Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities – New York
Our biennial ranking of the 50 most cycling-friendly cities in the United States finds that bikes are taking the nation by storm—and not just in the expected places. Read on to find out how your city fared this year.
Population 8,336,697, 2012 Rank 7, Bike Facilities 0.6, People per Bike-Share 1,389, Bicycle-Friendly Business 2, Safety Score 6.4.
On the bowed Williamsburg Bridge above the East River, I finally experience what so many New York cyclists have told me. On my bike I’m not beholden to the paucity of parking, exorbitant cab fees, rat-infested subway tunnels. The turrets of the modern kingdom, Manhattan, splay out before me. I feel as if I own New York.
When I arrived in this incredible but complicated city to conduct the final stage of research for our Best Cities rankings, I had my doubts. The world knows (and loves) New York for many things. But cycling? I don’t think so. Over the course of four days here, though, the more I rode, and the more New Yorkers I spoke to, the more I understood. At a party, a nurse talked to me about freedom: freedom to go exactly where she wants, when she wants—only faster. Then she swung her leg over a vintage Fuji and headed out into the rainy night. “Eeeasy,” said a trim British man behind the counter at Sid’s Bikes NYC in Chelsea. “Especially compared with London.” A retired bike messenger and alley-cat race promoter told me that simply riding a bike in New York today is so much better than just five years ago.
Over the last few years across the United States, numerous cities have made cycling improvements, but none has done as much as quickly as New York. In 2008, powerful and moneyed naysayers scoffed when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious plan to transform New York’s mean streets and reclaim them for people instead of cars. Gallons of green paint were spilled to create a citywide welcome zone for cyclists. There are now more than 350 miles of new bike lanes, many of them barricaded from traffic by concrete and parking lanes, encouraging even casual cyclists to ride up Broadway and through a car-free Times Square. Flickering bicycle traffic lights usher packs of commuters across intersections. And more than 96,000 annual members subscribe to the nation’s biggest bike share, Citi Bike.
Ridership stats are impressive. Between 2007 and 2011, the city doubled the number of bike commuters on its streets. According to the U.S. Census, the one percent of New York City commuters who ride to work comprises the largest population of bike commuters (a total of 36,496) in the country. Thousands more New York cyclists (not counted by the Census) use both bikes and public transit on their daily commutes. By 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio vows, bicycling will comprise 6 percent of all trips in the city.
In this metropolis of more than 8 million people, where fewer than half the residents own cars, cycling has long made sense. Congested streets and packed subways mean bikes are often the quickest method of travel from point A to B. But for decades, a car-oriented mindset made quality bike lanes, paths, and bridges an afterthought. A hundred years ago, spectators packed Madison Square Garden to watch six-day bicycle races. By the 1950s, the pastime had disappeared. A national infatuation with automobiles, along with the car-loving policies of highway baron Robert Moses, which categorized bicycles as toys rather than vehicles, nearly made cycling in NYC extinct. Only the brave or the desperate—messengers, deliverymen, and determined enthusiasts—dared to get around by bike.
Even as they choked on exhaust, New York’s cycling advocates fought back. In 1973 they founded Transportation Alternatives, and hailed the installation of protected bike lanes on Broadway and 6th Avenue in 1980 (though they were torn out a month later after Mayor Ed Koch yielded to protesters). In 1987, advocates rallied the masses to defeat a bike ban in midtown, and in 1991 cyclists finally regained access to the Queensboro Bridge after Transportation Alternatives members, including the organization’s director, Jon Orcutt, blocked traffic with their bikes and welcomed arrest.
But only after witnessing the transformations in quality of life—and the acclaim that followed—in bike-friendly international rivals like Paris and London did city leaders truly begin to take cycling seriously. In 2007, a visionary and forceful transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan—who commuted by bike from the West Village to City Hall—set about reshaping New York into a city in which everyone could peacefully coexist. She hired Orcutt, the aforementioned advocate, as policy director of the NYC Department of Transportation. In lieu of drawn-out planning studies, she installed experimental infrastructure using temporary paint and pylons. (When critical voices arose, she shot back, “It’s just paint.”)
Every August, Sadik-Khan closed seven miles of Manhattan to cars and invited walkers, runners, cyclists, adults, children, even pets, to play on Park Avenue as part of an ongoing Summer Streets initiative. The open-streets festival won the hearts and minds of NYC residents. When the tabloids inevitably attacked, Sadik-Khan pointed to independent polls showing that 64 percent of New Yorkers supported bike lanes. Bike riders rejoiced, but a final fight remained.
