Bike commuting lags in New York City

By bike numbers remain low despite the Big Apple’s efforts

In the Big Apple millions of people commute to and from work every day. Unfortunately, far fewer New York City commuters use bikes for daily transit.

According to a recent study conducted by Rutgers University and Virginia Tech, bicycle commuting only increased from 0.3 percent in 1990 to 0.6 percent in 2009. This is despite the fact that the city has 666 miles of bike lanes and dedicated bike paths (as of 2009), more than any other US city.

So what is keeping people off bikes?

Unlike many other large US cities, New York has excellent mass transportation with commuter railroads that bring in people from the suburbs. Once in the city subways make it easy for people to move up, down and all around town. This is in addition to the city’s buses and even ferries. Factor in personal cars, limousines and taxis and it isn’t really hard to understand why fewer people on average ever ride a bike to work.

One of the biggest deterrents to bike riding seems to be the lack of room for bikes. New York City residents typically don’t have large apartments, meaning that those that do ride often have just one or two higher end bicycles. Compounding issues for commuters, few office buildings allow bikes through the lobby, and tight office space means bikes need to remain locked outside, which highlights another major problem—theft.

While violent crime and even petty robberies are not the problems they were in years past, bikes are still stolen each year in record numbers. “There is no lock in existence that would tempt me into leaving my Titanium Litespeed or my custom steel touring bike chained to a lamp post on the streets of NYC,” says New York Cycling Club president Ellen Jaffe.

Solutions by and for bike commuters

Those that do commute on bikes typically say that a good “beater” bike is the best option. Grace Lichtenstein says she commutes from West 72nd Street to East 125th Street on her beater, so as not to risk her good road bike during the daily trek. Her commute, which takes her up and across town, is mostly against the traditional flow during rush hour, a bonus most commuters don’t share.

But even this doesn’t mean it is always an easy commute, although she says things are improving. The additions of bike lanes have made it safer for commuters’ citywide. The New York City government note that the number of fatal cycling crashes and serious injuries have dropped since the introduction of new bike lanes.

BikeRadar writer, Peter Suciu, spent close to two decades riding and bike commuting in the Big Apple; he now lives in Michigan

“Hazardous car, truck and taxi conduct is still a key concern,” says Lichtenstein, adding that there is a new worry. “The police ticketing blitz in Central Park. This spoils the good vibes that the budding trees, fresh air and birdsongs normally make this such a lovely experience.”

The other situation is that New York has many “business” neighborhoods from the financial district to mid-town, and all destinations in between, but no central location where cyclists can safely store bikes. Instead, most riders make use of the occasional rack or worse those aforementioned lampposts. In Lichtenstein’s case, she was given permission from her office-building owner to lock the bike in the truck bay.

Fortunately, this could change as the Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law aims to increase bicycle commuting by providing cyclists with the opportunity to securely park their bicycles in or close to their workplaces.

The final issue for bicycle commuters in New York is getting Mother Nature to play along. Jaffe notes that winter weather is another “big deterrent, especially the one the city just endured.”

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