NYC Bike Count Continues Upward Trend in 2010 With 13 Percent Growth

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The DOT screenline count shows 2010 as the third consecutive year of rapid growth in cycling. Image: NYC DOT

Another year, another double-digit increase in the city’s cyclist count. DOT estimates that the number of cyclists riding into the center of the city jumped up 13 percent in 2010, continuing a three-year pattern of rapid growth [PDF].

In terms of absolute growth, 2010 marks the third-largest increase in the number of cyclists counted since DOT began counting in 1986. Only 2008 and 2009 showed larger gains, according to DOT, of 32 and 26 percent respectively. This year’s 13 percent jump is on top of that rapid growth. In total, the bike count is up 88 percent in the last three years.

“More people are riding their bikes, thanks to the new bike lanes now crisscrossing the city,” said Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White. “As the city continues to build out its biking network and add a bike-share system, we are certain that more New Yorkers will choose this affordable, healthy and non-polluting form of transportation.”

As always, remember that the screenline count has its pros and cons as a data set. DOT estimates the growth in cycling by counting bikes crossing 50th Street on the Hudson River Greenway, the four East River bridges, and on the Staten Island Ferry. That makes the screenline numbers the only annual data based on real, observed cycling, but the metric has been criticized for giving too much weight to the neighborhoods closest to those crossings and missing trends in the rest of the city.

Census data actually showed cycling decreasing citywide in 2008 and 2009, but the Census only measures people’s primary commuting mode, hiding those who only bike some of the time, or for non-commuting trips. To get a more complete picture, we’re anxiously awaiting the results of this year’s National Household Travel Survey, which, with a large sample and questions about both work and non-work trips, should help make things clear.

  • Shalom

    Out of 22 million people living in the greater New York area, only a mere 18,000 of us ride a bicycle daily? Should I laugh or cry?

  • Shalom,

    The screenline counts only measure the number of cyclists in a 12-hour period who enter Manhattan south of 50th Street using certain routes. so, for example, if you live in Queens, work at New York Hospital, and ride to work daily over the Ed Koch Bridge (59th St.), you don’t get counted. The count certainly doesn’t measure what’s going in the 22 million-person region.

    It’s primary value is as a longitudinal benchmark. To the extent people entering Manhattan below 50th street is a reliable benchmark of bicycling activity, that benchmark has shown an increase. But even in that respect it is somewhat flawed, because the screenline counting methodology changed materially at some point (around 2004, I think). Counts in the last several years used the same methodology, and should allow apples-to-apples comparisons.

    I think counting bicyclists, and especially, extrapolating from limited bicycle count data, is more tricky than most of us would think. Maybe that’s why I saw more than double the number of cyclists the Times reporter did last Monday morning, when the two of us were both, by a strange coincidence, counting cyclists.

  • Shemp

    This count does include the Queensboro Bridge. What it doesn’t count is someone riding from the East Village to NYU or from Williamsburg to any other place in Brooklyn, etc etc

  • BicyclesOnly

    Yep, you’re right Shemp. I was so excited about calling it the Ed Koch Bridge that I got confused.

  • I probably make four or five discreet bicycle trips in Brooklyn every day, but hardly ever cross a bridge.

    For anyone interested, here’s a link to a sunset time-lapse video that Tracy Collins shot on August 30th on 6th Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and what’s left of Pacific Street in the Atlantic Yards footprint. By my count, bicycles account for nearly one-third of the vehicles passing on 6th Avenue.

  • The graph doesn’t include the number of cyclists traveling between Brooklyn and Queens over the Pulaski bridge either. Not to mention the number of cyclists who commute between, say midtown just short of 50th Street and downtown Manhattan, or the number of bicycle commuters from upper Manhattan who exit the greenway before 50th street.

    There’s a clear bias towards inter-borough commuters. It certainly doesn’t include the number of cyclists who use the protected bike lanes on First, Second, Eighth, Ninth avenues and Broadway. Oh and the cyclists who commute through Central Park. It really is a just snapshot of the increase in cycling. Certainly not a panorama indicating the overall number of cyclists in New York City.

