Monday, April 26, 2010

Bike Lanes Are To Cycles As Roads Are To Cars

A wise man (who also happens to be a former State Assemblyman) once told me that as far as transit in New York City goes, bikes are insignificant and that we should not dedicate as many resources as we do for them. To put the comment into context, we were discussing the newest bike lines that have a curb separating them from the avenue, such as the one on 9th Ave above 14th Street. I remembered that conversation this morning when I read the about the latest study showing that more than 200,000 New Yorkers now cycle for their commute.

From The NY Times:

Build it and they will ride. That’s the message conveyed in the latest annual estimate of the number of bicyclists in New York City by Transportation Alternatives, which found roughly 236,000 New Yorkers riding each day in 2009, up 28 percent from 185,000 daily riders the year before.

Total miles traveled by bike in the city also rose by about the same amount, to 1.8 million miles from 1.4 million miles, according to the estimate, with the vast majority of those miles traveled by commuters or recreational cyclists.

While the count also includes commercial riders such as bike messengers and food-delivery cyclists, Transportation Alternatives calculates that such riders travel only about 5 percent of the total miles, with non-commercial riders making up 95 percent of bike traffic on city streets.

Simple math will also tell you that 236,000 cyclists equals out to roughly 2.86 percent of all New Yorkers. The wise man seems to be proven correct. However, when you take out the elderly, young children and those that work from home, that percentage is bound to rise considerably. Furthermore, the increase in ridership correlates to the ever-expanding bike lanes and general accessibility to get around the city via bicycle.

Besides the reluctance for many to physically exert themselves more than necessary in order to get from Point A to Point B, the fear of being hit by a car is considerable, especially when one passes a ghost bike. Therefore as our streets are continually designed more in favor of those that pedal, the more people will be inclined to get on that bike.

At one time Manhattan was full of horses pulling people to and fro. The bumpy streets were not conducive to cars as they became popular a century ago. Yet city planners figured out that smooth roads helped the automobile and usage increased (as anyone can tell that tries to transverse a tunnel during rush hour can attest to). The very same thing can be said about bicycling in the 21st century. Not that we should only focus on bikes, mass transit is crucial as well, but promoting bicycles as a viable transportation alternative is definitely a good thing for us all.