Informed of Safety Benefits, Most NYC Voters Want Protected Bike Lanes

Image: TransAlt/Penn Schoen Berland

A poll released by Transportation Alternatives today [PDF] sheds some new light on how NYC voters feel about street redesigns and automated enforcement when the policies are framed in terms of safety benefits.

Opinion polls by Marist, Quinnipiac, and the New York Times have consistently shown that New Yorkers support bike lanes by a large margin. The new poll that TA commissioned from firm Penn Schoen Berland is different in a few ways. It surveyed the subset of New Yorkers who are likely to vote, and on the question of bike infrastructure, it asked specifically how people feel about protected bike lanes in their neighborhood, given the improvements in safety that have been observed on NYC streets. The responses from 875 likely voters (polled via land lines and cell phones September 11-18) indicate broad support for this type of redesign when the safety benefits are front and center, and that running against bike lanes isn’t a winning position for candidates seeking citywide office.

While the survey sample included a higher proportion of car owners (61 percent) than the city as a whole (46 percent), the poll still found a wide margin of support for speed cameras. Focusing on likely voters also skewed the pool to long-time residents — 83 percent said they have lived in the city for at least 20 years — and the survey yielded some intriguing information about their travel behaviors and experiences with traffic violence.

Two-thirds of respondents expressed support for protected bike lanes in their neighborhood after the pollsters read this question:

The city of New York has built protected bicycle lanes and pedestrian islands on major roads in Midtown Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn. They have been proven to reduce injuries to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and passengers by nearly 50%.

Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose bringing protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands to your neighborhood?

Among New Yorkers who plan to vote for Joe Lhota, the spread was a smaller but still a sizable 53-42 in favor of protected bike lanes.

By a 9-to-1 margin, respondents supported speed cameras in school zones after hearing the following:

In 2012, more people were killed by traffic than murdered by guns in New York City. Speeding is the most common contributing factor in fatal crashes. New York City has recently installed speeding enforcement cameras in school zones. These cameras record cars that go 10 miles per hour or more through the school zone. Using the cameras, the city police issue speeding tickets with $50 fines.

Large majorities also favored expanding the number of active speed cams and the hours they’re in operation. The state law enabling NYC to use automated speed enforcement limited the program to 20 cameras, effective only during hours when kids are expected to be around schools.

Nearly a third of respondents said they have been affected by traffic violence: 9 percent said they have been seriously injured in a traffic crash, and a further 24 percent said they know someone who has been seriously injured or killed.

In Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island, big majorities pegged a specific street when asked to identify the most dangerous street in their borough — an open-ended question. That’s how bad it is on Queens Boulevard (73 percent of Queens respondents said it’s the most dangerous), the Grand Concourse (56 percent of Bronx respondents, and Hylan Boulevard (75 percent of Staten Island respondents).

While the pool of respondents skewed toward car owners compared to the city’s overall population, likely voters are still much more likely to rely on subways and buses for daily transportation needs than driving: The “primary way to get around” is transit for 54 percent of New York’s likely voters (38 percent subway/16 percent bus), with 27 percent using primarily cars.

In terms of how often likely voters travel by different modes, 12 percent said they bike more than once a week — a lower share than most other modes, but on par with the weekly frequency of taxi ridership (13 percent use taxis more than once a week), and more than you’d guess based on the limited data in Census commuter surveys.

  • Jesse

    I find that pedestrians and transit users tend to be the most anti-bike demographic (in reference to the imbalance of drivers to transit users). Drivers like not having bikes in their driving lane so they usually support bike lanes after the initial uneasiness. Cars and bikes were made for each other (there both very much Private Vehicle Transit, i.e. jealous modes). I’ve always found bikes to injure the pedestrian and transit landscape most severely – which is way I completely oppose government support of biking. As silly as it sounds this city needs walking lanes way way more than it needs biking lanes. If you asked the question “are sidewalks too crowded?” I’m sure you’d get almost 100% yes. The research on good pedestrian environments is much much stronger than the research supporting good biking environments for a healthy urban landscape (economically, socially, politically, environmentally, ect.) I wish this city would get its priorities straight and start working on the strengths we already have rather than trying to shoehorn another Private mode onto our streets. Effective bus lanes (with no bikes!) would be good too.

  • Frank Dell

    Wow. Pedestrian infrastructure is being expanded along with the bike lanes. And bike share is a form of public not private transportation. I mean no disrespect but try riding a bike around NYC for a couple of weeks and your perspective may change. Pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation advocates should be natural allies.

  • Jeff

    Just curious, what would you suggest people do for trips between, say, .5 and 2 miles? Especially trips that aren’t easily served by the Subway or bus lines? Wait ten minutes to take one bus five minutes, wait another ten minutes to take a second bus for another five minutes? Walk for 30 minutes? Jog? Rollerskate? Even if we poured twice as much money into mass transit as we do now, it’s almost impossible for every trip to be convenient by mass transit, especially shorter trips within or between neighborhoods (vs. into/out of the CBD).

  • Jeff

    Just curious, what would you suggest people do for trips between, say, .5 and 2 miles? Especially trips that aren’t easily served by the Subway or bus lines? Wait ten minutes to take one bus five minutes, wait another ten minutes to take a second bus for another five minutes? Walk for 30 minutes? Jog? Rollerskate? Even if we poured twice as much money into mass transit as we do now, it’s almost impossible for every trip to be convenient by mass transit, especially shorter trips within or between neighborhoods (vs. into/out of the CBD).