  • Joe R.

    I know it’s anecdotal, but the number of people I’ve seen cycling by me ( Flushing, in the vicinity of 164th Street and Jewel Avenue ) has increased HUGELY in the last five years, easily way more than the numbers in the chart. Moreover, 5 or 10 years ago it was mostly recreational cyclists. Now there are a fair number who appear to be using bikes as transportation ( as evidenced by things like book bags or groceries seen being carried, or bikes parked outside stores ). Even better, you see a fair number of cyclists even on very cold days, or well after dark. All this despite adding just some door-zone bike lanes on 164th Street and on Jewel Avenue in the last few years. The bike lanes on 73rd Avenue running from Main Street to 199th Street have existed since I moved here ( 1978 ), but were mainly used by recreational cyclists until recently. So any way you look at, the numbers are way up. It’s not just young people either. There’s a fair number of middle-aged and even elderly cyclists.

  • There is a huge number of cyclists commuting or just running errands within boroughs, Manhattan in particular, without touching any of the DOT control points. My guess is that the number would probably easily be double of what it is if those cyclists were somehow accounted for. There are large number of cyclists riding between downtown, Soho, East Village, Midtown, East Side (random examples), various NYU locations, all below 50th street and they never cross any bridges. Brooklyn is probably the second borough with great numbers of commuting and utility cyclists that are not accounted for.

    DOT should at least try to include cyclists crossing the 14th Street along all avenues and at least one busy point in each outer borough (like the mentioned Pulaski Bridge).

  • tom

    Lot of speculation about questioned numbers here. Isn’t the NYMTC doing an serious count? If not, plan now for an extensive kill-all-doubt count for next Spring. Scope it out, plan to cover enough locations city-wide with volunteers and provide accountability for the naysayers. Gotta’ happen sometime.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Plan now for an extensive kill-all-doubt count for next Spring. Scope it out, plan to cover enough locations city-wide with volunteers and provide accountability for the naysayers. Gotta’ happen sometime.”

    The only way I would expect an accurate estimate is a random door to door survey with N > 2,500 or so. Phone surveys are losing their accuracy because of the shift to cell phones, particularly among younger generations who are also more likely to use bicycles for transportation.

  • Agreed on phone surveys, however door to door surveys wouldn’t be accurate either as there are certain neighborhoods where cycling is more common than others. For example, in Maspeth, where I live, there are very few commuters or even recreational cyclists, mostly delivery guys on bikes. But once I cross over to Williamsburg there are cyclists everywhere.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Door to door surveys wouldn’t be accurate either as there are certain neighborhoods where cycling is more common than others.”

    You’d have to stratify it. You’d have some surveys from Maspeth and some from Williamsburg. There are people at City Planning who know how to do this.

  • CityHallMaven

    Truly: there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

    Although trumpeting a 13% increase per annum sounds impressive, in actuality it represents a mere increase of only 1,996 cyclists.

    For all the bike lanes and hype from DOT, an increase of less than 2,000 is a joke.

  • Jay

    I think it would also be difficult to properly stratify a door-to-door sample. In many immigrant neighborhoods (think Jackson Heights) there are many housing units that have no documented address. These are largely illegally partitioned units. It is precisely this type of housing where you are likely to find many of the delivery workers who account for a significant share of bicycle transportation.

    The needs of delivery workers are often overlooked, while they are scapegoated for all the illegal behaviors of cyclists in the city. That’s unfortunate, because bike lanes are not just for hipsters, and these workers are just as entitled to safe working conditions as anybody else.

  • Ian Turner

    CityHallMaven: Perhaps, but China has grown from an impoverished place to a global power through annual growth of just 10-12%. Never underestimate the impact of sustained incremental gains.

