Warm Weather Bike Count Flat in 2012, While Winter Counts Grow

Earlier this week, DOT released its 2012 bike counts [PDF], including a new dataset — counts from the winter months. The agency has been tallying cyclists in December, January, and February for five years, and this year released the winter counts, in addition to April-through-October counts, for the first time. The data show that warm weather counts at the DOT’s screenline (the four East River bridges below 60th Street, the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street, and the Staten Island Ferry) plateaued in 2012, while winter counts continued a steady upward trajectory.

DOT's winter bike count was up 23 percent over a year ago, while the warm weather bike count stayed flat. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2013-nyc-cycling-in-the-city.pdf##DOT##

Overall, the screenline count from April 2012 to February 2013 rose 4 percent over the year before. These gains are smaller than annual increases since 2008, but still bring the all-year bike count to 58 percent above 2008 levels. Compared to 2011, the numbers show a small drop in bicycling during the warmer months of April through October — about half a percent — but a 23 percent gain during December, January, and February of this winter.

DOT conducted its first screenline bike count in 1980. In 1985, the agency began collecting data annually. Since 2008, DOT has set up 10 weekday counts each year between April and October, running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. By overhauling its method, the agency could collect more reliable data. However, the screenline count remains a geographically-limited tool and doesn’t measure the full citywide cycling trend.

As part of its 2008 methodology change, the agency began collecting wintertime data, offering a fuller view of year-round patterns. These cold-weather numbers show that the difference between warm weather and cold weather cycling volumes is shrinking.

From 2008 to 2011, the winter bike count was between 40 to 47 percent of the size of the warm weather bike count. In 2012, that number jumped, with the winter count equating to 57 percent of the April-through-October count. There is still room for improvement. In Copenhagen, the winter retention rate is 80 percent.

“People aren’t riding in the dead of winter just for fun — they’re commuting and finding bicycling is a convenient option all year long,” said Transportation Alternatives in a statement.

While the winter ridership numbers are a positive sign, warm weather ridership can’t stay flat if the city is going to achieve its goal of tripling bike ridership in 2017 compared with 2007 levels. So far, the warm weather ridership has roughly doubled since 2012, according to the DOT index. An interesting pattern emerging from DOT’s data is that bike counts tend to increase in proportion to the expansion of the bike network the previous year. Relatively few bike lanes were built in 2011 — a peak bikelash year — which could explain the slowdown in cycling volumes in 2012.

More bike lanes should keep attracting more New Yorkers to take up cycling, though many of them might not get captured by the screenline count, especially if the city adds bike infrastructure farther out from the core. Better traffic enforcement from the NYPD and automated traffic enforcement cameras would also improve the culture of the city’s streets, making travel safer and friendlier for new bicyclists.

And another big boost to bicycling is looming on the horizon, with bike-share scheduled to launch this spring. In addition to putting more riders on the street, the bikes will have internal GPS, generating even more data on how New Yorkers get around by bike.

  • I think a lot of New Yorkers who’ve given January bike commuting a try would agree that it’s pretty damn comfortable, as long as your ears and extremities are insulated and the streets aren’t icy. Personally I like it more than August commuting.

  • Oh. You mean the NYDOT. I was hoping this was some sort of federal dataset.

  • J

    If we want to keep cycling growing we need comfortable, fully connected cycling routes. Currently there are a lot of routes that are not well connected, and many of the new lanes are of poor quality (full of double parked cars), certainly far from comfortable. Let’s start building bicycle boulevards and fill in the big gaps in our network of protected lanes (e.g. 8th Ave between 39th & 42nd and the gap southbound 2nd Ave & southbound Allen St). Some of the lanes built this year weren’t completed till somewhat later in the year, so their effect may take some time.

    Bikeshare will give a big bump to the numbers this year, but I’m not sure how much of that will be captured in commuter counts. However, the numbers may not matter as much, though, if bikeshare is as transformative as I believe it will be.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but I don’t think it’s credible that “winter” (Dec-Jan-Feb) cycling at those six screenline points would have risen more than three times as fast (by 70%) from the first counts for those months (which were in 2009-2010, not 2008-2009, as you implied), as warm-weather (April-Oct) cycling (which rose only 21%). (I’m riffing off the tables on p. 8 of the DOT pdf.)

    Nor do I feel it’s credible that the winter counts are now (2012-2013) more than half as great (51%) as the July-Aug-Aug counts. (Same source.) I wish it were so. But I just don’t see it.

