DCP Report Adds Another Wrinkle to Measurements of NYC Cycling

SecondandSeventh.pngThe number of cyclists on the Second Avenue bike lane, at 7th Street, has been on the rise. Image: DCP

More New Yorkers are riding bikes than ever, but a new report from the Department of City Planning further complicates the effort to precisely determine how much cycling has taken off. The report, which looks only at cycling in Manhattan bike lanes from 2001 to 2008, shows a significantly slower rate of growth than estimates based on other measurements.

To develop its report, DCP tracked the number of cyclists using ten on-street bike lanes and seven points along the greenway system over the course of a fall day. From 2001 to 2008, use of the on-street lanes increased by 30 percent. Along the greenways, the number of cyclists grew by 26 percent from 2002 to 2008. The report was completed in June 2009 but didn’t appear online until this summer.

The observed growth in use of Manhattan bike routes is far below other estimates of cycling citywide. Commuter cycling increased 150 percent between 2001 and 2008, according to measurements by NYCDOT [PDF]. The U.S. Census, too, recorded a faster increase based on interviews through its American Community Survey. “Although the American Community Survey has been criticized for underestimating the growth in cycling in New York City,” said Rutgers professor John Pucher, “its growth rate is twice as high as the rate estimated by DCP.”

Of course, each of these data sets captures different information. DCP looked at older bike lanes along the length of Manhattan, many of which are not up to present-day standards. DOT’s count captures cyclist volumes from April to October and is largely based on the number of cyclists crossing the East River bridges, which connect neighborhoods with some of the largest concentrations of cyclists and with well-developed bike infrastructure. ACS data covers the entire city, but only counts those who use the bike as their primary mode of commuting, erasing those who bike part-time, or for local errands.

A DCP spokesperson said that although different methodologies yield different results, the important thing is that cycling is up in New York City. Moreover, she noted, the report adds yet more evidence that installing bike facilities increases ridership, a fact which she said will inform the department’s bike planning efforts.

Transportation Alternatives’ Noah Budnick said the disparities between estimates of cycling growth highlight the fact that “data has never really been collected on cycling, and people are still trying to figure out how to do it.” He also emphasized that the absolute number of cyclists on the greenways was significantly higher than on parallel on-street lanes. “Cyclists really love protected space,” he said.

In addition to the counts on specific corridors, DCP’s study sheds some light on who uses Manhattan’s bike lanes, where, and how. Over the whole period studied, for example, there were six times as many men using on-street bike lanes as women. But the gender split has been declining every year since 2003, and is far smaller on the greenways, where around one third of riders are women.

“The rising percentage of women cyclists in NYC is encouraging, but it’s still a long way toward the 50/50 gender split among cyclists in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands,” said Pucher. “The DOT policy of improving cycling facilities and providing greater separation from motor vehicle traffic is definitely the right policy for encouraging more cycling by all groups.”

ACP113ModeSplit.pngSidewalk riding and wrong way cycling were much more common at Adam Clayton Powell and 113th Street in 2001 than in 2008. Graphic: DCP

DCP’s data also reveal the anarchy on many New York City streets. Unprotected bike lanes were repeatedly obstructed; nearly a full page of the report is dedicated to listing the variety of vehicles blocking the Broadway bike lane.

As for cyclist behavior, the frequency of riding against the flow of traffic varied from two to 11 percent on different corridors over course of the study, with salmon being more common in buffered lanes. During the study period, the overall number of cyclists observed riding on the sidewalk declined from 3.6 percent to 2.6 percent. The reduction in conflict between cyclists and pedestrians may also be attributed to better bike infrastructure. Riding on the sidewalk dropped by 84 percent on both Ninth Avenue and Grand Street after the installation of protected bike lanes, according to DOT statistics.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    And I still say – until some agencies start trying to tally the numbers of cyclists on weekends along major bike routes, then we are still missing a huge part of the story. Year after year in Brooklyn I’d see more cyclists than the previous one, but especially on weekends – people just cruising along, riding to parks, running errands, or exercising. One can note: that not everyone has access to secure bike parking at work, or has the additional time it might take to get to their job, or showering facilities, so no matter how safe – that will keep an upper limit on cycling until solved. But the weekends where traffic is slower and less hectic, and families and people have more time on their hands, cycling is way up! Almost anytime on the weekend on Kent Avenue in Brooklyn you’ll see more cyclists than cars.