  • J

    CityHallMaven,

    I would also like to point out that a lot of the complaints we are seeing are due to the huge increase in cyclists. On the street, people are noticing it. THe number of commuters close to doubled in 3 years, and tripled in 8 years, which is crazy. Add to that the many many more people who now use bikes for short trips. It is evident on the streets, in the papers, and elsewhere. If you aren’t convinced, go out to any bridge or new bike lane in the morning or evening rush hour and watch the parade.

  • It’s like dismissing China’s annual growth rate because on a chart it only goes up 20 pixels on your computer screen. As explained in comment #2, a screenline count is not a count of daily cyclists.

    TA estimated 236,000 cyclists for 2009, 13% of which is 30,680. That would be an excellent return on the city’s investment, but–as discussed in detail when re-estimating 2009–it is unlikely that the overall cycling growth rate is as high as that seen in the screenline count. Unless New York’s dinner deliveries increase 13% every year (and that’s not healthy!), we aren’t going to see that growth among the professional cyclists who make up such a large portion of our cycling population. They don’t typically ride over bridges, but they do ride a great deal; they need and deserve safer infrastructure as much as everyone else.

    Which is not to say that we won’t see more growth in bicycles used for work. As larger and more reliable bicycle paths are established, it will be practical for businesses to use cargo bikes to deliver items larger than pizzas and pad thai. Not for everything of course, but if we can at all reduce the use of box vans (and their tricky parking brakes) it will be a good thing for the health and safety of New Yorkers.

  • Sorry, the re-estimated figure from 2009 is 201,000:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/05/06/biking-in-nyc-is-up-but-how-much/

    The screenline increase for that year, 26%, was adjusted to 20% for the overall estimate. A similar adjustment will surely be made for 2010’s 13%, but if anyone wants to do their own estimates it’s very easy as the spreadsheet is linked from that post.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Nathan H.: one thing I’d add is that there is significant commercial cyclist commuter traffic over the Ed Koch Bridge, mostly from Latino communities in Woodside and Jackson Heights.

  • Ed Koch Bridge, formerly known as 59th Street Bridge or Queensboro Bridge is included in DOT surveys.

  • CityHallMaven

    Ian Turner@15
    Great.
    So, in a hundred years, at a 10-12% growth rate, assuming of course that this growth is sustained, possibly a million people will be riding bikes in NYC, which would be less than 10% of the city’s projected population at that time.
    I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

    J at #16,
    I am not sure why you brought up ‘complaints’. I never referenced that.

    Yes, I do see cyclists coming off the bridges. However, they are a mere fraction, an infinitesimal percentage of the city’s population. A blip.
    Again, as the figures recount: 1,994 increase in a city of more than 8,000,000

    To another matter: I see the commenters here are referring to the 59th Street Bridge as the Koch Bridge, as if it were a done deal. Boss Bloomberg has not decreed it officially yet, although it looks like it will happen.

    I am surprised that streetsblog is not mounting a campaign to retain the historical name, which is more apt, is directive, is geographically appropriate, is historical, is already world-famous, and is not named after an bumptious man whose term in office was widely marked by scandal, corruption, rampant crime, urban decay, cronyism, jail time for his commissioners (those who didn’t commit suicide before their sentencing), to name just a few of the legacies of this latter-day John Dos Passos and Bush supporter.

    Finally, imagine, if you will, having Simon&Garfunkle being forced to sing “Feeling Groovy (The Edward I. Koch Bridge Song)”

    But not to worry. True NYers will continue to call it the 59th Street Bridge, just as we refuse to call the West Side Highway the ‘Joe diMaggio HIghway”, or Sixth Avenue the “Avenue of the Americas.”

  • BicyclesOnly

    Maven,

    You’re not listening. The current number of cyclists on NYC streets each day is estimated at ~200,000. Calculate the bike mode share by using the screenline count which only reflect cyclists entering the CBD as the numerator, and NYC’s total population as a denominator, is silly. You have to use the 200,000 citywide estimate extrapolated from the screenline counts and other figures.

