By Victoria Vele, Social Media and Water Intern
The history of New York as a cycling city extends back to 1884 when the first bicycling path in the country was developed: the Ocean Parkway bike path in Brooklyn, which begins near the southeast corner of Prospect Park and ends in Coney Island. In the 20th century, however, parkway and bridge construction increased while the construction/use of bicycle lanes decreased. The truth of the matter was that automobiles were becoming a more popular option due to their affordability and timely convenience. Transportation was completely reinvented at this time and it can be assumed that since new transportation projects on highways and bridges did not allow for cyclists that their popularity dwindled in New York. However, there is still a strong cycling community today including commuters, delivery services, and messengers. New York, it turns out, has always been a bike town (Coyle 2010).
Although, paltry in numbers compared to other cities those who bike in New York are very strongly opinionated when it comes to advocating change in transportation laws, regulations, and a more integrated transportation system. It is this vocal group that is passionate about changing the way one can conveniently and efficiently travel through New York. Here is an example of what some envision as a safe and reliable design in a densely populated and built city such as New York. This improvement project on Allen and Pike Streets as presented by the National Association of City Transportation Officials shows just how New York can change in order to promote more cyclists.
New York needs to work on not only includes having more reliable biking lanes, but also creating a more inclusive cycling community. Cycling should attract all different age groups and experience levels as well as a more respectful dynamic between automobiles and cyclists. The notion that there is tension between cyclists and drivers is a battle that has been aggravated due to less then consistent bike lanes. Streets are dominated by cars and parking and bikers can be seen as an independent group that refuses to conform to the most popular form of transportation. Is it then possible to change driver’s mindsets by changing the transportation plan and design of a city? Drivers react to their ability to safely navigate from one location to another without stressful scenarios that could potentially cause accidents. In that sense, New York drivers not only need to navigate around pedestrians and reckless taxi cab drivers, but also “unpredictable” cyclists.
“To drivers, cyclists are seen as outcasts, miscreants of the community.
But really, we’re just trying to pave the way for a more sustainable New York.”
Katie Murphy, Cyclist
There is evidence to suggest that just putting down paint to create bike lanes next to fast moving traffic may not get the job done when it comes to changing driver’s opinions. In fact, a few low biking cities did have extensive bike lanes on major arterials, however, these cities have not been successful and never saw the biking numbers, or the safety benefits (Garrick, Marshall 2011).
Cities, including New York, have experienced recent success in increasing bike use – have often taken steps to reduce motor vehicle speeds and volumes on streets with bike facilities or bike facility crossings (Garrick, Marshall 2011). They have done this by reducing space for cars and adding space for bikes, and focused on providing safe opportunities for people on bikes to cross the busier roads.
As a cyclist and a driver I am sympathetic to both sides of this argument, but I also feel that even though a city may adopt bike friendly policies and more reliable bike lanes, that does not automatically make that city bike friendly. It’s something deeper then just policy; it’s the total mindset of a society. Drivers, pedestrians, and commuters a like need to realize that biking is not just another mode of transportation, but a transformative tool promoting public health, safety, livability, and a more environmentally friendly urban environment.
Some Articles of Interest:
Emily Bahr, Metropolis Magazine
Noah Kazis, Streetblog.org
Alan Durning, Grist
Norman W. Garrick & Wesley E. Marshall, Planetizen Blog