On a blustery March afternoon, I arrive at the Prospect Park West bike lane in Brooklyn. It was here in 2010 that a minority of angry residents, including a former head of the DOT, labeled this 0.9-mile protected lane as an eyesore and a threat to the elderly. They filed suit, ordering its removal. Protests pitted retirees wielding anti-bike-lane placards against helmet-clad parents and children. The media went berserk. The Guardian online said the bike lane, “could affect the future of cycling worldwide.” The Brooklyn Paper called it, “the most controversial slab of cement outside of the Gaza Strip.”
Only in a city as iconic as New York does a battle over a bike lane become international news. And therein lies one of the major reasons BICYCLING chose the Big Apple as this year’s number one. Success here, we strongly believe, will radically speed up the spread of bike share and cycling culture across the country. Though I arrive at the scene of the infamous backlash with visions of riot police and smoldering ruins, the bike lane remains. The picketers are gone. Today injuries from crashes for all users are down 63 percent; speeding, 74 percent. At rush hour, traffic flows instead of jamming. Amongst local cyclists, I fail to detect a hint of lingering resentment. “What do you think of this bike lane?” I ask a woman pedaling beside me.
“I love it,” she says, looking at me like, Duh!
Not everyone finds riding in NYC so idyllic. I meet with blogger (and BICYCLING columnist) Eben Weiss, aka Bike Snob NYC. “Show me New York’s underbelly,” I tell him. Rolling through Central Park, Weiss points out where a cop once tackled Lance Armstrong for riding on the sidewalk. En route to Harlem we swerve around limos parked in a bike lane and teenagers walking three abreast in the bike path.
“Typical,” says Snob. Yes, as one city official told me, “It’s still New York.” But a new initiative, Vision Zero, aims to declaw the lingering culture of roadway lawlessness. The program, which originated in Sweden, dropped citywide speed limits to 25 mph and increased ticketing. In 2013, the nonprofit Bike New York taught free safety and street-skills courses to 16,000 New Yorkers, filling the new bike lanes with law-abiding “roll” models.
The city’s transformation continues. Along the Harlem River, Weiss points out one literal underbelly: Above us, New York’s oldest river crossing, the High Bridge—once part of an aqueduct—is undergoing a $62 million bike-ped restoration. Weiss says with satisfaction, “Soon, we’ll be able to ride up there.”
On my last night in New York, in the cold rain at the Red Hook Criterium, dozens of men and women race track bikes—which neither coast nor brake—around the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. A few hundred spectators huddle along the railing, passing around flasks. Racers and industry reps who’ve come from as far as Montreal and Italy tell me that last year (in better weather) fans lined this course 10 deep.
The crowds that once filled the Garden for track races are back a century later in Red Hook. Why here, why now? A tan PR man from California tells me that the Red Hook Crit is unique: It’s at night, it’s the zeitgeist of urban cycling, and it’s intriguing to both utilitarian cyclists and core bike racers. Then he softens his tone and leans in. As if to explain everything, he says, “It’s New York.” Reporting by Molly Hurford
Great Bike Shops
With locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Bicycle Habitat has a friendly repair staff and lots of useful gear aimed at commuters.
NYC Velo in the East Village is an independent, family-run shop that caters to commuters, mountain bikers, and serious road racers alike.
Ride Brooklyn has a wide selection of bikes in Williamsburg and Park Slope and friendly, approachable mechanics. They’ve also been huge supporters of Brooklyn Bike Park, an off-road mountain bike park and pump track.
At the Rapha Cycle Club in the Meatpacking District, you’ll find members of the cycling community meeting for rides or watching vintage racing films over bacon-encrusted pastries. Browse high-end cycling gear or just hang out and drink beer or coffee.
New York Cycle Club is an all-volunteer recreational cycling organization that puts on rides, spring training programs, and events in the tri-state area.
Reclaim the streets for two-wheeled and two-legged travel by joining Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy organization dedicated to improving infrastructure for cycling and walking in NYC.
With 32,000 participants, the Five Boro Bike Tour is one of the largest cycling events in North America, and takes you through car-free streets on Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.
Prefer a smaller crowd? The NYC Century Bike Tour claims to be as challenging or relaxing as you make it. Tour the diverse neighborhoods of NYC with 6,000 of your closest friends, as you cruise through Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.
Head out from the Brooklyn Bridge to Rockaway Beach in Queens on the Flatbush Avenue Bike Path, and continue north to Oceanside.
Additional reporting by Caitlin Giddings
Thousands more New York cyclists (not counted by the Census) use both bikes and public transit on their daily commutes. By 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio vows, bicycling will comprise 6 percent of all trips in the city.
BENEFITS OF AN ELECTRIC BIKE
Riding electric bikes, great therapy for “Eternal Youth” bring back time and feel like a teenager again, there is not limits on where you can go or what you can see.
- “Easier Travel” They’re revolutionizing urban transit.
- “Core Strengthening” Solid workout, especially for your core.
- “Lighter Carbon Footprint” Electric cycling doesn’t consume gas.
- “More Savings” Does not required special licensing.