    Using that approach, after 8 years of 12% annual growth, we’d have about 500,000 daily cyclists. Of course, if NYC experiences the jump that other cities have as a result of a robust bike share program, it would be more like a 50% to 75% increase for the period of 2012 to 2014, which would mean hitting a half million much sooner than 2018. I would be quite pleased with hitting a half million anytime within the next ten years.

    The other error in your calculation is using 8 million NY residents as your denominator. As if every person who lives in New York City–including the telecommuters, the imprisoned, the hospitalized, the unemployed, the idle rich, etc.– was out on the streets as part traffic every day.

    I think I’m the only commenter here whose been speaking of the Ed Koch bridge, and for the record, I consider myself a “true” New Yorker. I also was a city council staffer in the 1980s and have much the same opinion of Ed Koch as you. Frankly, I was trying the name on for size and seeing how others on SB would react. But I don’t really see what the big deal is one way or another; its just a name for a bridge. I would consider it a waste of time to mount a campaign to fight the name change.

  • I prefer that old, established names are kept as they are. I still call the Interboro Parkway the um… Interboro Parkway. And this will not catch on with me either.

  • Joe R.

    “The needs of delivery workers are often overlooked, while they are scapegoated for all the illegal behaviors of cyclists in the city. That’s unfortunate, because bike lanes are not just for hipsters, and these workers are just as entitled to safe working conditions as anybody else.” ( Jay #14 )

    If delivery cyclists are scapegoated for their behavoir, then perhaps what really needs to be looked at are the conditions which create that behavoir in the first place. You see many food establishments offering “free” delivery. Some may not even pay their delivery people, instead telling them to rely solely on tips for compensation. In any case, what we have here is a devaluing of the value of delivery services. We also have skewed the demand side by not charging for these delivery services. As anyone even mildly proficient in economics knows, when a product or service is free, demand for it tends towards infinity.

    We can rectify this several ways, and take away the economic incentive for delivery people to make as many deliveries as possible ( which accounts for their behavoir in the first place ). One, require that delivery people are paid only be the hour, and that the wage be high enough so tips don’t consitute a significant percentage of income ( let’s say $10 per hour minimum, better yet $15 ). Two, prohibit restaurants from offering “free” delivery, perhaps even set up a fixed delivery fee schedule based on distance. When delivery fees are fixed at the same amounts for all establishments, then they can’t compete against each other based solely on who charges the least for delivery ( that’s how we ended up with free delivery in the first place ). Three, make the establishment solely responsible for any traffic tickets incurred by their delivery people. Right now it’s a win-win situation for those places pushing delivery people to make as many deliveries as possible. They benefit by dangerous behavoir, but aren’t financially liable for it.

    My guess is if all these measures are implemented, you’ll see a sharp drop in food prices for those willing to pick the food up themselves. Right now the free delivery costs are built into the food prices. You may or may not see a drop in demand for delivery services. After all, people willingly pay to have many other goods delivered. When one factors in the lower food prices, the added costs of charging for delivery may not be all that much. Nevertheless, this will create the climate that a delivery person’s services are a product which has value. Once the pressure is off to make deliveries as rapidly as possible, you should see a decrease in dangerous behavoirs. Note that I’m purposely separating dangerous and illegal here. Many commuter cyclists take liberties at red lights, for example, but it’s mainly the commercial cyclists you see flying through them at high speeds, often without even a cursory glance to see if it’s clear. And it’s mainly commercial cyclists riding against traffic.

  • So, in a hundred years, at a 10-12% growth rate, assuming of course that this growth is sustained, possibly a million people will be riding bikes in NYC, which would be less than 10% of the city’s projected population at that time.
    I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

    If you were me, you’d know a hell of a lot more about logistic progressions.

    But not to worry. True NYers will continue to call it the 59th Street Bridge, just as we refuse to call the West Side Highway the ‘Joe diMaggio HIghway”, or Sixth Avenue the “Avenue of the Americas.”

    Them and the true Scotsmen.

  • Here’s a primer on logistic functions for you, Maven:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logistic_function

  • Joe R.