    I took a more measured approach than DOT in interpolating their winter counts into annual counts, in my spreadsheet in which I extrapolate from the screenline counts to estimate all cycling in NYC. The spreadsheet is tricky to navigate, so here are some key results for all of NYC for 2012: (i) on a typical day, 185,000 different people took one or more bike trips, covering 1.6 million miles; (ii) NYC bicycle miles traveled are now 2.4% as great as motor vehicle miles traveled; (iii) the number of NYC bicycle trips rose by 1% from 2011 and is now 78% greater than in 2006. (That growth figure, though impressive, is less than the growth in the DOT screenline counts, as growth in overall city cycling has lagged growth on the East River bridges and the Hudson River Greenway.)

  • Anonymous

    While I agree that we need better safety enforcement, if I had to pick what I think is the single biggest impediment to bike commuting, I would say it’s bike parking/storage. People need a secure and practical parking option at both ends of their commute. The bike-in-buildings law was a huge step forward, but it doesn’t help everyone, and it only covers one end of the journey. What can you do if you live in a small apartment, without space to store your bike and don’t want to leave it overnight on the street? I guess a folding bike might be the only practical choice, but many people prefer conventional bikes (plus they are cheaper). Bike sharing will also help, I hope.

    Pet peeve: plots like the one shown, where the Y axis don’t start from zero, are misleading because they make the trend seem much bigger than it is. There’s even a section about these plots in a book called “How to lie with statistics”. The original version of the plot in the DOT document did start the axis from zero, but other plots in the same document did not. Using these kinds of plots opens you (or the DOT) up to accusations of “embellishing the data”.

  • I tried winter cycling for the first time this season, and I must admit it is not as bad as I thought it would be, provided you are dressed appropriately. When the weather is fair I go even faster than in the Summer, due to the paths being less clogged by wandering pedestrians and kids. Even so, a bit more work keeping the Greenway clear of leaves (in the fall) and snow/ice (in the winter) would go a long way towards improving my own rate of winter cycling. This is particularly a problem in upper Manhattan, on the incline by the Little Red Lighthouse.

  • Guest

    One other positive way to look at this is that the ongoing media campaign in the pages of the Post and Daily News to roll back NYC’s bike-lane progress is not registering with “real” New Yorkers. The dial isn’t moving backwards one bit and the complaint about bike lanes going empty in the winter is looking sillier by the day.

  • The Y-axis is indexed to 100, and the first data-point in the trendline is included in the graphic, so I don’t think the pet peeve applies in this case. It appeared as though DOT was mistaken in having the Y axis start at 0, since the trendline never dipped below 100, so we cut that part out.

  • Anonymous

    It definitely applies. It makes the change from 2008-09 to 2012-13 look like a sixfold increase, when it’s not even twofold.

  • commuter945

    The problem with the bike-in-buildings law is that it’s not enforced. My Midtown office building is one of those that supposedly has a bicycle access plan, but when I inquired about it, I was told that bicycle parking has been left up to the individual tenants. And my company, of course, “doesn’t have space.” As one of the gentlemen I asked put it, “We have to allow your bikes in the building, but we don’t have to store them.” He offered the ridiculous solution of me paying $75/month to park my bike in a parking garage two avenue blocks away.

  • Dennis Hindman

    The number of bicyclists increased per year on the NYC counts as the rate of bicycle infrastructure installations per fiscal year rose and then slowed as the miles of bicycle infrastructure installations dropped off sharply per fiscal year:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/bikeroutedetailsfy07-fy12.pdf

    Six to eight miles of bicycle infrastructure installations per year was not enough to increase the bicycle commuting modal share in Los Angeles from 1990 until 2007. A sharp rise in gas prices gave a 45% boost to the bicycle commuting modal share in 2008 compared to 2007 and it has not dropped below the 2008 figures since then.

    I would suspect that Hurricane Sandy will give a boost to the commuting modal share in NYC and there its probable that many of those people will keep cycling to work as they did in LA after the gas prices stabilized.

    Los Angeles installed 55 miles of bike paths and lanes in its first fiscal year (FY 2012) after the 2010 bike plan was approved in March of 2011. LA is on pace to pass that total in fiscal year 2013 with over 42 miles installed as of March 6 (new fiscal year starts July 1st):

    http://ladotbikeblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/123-miles-of-bikeways-installed-since-the-adoption-of-the-2010-bike-plan/

  • Dennis Hindman

    Portland had a 55% increase in their bicycle commuting modal share from 4% to 6% with the sharp rise in gas prices from 2007-2008. The bicycle commuting modal share dropped less than 4% in any subsequent year and is listed as 6.2% for 2011.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding weekend riding, I’ve heard from friends that the Hudson River Greenway is just too crowded now to ride. So they are not taking their kids there anymore to cycle. At some point, we need to say that it is too crowded, and need to convert a car lane to a protected bike lane on Riverside Drive.

