Digging Into the New Report on New York City Cycling

Picture_4.pngWhere bike commuters live, according to Census data compiled by the authors of a new report on New York City cycling.

As we mentioned yesterday, a team led by Rutgers professor John Pucher just released a major piece of research on the state of cycling, bike infrastructure, and bike safety in New York. If you want to get a better sense of who bikes, where they ride, and how cycling is changing, you need to read "Cycling in New York City: Innovation at the Urban Frontier" [PDF].

Here are some of the highlights from the data marshaled by the authors. Many of these stats should help inform the public discussion of cycling and how to make it a safer and more appealing choice for New Yorkers. They do come with a caveat, since many figures are derived from different and imperfect sources. Census data understates the number of cyclists, for instance, while DOT’s screenline counts probably don’t represent citywide cycling rates. Trends and patterns are more reliable than any particular number. 

  • According to the Census, the number of New York City bike commuters increased 153 percent from 1990 to 2006-2008. DOT’s screenline indicator shows more rapid growth in cycling into the Manhattan core: an increase of 340 percent since 1990.
  • Brooklyn has overtaken Manhattan as the borough with the most residents commuting by bike, according to the Census. Bike commuting grew by 315 percent in Brooklyn from 1990-2008. Queens saw the second-biggest increase: 163 percent. But Manhattan still has the highest mode share of bike commuters — 1.0 percent (which probably understates the true number).
  • Census tallies indicate that more people choose to commute by bike in the densest parts of the city. Lower Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn have the highest rates of bike commuting. There are areas with comparably high bike commuting rates in East Harlem and the South Bronx. In southeastern Brooklyn, eastern Queens, most of the Bronx and all of Staten Island, the mode share for bike commuting is less than 0.3 percent, about the same as in the Jersey suburbs.
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  • Three-quarters of bike commuters are men, according to a 2007 report by the NYC Department of Health. That number is the same as in 1990. On off-street paths, the percentage of women cycling is three times higher than on on-street lanes and streets with sharrows.
  • Cycling rates decline with age: According to the same DOH report, 17 percent of New Yorkers aged 18-24 bike several times a month, compared to 10 percent of those 25-44, seven percent of those 45-64, and three percent of those 65 and over.
  • Income and education don’t seem to affect cycling rates. Among the poorest New Yorkers, 9.4 percent bike frequently. Among the highest earners, 9.8 percent. Among college graduates, 9.7 percent are frequent cyclists, compared to 10.6 percent of those without a high school diploma.
  • There are some notable variations in cycling by race and ethnicity. According to the breakdown compiled by the Census: 10.7 percent of non-Hispanic Whites identify as frequent cyclists, 9.5 percent of Hispanics, 6.7 percent of Asians, and 6.2 percent of Black non-Hispanics.
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  • Cycling is much safer now than a decade ago. Over
    the period between 1999-2001 and 2005-2007, severe injuries per 1,000
    bike commuters fells by 44 percent. Fatalities per 1,000 commuters fell
    20 percent.
  • To comprehensively improve cycling safety, you need to address wide roads and dangerous intersections. More than half of bike fatalities take place on wide arterials like Delancey Street or Atlantic Avenue, although that type of road comprises only 10 percent of New York city streets. In addition, 89 percent of fatalities and 70 percent of serious injuries take place at or near an intersection.
  • There were 600 public bike racks in 1996. In 2009, there were 6,100. Even so, New York has extremely low amounts of bike parking per capita compared to the 50 largest American cities.
  • New York is particularly behind on integrating bicycling with its transit system. The MTA provides no bike parking near subway stations (although the city does have racks near many). In contrast, the Chicago and San Francisco transit systems each provide more than 6,000 bike parking spaces. Outside New York, an average of three-quarters of city buses are equipped with bike racks. There are none on MTA buses.

The authors wrap up by assessing how New York compares to other American cities that have made a commitment to improving bicycling. "New York may someday become the best cycling city in America, but it does not yet deserve that status," they write. To earn that title, their top recommendations include installing more bike infrastructure outside of Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn, better integrating bikes with the transit system, and tighter NYPD enforcement of traffic laws.

What do you take away from this study? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • rlb

    “Census tallies indicate that more people choose to commute by bike in the densest parts of the city”

    By percentage, or total number?
    If by total number, this becomes kind of a pointless thing to say.
    If by percentage, it becomes inaccurate. The most densely populated census tract of the city is in Harlem just north of Manhattanville, and many of the top ten are in northwest Bronx along the BD and 4 lines. Neither one of those areas seems to have a very high rate.
    Northwest Brooklyn is not particularly dense by New York standards.

  • dumb question, but were there questions on the Census this year about bike commuting? I don’t remember any…? Maybe I filled out the wrong …Census form?

  • Glenn

    Go (Green) East Harlem!

  • RLB: the densest census tracts are all in Manhattan, with 2-3 exceptions. After the project in Hamilton Heights that’s the densest census tract nationwide, the densest tracts are mostly on the Upper East Side.

    But you’re right that outside Manhattan, Morris Heights and University Heights are the densest neighborhoods. Their only problem is that they’re not as densely populated with yuppies.

    Everyone: winning “best cycling city in America” is like winning the special Olympics.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The problem is, the census only measures journey to work, which is useful because it is the source of peak transportation demand. But it isn’t all trips, not hardly. And immigrants are undercounted.

    If the city wants this measured, it will have to do it itself.

  • rlb

    Alon
    More to the point: if the most densely populated neighborhood shows no particular affinity for cycling, and the neighborhood with the highest affinity for cycling is not particularly dense, what corroboration exists between density and cycling?
    Yuppie/hipster density, however, is definitely worth pursuing.

  • RLB: well, the Lower East Side ranks 3rd in density citywide, after the UES and UWS. But then again, it also contains the hipster-dominated East Village.

    Larry: this data comes from the American Community Survey, which uses sampling to correct the undercounting problem. It’s not from the decennial census. By law the only thing that has to be done with the census is Congressional and state legislative redistricting.

  • rlb

    Alon,
    I was referring to Census tracts whereas you seem to be referring to Community districts. Regardless, the UES and the UWS don’t really have an exceptional amount of cycling.
    I was trying to point out that density doesn’t really lead to a high percentage of cyclists. In fact, under usual circumstances (regular yuppie/hipster quotient) it probably results in a lower than average cylcership. This could be due to the fact that the density probably developed around adequate transit, and the high density probably results in very nearby amenities. A moderate density – a la northwest bk – combined with inadequate transit – Greenpoint! – are likely to encourage cycling. Yuppies not withstanding

  • Women are very intimidated by riding bicycles–for commuting, for recreation, for exercise. As more women ride and more education is offered to them, these numbers can increase. Better infrasture is needed, no doubt, but more education is also critical.

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