    @CityHallMaven,

    At 10% annual growth, in 100 years you would have about 13,780 times as many cyclists. At 12%, only 2% more annual growth, you would have 83,522 times as many. Even if you took the 17,491 count in 2010 as the TOTAL number of cyclists in the city, 10% growth for a century imples 241 million NYC cyclists in a century, not one million. Of course, exponential growth cannot be maintained indefinitely. Once everyone who can physically cycle for transportation, or wants to for exercise, is doing so the numbers can’t increase unless population also does. I’ll hazard a guess that this would be around 50% of the population best-case scenario. As for future NYC population, some forecasts I’ve heard say 40 million by 2040, not 10 million in a century. Probably more like 100 million in a century ( and world population approaching 100 billion ), but only time will tell. Fact is any way you look at it, dense urban living incompatible with private motorized travel is the wave of the future.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Joe and Jay,

    The concern both of you express for the conditions of delivery cyclists is well-placed. Delivery cyclists are a critical element of the NYC cycling population who commute as well as work on their bikes, and whose percentage of the total riding population swells in the cold and rainy weather. And as much as their patrons are sometimes their biggest haters, they are undeniably performing an economically valuable activity as reflected in the money their patrons pay for their service. In contrast, the haters sometimes like to portray commuters as hobbyists who contribute nothing to society. I once saw this attitude at work in a cop who was in the process of ticketing a commuter cyclist, and who said when a salmoning delivery cyclist rode by and was asked why not ticket him, “that guy’s working.”

    The reforms Joe mentions–phasing out “free” delivery–are fundamental and would do a lot of good, but are a very, very heavy lift because, as Joe points out, it’s a win for everyone but the disempowered delivery person, who gets paid to risk his own safety (I’ve never encountered a female delivery person, but I figure we shouldn’t block their entry into the field by stereotyping with male pronouns). One thing people can do is support a 501(c)(3) organization, called Justice Will Be Served, which has had some success forcing employers to pay minimum wage to delivery workers and otherwise meet statutory requirements.

    On a more prosaic level, you can keep copies of TA’s multi-lingual leaflet entitled “give respect, get respect” (search for and download pdf from TA’s website) and dsitribute them along with any tips you end up giving to delivery people at your door. Not long from now, the TA “Biking Rules” pamphlet will be available in Spanish and Mandarin, and those will be preferable for distribution.

    TA is also preparing to launch a “Biking Rules for Business” campaign, in which businesses will get a TA “bike friendly business sticker” for their window that hopefully will attract business from TA members, in return for treating their delivery staff fairly and working to educate them on the rules of the road.

    The broader community of cyclists has to figure out some way of bringing delivery cyclists under a “big tent.” Probably the best way will be to enact pending state legislation that would make restaurant owners pay the fines for their delivery workforce’s moving violations.

  • CityHallMaven

    Cap’n Transit,
    I was just watching NY1 and even Pat Kiernan, a Canadian, commented about a car accident on “West Street”, not “Joe diMaggio Highway”

    So, not being a true Scotsman, do you really call Sixth Avenue “Avenue of the Americas”? Really?
    If you do, I would warn you to stay away from guys on Broadway with three cards on a cardboard box, daring you to pick out the ace of spades.

    Further, disparage my alleged logical fallacies all you please, but your fallacious choice of Avoiding The Argument by trying to impress us with your erudition with differentials purposefully avoids addressing my point:
    Only 1,994 more cyclist over last year, despite all the bike lanes and hoopla.

    I’m no math geek and my slide rule doesn’t fit into my shirt pocket any longer, but I do know that extrapolating 1,994 at 10% means that next year we shall having a whopping 2013 more cyclists. How will they all fit in those underused bike lanes?

    The city’s 8,400,000 citizens recognize that 1,994 figure as about how many riders you can crowd into a Lexington Avenue subway train at rush hour. Ho-hum. Sorry, not impressed.