  • It’s true, Clarence. From dawn to dusk on the Hudson River Greenway, each weekend, it’s PACKED with cyclists, from way downtown to Harlem and points north. Many of these folks are weekend riders only, but many I think will ride more frequently during the week as more paths/lanes/routes are demarcated for cyclists. That’s the switch that happens one by one by one – someone who bikes once in a while feels safe and happy, and does it again, and again, until they are a “regular cyclist.”
    I actually trace my reinvigorated cycling in New York to the first Summer Streets two years ago. After that great event I began biking to school, then became a member of Transportation Alternatives, then, when I began working in Brooklyn, eventually became a regular long distance bike commuter (Flatbush to Harlem!)
    But it really began with one peaceful happy ride to convince me that biking in New York wasn’t just for the adventurous thrill seeker types.
    That’s the essence of what bike lanes do – think Copenhagen, again. Some cyclists ride fast but most just ride medium speed. Not a thrill seeking activity, just a way to get from here to there, and safely.
    Each year as we build out our bike infrastructure, the word will spread that yes, it’s safe and pleasant to ride in New York City.
    I find myself explaining this message to friends and colleagues all the time. Some believe me and some don’t. But for skeptics, a nice weekend ride or a summer streets ride sure is a good beginning.

  • Shemp

    Brilliant T.A. response to 7 years of data compilation – “data has never been collected”

  • Ed Ravin

    Shemp, what TA probably meant was that “data has never been CONSISTENTLY collected” on bicycling. And if you want to compare from year to year or between different studies, you need consistent data collection methods and standards. For example, NYC DoT collects gobs of data on motor vehicle traffic, but as far as I know all the automate counter boxes they put in the street do not register cyclists. It’s even worse for pedestrians.

  • I know everyone wants to look at Copenhagen, but we also have a North American city to view — Montreal. Maybe it is the protected bike lanes that make one feel safe on a bike there, or maybe it is the density of Bixi Rental Bike kiosks, that make it easy to take trips anywhere and know you can return a bike. But it is enough to get non-bikers on a bike.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Since we’re on the subject of measuring cycling, is anyone aware of empirical research showing an association between lowering barriers to e-assist bicycles (whether regulatory or cost barriers) and increased e-cycling by non-commercial cyclists? Would prefer to see serious research, but I expect there is little, so would settle for informed anecdotal insights. Thanks!

  • Cantor Ben Kintisch

    Westchesterite:

    Agreed wholeharetedly. Paris and Montreal both saw huge spikes in biking when a vigorous and well marketed bike share program went in.
    Despite some nice new laws re: bike parking (bikes in buildings/parking garages) lots of people are still nervous about using there own bikes in the city for fear of theft.
    Or, like yourself (?) they are suburbanites who come in via car or transit, but then would be happy to use a bike share for short trips. A great example of this is the thousands of people who take the LIRR in to Penn Station and then double back on foot, bus, or subway back east across Manhattan.
    For those suburban (read: in suits..)commuters to feel like biking is a good option, you really need available bike share at the big transit hubs, and good bike lanes that make them feel safe despite the hectic midtown traffic.
    And yes all of us full time residents will be happy to use a steadily growing bike infrastructure network.

    Btw, I just returned from Barcelona, which has a newish but very popular bike share program. I found myself watching enviously as residents used the bikes day and night, with docking stations everywhere. Can you imagine replacing your shortish $10/15 cab fares for going out with a free or very cheap ride on a bikeshare bike?

    Bikeshare in Paris has really been the fastest revolution of all.

  • MinNY

    I’d love to see the 2009 statistics. There’s a big jump from 2007 to 2008…right when the city really started to get serious about adding bike lanes (and connecting them) …and I suspect there may be a similar jump from 2008 to 2009.

  • Birdman

    The measured increase in cycling in NYC’s new bike facilities is less than the increase measured by other means. There is no evidence here to support the conclusion that bike lanes are affecting the rate of ridership. What we do have is a general increase in cycling combined with “I think bike lanes are nice,” which is a pretty unscientific analysis. We can’t pretend these numbers show a relationship where there is none.

  • dave

    I’m all for bike ridership increasing but isn’t the important question what mode these riders are switching from? It would be much more interesting if these were car drivers switching to bikes (unlikely) than if they are former pedestrians / subway / bus riders.

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