Count on It: NYC Bike Commuting Climbs 26 Percent

bike_count_graph.jpgThe screenline count has risen dramatically since 2007. Graphic: NYCDOT (PDF)

Here’s one indicator that’s looking pretty recession-proof: New York City bike commuting shot up 26 percent in 2009, according to data released today by the Department of Transportation. The increase marks the second straight year of robust cycling growth in the city. Last year bike commuting rose 35 percent.

The new counts bolster the evidence linking safer bikeways to increased cycling. New York’s bike network expanded significantly in the past 12 months, including protected paths on Broadway, Eighth Avenue, the Sands Street approach to the Manhattan Bridge, Allen Street, and Kent Avenue in Williamsburg.

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan touted these improvements in announcing the new stats. "Cycling in the city continues growing rapidly as our bike network expands and becomes safer," she said in a statement.

The agency measures bike commuting by counting cyclists crossing 50th Street on the Hudson River Greenway, riding over the four East River bridges, and entering and exiting the Staten Island Ferry at Whitehall Terminal. Notably, cyclists riding across 50th Street on the avenues are not included in the count.

DOT staff tallied an average of 15,495 cyclists
crossing this zone on weekdays between April and October this year. On
one day in August, the bike count reached a peak of 18,223 cyclists.
(For more on the data and methodology behind the bike count, read this PDF.)

Stay tuned for a Streetfilm from Clarence on this promising development. It’s going to drop early tomorrow.

  • Not only is it nice to see the data increasing, but its also good to read about how theyre collecting more data…from once a year to 10 times.

  • Joe

    Wow, how much does L.A. Fail?

  • Since 1985, DOT has been conducting an annual 12 hour count of cyclists entering and existing the center of Manhattan. Known as the NYC Bicycle Screenline Count, it includes counts of cyclists crossing the four East River bridges, entering and exiting the Staten Island Ferry at the Whitehall Terminal and each avenue and the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street.

    Just want to double-check: this is cyclists going both directions between 7AM and 7PM? So a cyclist who goes over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan at 8:30 in the morning and goes back over the bridge at 5:30 in the evening counts as two cyclists?

  • J

    Angus, most engineering studies and counts like this measure trips, so yes, your commute would count as 2 trips. Also, the counts almost certainly count both directions.

    I am slightly concerned about the methodology, though. Since the indicator measures only commuter routes, what happens when, say, cycle tracks are installed on Columbus, Amsterdam, 1st & 2nd aves? These facilities would likely boost biking in general, but may actually draw people away from greenways to more direct routes. I know I’d take the cycle tracks, rather than going out of my way to the greenway, especially on the east side where the greenway sucks and shows few signs of progress. In the long term, more more would probably end up taking the greenways as more people bike in general, but in the short term the indicator may show biking decreasing. This is just a hypothetical question, and I’m interested to hear what people think.

  • J

    Also, this is fantastic, although not altogether unexpected news. This data is pretty striking proof of if you build it they will come. The cycling indicator graph shows the indicator from 1987 to 2009. You can tell the exact year that JSK came into office by the sharp and jump in cycling that continues this year.

  • J, I just realized that I overstated the case for a Brooklyn Bridge cycle track. I had doubled last year’s number, assumed some growth, assumed a similar number of pedestrians, and also assumed that both cycling and pedestrian use would further double if a car lane were converted to a cycle track. That would bring use up to 20,000 a day, not much less than the current estimated car volume of 24,000.

    If the full twelve-hour cycling volume is actually 2,294, then the daily volume is probably around 2500, which would mean that a cycle track plus the promenade would probably serve a total of 10,000 people per day. Still nothing to sneeze at, but not quite the open-and-shut case that it would be if it were 20,000 a day.

    In the PDF, they state that the main problem with counting cyclists on the city streets (which would include cycle tracks) is that there could be working cyclists, either messengers or food delivery cyclists, who would only be going a few blocks. You run the risk of counting them every time they cross the line, thus inflating the count.

  • Jamie

    If they’re just counting people crossing 50th Street on the Hudron River path, how do they know these are new riders, and not just prople that moved over from other,avenue routes that aren’t designated at bike paths? I always go the most direct route, and generally avoid bike paths where possible, since they’re a great place to get doored.

  • Bob

    “1. Value for Indicator comes from weekday 12 hour (7am-7pm) counts at 6 key NYC locations
    2. From 1985 until 2006, this count was taken only once per year. Due to volatility the “Value for Indicator” in this period is the three year rolling average of
    the current year’s count and the count of the prior and subsequent years
    3. The value for 2007 is the average of 3 counts taken in 2007 (in May, August & September)
    4. The value for 2008 and 2009 is the average of 10 counts taken between April and October”
    (Copy-pasted from page 1 of the PDF)

    From these notes, it seems that their methodology changed dramatically from 2006 to 2007, the most important change being likely the move from one count per year to 7+ counts per year. It could be that the increase in cycling is overstated because the one-count-per year method was getting inaccurate results– in other words, it could be that New York’s always had lots of cyclists but the old study format wasn’t getting good enough data. It’s notable that while the graph’s been increasing since 2000 or so, the really noticeable marked increase in the graph occurs right when they change methodologies.

    Also notice that the earlier years (up to 2006, again) are graphed as three-year rolling averages, making them look less volatile and more reliable than they probably are. This also contributes to the impression from the graph as a whole that 2007-9 are radically different years from years previous. Equally important, while this may seem self-evident, is that years 2007-9 are not plotted as rolling averages. If they were, they might not appear as dramatic.

    This isn’t to poo-poo the growth of cycling in NYC, which, from my personal and subjective experience, is definitely happening. Nor is it an attack on the NYCDOT, which is a great organization and which puts good resources into important research like this. But, that graph (and some of the other data in the report) definitely has the potential to be misleading, and the just-recently-bike-oriented DOT, which is being pressured from some directions to defend its bike infrastructure projects, does have a vested interest in demonstrating a link between infrastructure and ridership.

    (Copy-pasted from my post on Ecovelo.info, where I first saw this)

  • Awesome NYC! Wonder are there any stats for San Francisco?

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    If you can’t wait to get your Streetfilms fix until tomorrow:

    http://www.streetfilms.org/bicycling-is-up-again-in-the-big-apple/

    But Ben will put it up early….

  • Donnie Jeffcoat

    You know what’s also recession-proof? Fast food. Eat your heart out Bloomie.

  • Geck

    The 2007-2009 numbers used the same method and the trend is quite clear.

  • Marge

    Bob don’t get bogged down in details. Biking doubled the day JSK took office. Everybody knows that.

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