  • Joe R.

    Lack of safe bike parking is the single biggest reason for not using bikes for things like shopping also. As much as I might like to occasionally bike on shopping errands where it’s a bit too far to comfortably walk (i.e. > 3 miles each way), I don’t because there’s no safe indoor parking options. I’m not chaining my bike to a lamp post, or even to one of those on-street bike racks. I want a small bike rack inside stores, preferably near the security guard. Most stores have enough room in the front to store maybe half a dozen bikes.

    As for storing bikes in office buildings, why can’t people just put them near their cubicle or in their office (if they have one)? It’s not like a bike takes up a tremendous amount of space. Building owners are just being pig-headed not allowing this. As long as parked bikes don’t interfere with the movement of people in a building I don’t see what the fuss is about. I remember working at one place where the boss let me keep my bike in his office. And he didn’t have a huge office. Of course, I asked in advance. This was in 1987, long before bike commuting was in vogue.

  • Joe R.

    I like cold weather riding better than warm weather riding. If you dress properly, you should be a little cold for the first few minutes of the ride. Once you start riding, you’ll warm up enough so everything will be perfect. I agree keeping extremities covered is the most important thing. You can be overheating in your core while your fingers and toes are getting frostbite. All that said, I avoid riding on the windiest days simply because I hate fighting headwinds, not because I can’t do it if I really wanted to.

    I can only ride at nights during the warmer weather months. Much too hot with the sun beating down, plus the air smells terrible.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The data matches what I see. I didn’t get the feeling more people were riding in summer, but I have gotten the feeling that more people are riding in winter. The first winter I used the garage there were two of us. But this winter the hooks have been almost full every day.

  • Alan
  • As I see it, the great news here is that last year was one of the warmest Jan/Febs on record, February had some insanely Spring-like stretches. THIS YEAR, has been cold, not bone-chilling cold, but there were not many above average days….play with the stats here and you’ll see that if there is an uptick this year, who knows how much higher it would be if we had a year like last year! Only two days last year with a daily high BELOW 40!!!

    http://www.accuweather.com/en/us/new-york-ny/10007/month/349727?monyr=2/01/2012

  • Brooklyn Bridge, same deal. We seem to have billions to spend doing everything but improving the bicycle throughput of that bridge.

  • Guest

    I believe that interpretation of the law is correct. The building has to provide access to offices that allow bicycles, but if your company won’t allow them in the building doesn’t have to make them.

  • Jonathan Rabinowitz

    Perhaps some commuters will react to the MTA fare hike by riding their bicycles more. Steady commuters could save quite a bit by substituting bicycle trips for commute or leisure trips a couple times a week and switching from an unlimited-ride MetroCard to a pay-per-ride.

  • dk12

    LA metro has the largest number of bike commuters in the country – more than half of which are outside the city. It makes sense LA would have an easier time increasing mode share than NYC – where there’s a big drop off once you leave the core.

    I believe Boston is the only other city in the US where there’s a much larger share of cyclists outside the core city (about 4 times as many). And their infrastructure is being designed as part of a regional network in concert with adjacent communities – and utilizes an understanding of actual commuting routes. NYC hasn’t updated their bicycle master plan since 1997, and it was designed to overlay with existing streets – the routes aren’t the most direct (in some places they jog in odd directions where it would have been better to just remove parking and put in contraflow lanes), and we now have better data to understand where and how people would actually use this infrastructure and where to put the highest-impact facilities.

    and It’s not about installing “miles of lanes” – it has to be more strategic.

  • Dennis Hindman

    The competition for space in large cities makes it extremely difficult to follow any sort of strategic plan to implement bike lanes. Los Angeles DOT bikeway engineers are trying to find any section of streets where bike lanes will fit without having to seek a councilmembers approval in order to reach the goal of installing 200 miles of bikeways in five years. Its extremely difficult to find the political will to removal space from motor vehicles in order to install bike lanes. The resistance from the community who mainly drive can be fierce, whether the street is congested or vehicles typically hit speeds of 50 mph and the councilmembers usually concede to the viewpoint of the majority.

    The main reasons that it is easier to increase the bicycle modal share in Los Angeles compared to NYC is better law enforcement of the rights of cyclists, its legal to ride on sidewalks and the ease of finding a place to park the bicycle (especially around transit centers and on buses).

  • Anonymous

    This gets to the question of whether the trail is a recreational park (nice to have) or a transportation route (need to have).

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