelled congestion and pollution, this is actually changing, albeit slowly.
It is inarguable that cycling is better in NYC now than it was five years ago, but only marginally so. There are many miles of protected bike lanes, but they still do not form a cohesive network outside of the central parts of Manhattan and wealthier parts of Brooklyn.
Queens has seen some investments, too, but it is still far too unsafe to be a cyclist in New York City, where no administration has made a serious effort to reduce car use by, for example, dramatically bolstering bus service, creating massive pedestrianized zones, or making cycling truly safe and connected.
The pandemic opened up many people’s eyes to the potential of using the streets for more than just parking, which is how we got 10,000 restaurant dining areas in the curbside lane, plus nearly 100 miles of car-free (well, technically car-light because autos could still use these streets) streets, which we call “open streets” here. Many of those achievements have faded as car owners — and there are way more of them since the pandemic — are demanding that space back, claiming it is theirs.”
Bicycle Usage in New York (Statistics)
When it comes to bicycle usage in New York, it’s clear that there’s been significant growth. Cycling is becoming increasingly popular as a means of transport in the city.
- 30% of adult New Yorkers ride a bike (approximately 1.9 million people). (Cities Today)
- On a typical day, there are 550,000 cycling trips across the city. (Cities Today)
- Approximately 900,000 people in the city ride a bike regularly. (NYC Dot)
- There’s been a 20% growth in daily cycling between 2016 and 2021. (NYC Dot)
- Commuting to work by bicycle has increased 5x faster than its peer city average across the USA. (Bike Legal Firm)(NYC Dot)
- The annual number of cycling trips in the city has more than doubled between 2011 and 2021 (98.6 – 200.8 million) (NYC Dot)
- Most boroughs have seen a consistent increase over the last few years, apart from Staten Island, which records a drop from 650,000 in 2019 to 125,000 in 2021. (NYC Dot)
- There are an estimated 1.5-1.9 million cyclists in the city. (Tufts University) (NYC Mayor’s Office)
- There are over 27,000 bikes on the city’s Citi Bike scheme. (Bike Legal Firm)
- Unfortunately, there are no available statistics on the exact number of bikes in New York, but considering how many cyclists there are in New York we can make reasonable assumptions.
Cycling Infrastructure in New York
Cycling infrastructure in New York has been improving, gradually, but not fast enough.
Probably the most significant investment in infrastructure is via the Open Streets program. The program aims to transform streets into public spaces for all, promoting activities that don’t just provide economic benefits, but also social, educational, and cultural ones.
But this hasn’t been plain sailing for the cyclists’. As Kuntzman notes, there’s clearly significant tension between drivers and other road users, partly due to the history of car ‘dominance’ in the city.
There’s also been other attempts made to improve the life of cyclists. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has pledged to increase the number of bus lane cameras which aim to catch drivers who violate laws on the road, protecting not just cyclists but other vulnerable road users too.
As with other cities, it seems to be the case that improving the infrastructure in the city will subsequently result in more people trading in four wheels for two. Knowing the car dependency of people in the states, however, this won’t be without resistance.
It’s reassuring to see the pledges outlined by Mayor Adams and the city council, and it will be interesting to see these promises unfold in the near future.
Bike Lanes in New York
Whilst there’s been significant investment in infrastructure in NYC, a large amount of that has been pledged to cycle infrastructure, more specifically bike lanes, and greenways.
- There are over 1500 miles (2414 km) of bike lanes in NY. (NYC Dot)
- There’s a comprehensive NYC Bike Lane Map here.
- The NYC Department of Transport is planning even further expansion from 2023 onwards.
- As of writing, 35.4 of the 250 required miles of bike path pledged for 2026 have been installed. (Projects Transalt)
New York Spend on Cycling
As sustainability takes center stage, cities around the world strive to invest in cycling infrastructure. New York City is no exception.
- According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York is promising over $285 million dollars. (NYC Streets Blog)
- Mayor Adams pledged an investment of more than $900 million in traffic safety. (NYC.GOV)
According to many cyclists in the city, a significant barrier to safe riding is illegal parking. One proposal has been to financially incentivise public reporting of parking that blocks bike lanes, however, this is still yet to be confirmed.
Cycling Rules in New York
Whilst there aren’t seemingly any cycling rules specific to NYC, the Department of Transport has clearly reiterated some that are frequently abused.
- No cycling on sidewalks for adults.
- No parking of bikes in designated bike lanes.
- Cyclists must keep their hands on the bars when cycling.