  • kevd

    Wow.
    Despite repeated, patient attempts to explain that the screen line count does not include all, or even a majority of NYC cyclists, CityHallMaven continues to insist that the figure of 1,994 represents the total increase in cyclists – which it does not.

    Maven, now you’re just being willfully ignorant or intentionally deceptive.

  • kevd

    An equivalently poor use of numbers (or an equivalently deceptive mis-use of numbers) would be for me to count all the subway riders entering 20 stations in NYC; then measure them again a year latter, compare those 2 numbers and claim that that difference was the total change in subway ridership in the entire system over a year.

  • So, not being a true Scotsman, do you really call Sixth Avenue “Avenue of the Americas”? Really?

    Actually, no. If you want to play that game, I’m a fourth-generation New Yorker (part Scottish) and I’ve always hated the name “Avenue of the Americas.” I call it Sixth Avenue. I talk about the IRT and the Eighth Avenue Line.

    I’ve lived in Queens for eight years. Once when I called it the 59th Street Bridge, a neighbor of mine got upset. Apparently people here wanted it to be called “Queensboro” to honor the borough. Who am I to say they’re wrong?

    More importantly, my father was an immigrant from another part of the country, and so is my wife. I value the contributions that people from all over the world make to New York, including those from other parts of the United States. I don’t disparage them as not being “true New Yorkers” because they have impure backgrounds or something.

    The city’s 8,400,000 citizens recognize that 1,994 figure as about how many riders you can crowd into a Lexington Avenue subway train at rush hour.

    That 8,400,000 figure includes infants, the insane and the mentally disabled. Sorry, I don’t believe they all know how many people can fit onto an A division subway car.

  • CityHallMaven

    Cap’n Transit: Who “disparaged” anyone? Stick with reality. And take yourself a little less seriously.

    Go ahead. Call it the 59th St Bridge, or call it the Queensboro Bridge, or, if it makes you happy – and surely you need something to make you happy – if it makes you happy, call it the Koch Bridge, if you feel the need so badly to honor Ed Koch.

  • CityHallMaven

    kevd: “CityHallMaven continues to insist that the figure of 1,994 represents the total increase in cyclists”

    No, I was referring to the headline of this report, namely:
    “NYC Bike Count Continues Upward Trend in 2010 With 13 Percent Growth

    We can argue all day whether 1,994 is a significant number in a city like NY. I choose not to any longer.

  • Adam

    Time to unsubscribe from this thread….

  • kevd

    CityHallMaven:
    “Again, as the figures recount: 1,994 increase in a city of more than 8,000,000”

    That’s where you claim (incorrectly) that the increase in the total number of cyclists in NYC was 1,994.

    In your later response you wrote “We can argue all day whether 1,994 is a significant number in a city like NY.”

    Our point is, the significant number in a city like NY is not 1,994. What is the total increase in cyclists? We don’t know, because the only year to year number we have is the screenline count, which likely only counts less than 8.7% of NYC daily cyclists (if we also believe the 201,000 number.)

    If the 13% increase in the screenline count is proportional to the total increase in cycling in NY, you would have a total increase of 26,000.

    So, yes. Please, let’s stop arguing if 1,994 is a significant number in a city of 8 1/2 million, because the 1,994 figure is not relevant.

    Let’s instead argue if 227,000 total daily cyclists or an increase of 26,000 cyclists in one year are significant numbers in a city of 8 1/2 million (hell, maybe they aren’t…..)

    How many IRT trains does it take to carry 227,000 people? More than a couple, I’d guess.

  • Cap’n Transit: Who “disparaged” anyone? Stick with reality. And take yourself a little less seriously.

    Go ahead. Call it the 59th St Bridge, or call it the Queensboro Bridge, or, if it makes you happy – and surely you need something to make you happy – if it makes you happy, call it the Koch Bridge, if you feel the need so badly to honor Ed Koch.

    I didn’t say I’d ever call it the Koch Bridge. But I will call you a bunch of names that Streetsblog won’t print.

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