From Big City to Bike City: Our Work for Better City Cycling Conditions

We announced in these pages in 2019 that Bike New York was “adding its voice to efforts to produce more bike paths and protected bike lanes” because experience around the world shows that for many people to enjoy cycling, they need more separation from car traffic than New York offers today.


After all, what attracts 20,000 bike riders on one day each year? A 40-mile car-free route through the city!


They say great cities are never finished. That’s certainly true of forging a bike-friendly New York. But we can report real progress thanks to our engagement in direct conversations with city government and others on the policy problems holding back more bike use in New York City.


Most recently, Bike New York developed legislation to require the MTA to address bicycle access. Yes, there are seven bridges in New York that still exclude bicycle riding entirely — all managed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. At the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, you will enjoy views from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, but the rest of the year, biking on bridges owned by the MTA is no-go. Our proposal, now approved by the State Senate and Assembly, requires the MTA to create a strategic plan for bicycling to x this problem over time. It also points to the need for bike parking at train stations.


Earlier this year, we helped to shape city candidates’ transportation platforms and held the first-ever mayoral forum on bicycling on March 1. City Hall hopefuls said more about cycling than ever before. Democratic nominee Eric Adams has said he will create 300 miles of new protected bike lanes, though the devil will be in the details for the incoming administration in 2022.


We also saw breakthroughs from the current administration early this year. Two years of Bike New York pressure on the city to restore its bike rack program was answered when new transportation commissioner Hank Gutman announced in February that DOT would install 10,000 new racks. And Mayor de Blasio announced that traffic lanes on both the Brooklyn and Queensboro Bridges would be repurposed for bikes. We had worked with the City Council in 2019 to urge the city to find a solution to the Brooklyn Bridge’s overcrowded promenade, and with Transportation Alternatives to build support for separate lanes for bikes and pedestrians on the Queensboro.


Bike use in the city increased dramatically during the pandemic, and so far remains elevated at all-time highs. We know this in detail because Bike New York persuaded city government to release data from automated bike counters it has installed at 15 locations for the first time, beginning in January 2020. So we can report that biking on city bridges is fully 30% higher in June 2021 than it was in June 2019.


We can sustain and build on this growth in New York, but only with more bike-friendly streets. Bike New York is continually urging the city to improve its protected bike lanes. Too many of them are filled with parked or moving cars and trucks, and “protected” only by plastic posts that are easily and routinely destroyed by motor vehicles. The New York City Department of Transportation, the City Council, and mayoral hopefuls have so far committed to more miles of protected lanes. We need that commitment to be matched by one of better design.


We’re getting there, and we are getting faster on the journey from big city to bike city with your support and participation!


By Jon Orcutt, Director of Advocacy, Bike New York