- Use marked bike lanes/paths when available (if not obstructed).
- Ride with traffic, not against it.
- Use a white headlight and a red tail light.
Is New York Investing in Urban Mobility?
Like many other cities, New York is investing heavily in urban mobility. This is important for a city where despite cars only having a modal share of 28%, they contribute to 68% of transport emissions.
In 2023, the city pledged to improve infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists alike. There have also been pledges to improve the already substantial public transport system.
- Urban mobility emissions are reducing (due to public transport principally), but not enough to meet the 2030 climate targets. (Oliver Wyman Forum)
- In 2023 $35 million was pledged in order to expand 12 subway lines. (Oliver Wyman Forum)
- The MTA budget for transportation in 2023 was $19.2 billion. (NYC GOV)
- Over $51 billion was pledged in 2020 as part of a five-year plan to modernise the city’s public transport services. (We Build Value)
Is Cycling in New York Safe?
The safety of cyclists is a concern for any major city, and for one like New York which has so many motorised vehicles (and people), it’s a particularly challenging one.
In 2014, the DOT implemented its Vision Zero task force which aims to monitor, record, and ultimately reduce the number of fatalities on the roads for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s a strategy that takes inspiration from major cities, such as Oslo or San Francisco. Whilst it’s an ongoing struggle, it’s this sort of assessment that helps to make the roads a safer place.
- A cyclist in NY is 25 times more likely to die than a cyclist in Vancouver. (Vice)
Time will tell whether New York will become the safe cycling paradise of the future, but one thing is for sure, it’s definitely got a long way to go.
Cycling Accidents in New York
Given NYC’s reputation as notoriously ‘not bike-friendly‘, it’s probably not surprising to find out that the first seven months of 2023 were actually the deadliest opening half of a year on record for cyclists.
Any death on a bicycle is a tragedy, but 20 deaths from January to August is bad even by the city’s standards.
Critics have claimed that the Mayor has ‘shown a willingness to sacrifice the safety’ of cyclists by delaying measures that would benefit cyclists, such as some protected bike lanes. Reportedly, this is due to pressure from loud opposition.
It seems that at least some car users are expressing their desire to reclaim the roads, and it’s potentially these voices that are heard at the expense of the safety of vulnerable road users.
- 4.5% of traffic fatalities in the state of New York were cyclists, twice as many statistically as the National Average. (Cellino Law)
- 17 cyclists were killed on the roads of the city in 2020. (Cellino Law)
- In 2021, almost 95% of bicycle-related injuries involved a car. (Bike Legal Firm)
Bicycle Theft in New York
When it comes to bike theft, New York is particularly bad. Due to space restrictions inside small apartments and a lack of parking facilities outside, people are forced to lock their bikes on the streets or in the communal areas of apartment buildings overnight, making them particularly vulnerable.
- 15,000 bikes are reported stolen in NYC each year. It’s estimated that 80% are unreported, meaning the real figure for stolen bikes is probably closer to 75,000. (Bicycle Habitat)
- During the pandemic period, bike theft was up 27% (due in part to increased ownership). (NY Times)
This is one aspect that is particularly difficult to address. Apartments aren’t going to increase in size, and with space already an issue, where can these bikes go?
Is New York Bicycle-Friendly?
Although there’s been a boom in popularity in New York and infrastructure is continuing to improve, the city is still not entirely bike-friendly.
There’s no getting around the issues of safety and theft, which both continue to pose problems for cyclists on a day-to-day basis.
There’s also a huge disparity between the boroughs. Whilst the East Village and Greenwich Village in Manhattan are well served when it comes to protected bike lanes and Citi Bike stations, Brooklyn suffers from 40% of bicycle related injuries as well as the most fatalities of any borough.
If you’re considering cycling in New York, familiarise yourself with your route, obey the traffic rules, and wear a helmet.
A New York Cycling Revolution?
Whilst challenges remain, New York is experiencing a cycling revolution of sorts, especially compared to other cities in America.
There’s been an undeniable improvement in the conditions for cyclists, especially in the infrastructure available to them, as well as the number of bike lanes specifically.
Ridership is up and fatalities and accidents are, on the whole, steadily declining. More attention is being paid to cyclists, and more people are considering cycling as an alternative means of transport, albeit depending on which borough they’re in.
If the Mayor and the DOT of New York do what they set out to in their pledges, then we could expect to see vast improvements across the board for cyclists in the city. Until then, we’ll have to wait and see.