  • Jeff

    Just curious, what would you suggest people do for trips between, say, .5 and 2 miles? Especially trips that aren’t easily served by the Subway or bus lines? Wait ten minutes to take one bus five minutes, wait another ten minutes to take a second bus for another five minutes? Walk for 30 minutes? Jog? Rollerskate? Even if we poured twice as much money into mass transit as we do now, it’s almost impossible for every trip to be convenient by mass transit, especially shorter trips within or between neighborhoods (vs. into/out of the CBD).

  • Jeff

    Just curious, what would you suggest people do for trips between, say, .5 and 2 miles? Especially trips that aren’t easily served by the Subway or bus lines? Wait ten minutes to take one bus five minutes, wait another ten minutes to take a second bus for another five minutes? Walk for 30 minutes? Jog? Rollerskate? Even if we poured twice as much money into mass transit as we do now, it’s almost impossible for every trip to be convenient by mass transit, especially shorter trips within or between neighborhoods (vs. into/out of the CBD).

  • Jeff

    Just curious, what would you suggest people do for trips between, say, .5 and 2 miles? Especially trips that aren’t easily served by the Subway or bus lines? Wait ten minutes to take one bus five minutes, wait another ten minutes to take a second bus for another five minutes? Walk for 30 minutes? Jog? Rollerskate? Even if we poured twice as much money into mass transit as we do now, it’s almost impossible for every trip to be convenient by mass transit, especially shorter trips within or between neighborhoods (vs. into/out of the CBD).

  • Anonymous

    Controlling urge to mock the logic. . . and claims . . . trying very hard . . . must . . . resort to . . . asking question: Do you honestly think that there’s some kind of hard line separating humans in New York who ride bikes from people humans who use mass transit? And the idea that there’s even a kinda sorta split between humans who currently walking on the sidewalk and humans currently riding on the streets on a bike, as if people on bikes just magically appeared on roads or in stores or apartments . . . words fail.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    I walk, bicycle, and ride transit. You want me to give up one of my transportation options?

  • Joe R.

    I agree with you in principle but I have a minor quibble regarding distances. Most trips of 1 mile or less are quite amenable to walking. That’s 12 to 20 minutes unless you’re in very poor shape. Yes, you can probably bike that mile in 4 or 5 minutes, but then add in time to lock the bike up, plus the worry about whether or not it’ll be there for the return journey. Or if you use bike share, figure a few minutes walking at either end since the bike stations most likely won’t be exactly where you’re going. That could mean savings of only a few minutes or less over distances of 1 mile, compared to walking.

    I feel cycling shines for trips of 2 to 10 miles. 1 to 2 miles is a gray area where sometimes it’s nearly as fast or convenient to walk, especially if you’re doing multiple stops. Less than a mile I rarely see any point to biking over walking. Too much hassle for too little time savings. 2 miles or more starts to get into the area where you save up to 30 minutes biking over walking. Much past 3 miles you’re at the point where even hard core people like me consider it too far to walk, except very occasionally. Biking can compare favorable with mass transit out to distances of 15 miles if your mass transit trip involves several changes between lines. A lot of that depends upon how fast you ride. You’ll seldom average much over 15 mph door-to-door taking the subway once you include waiting times plus walking at both ends of the journey. On the other hand, if you have a good route it’s quite feasible to average 15+ mph on long cycling trips. For that matter on quite a few journeys you don’t need to average much over 10 mph to handily beat mass transit.

  • Anonymous

    “The survey sample included a higher proportion of car owners (61 percent) than the city as a whole (46 percent), the poll still found a wide margin of support for speed cameras. Focusing on likely voters also skewed the pool to long-time residents — 83 percent said they have lived in the city for at least 20 years”
    This explains part of the pro-car nature of NYC politics. I had always wondered why so few elected officials supported transit or walking improvements that would reduce car capacity or add tolls. But if a majority of likely voters and long-time residents are car owners, supporting cars may still make political expensive.
    When you consider that most politicians are not even drivers, but private car and taxi riders, they have a personal bias toward moving cars faster.
    How can we get more car-free people to vote in local elections? A 56 majority of car-free voters would change the political realities.

  • Anonymous

    I certainly agree that “sidewalks are too crowded”. The solution is to widen the sidewalks and narrow the lanes of traffic.

    Prime example would be 8th Ave, between 34th St and about 50th St. There’s a bike lane there, but it’s useless for cyclists: In the afternoons it is filled with people spilling off the sidewalk heading toward the Port Authority to get a bus to Jersey.

    But other examples of the need for wider sidewalks and one less lane of traffic abound:
    All of 8th Ave, and probably most of Ninth Ave.
    Amsterdam roaring thru the West Side.
    Fifth Ave south of 59th St.,
    and 7th Ave .
    Madison thru Midtown.
    Sixth Ave thru SoHo and the Village.
    42nd St.
    East 86th St commercial strip.
    The commercial sections of Fordham Road,
    Flatbush, and Fulton St in Bklyn, among many others, in the outer boros.

    But sadly I don’t hear anybody — not Transportation Alternatives, not Ms Sadik-Kahn, not Streetsblog — campaigning for significantly wider sidewalks and narrower traffic sewers.

  • Jesse

    This response is for you and BornAgainBicyclist (not to be rude but your handle refers to my least favorite aspect, and biggestproblem with “bike culture”). I’ve heard literally hundreds of people make this point that bikes are somehow “multi-modal” in nature but again it would be like saying the same thing about cars, which I imagine is anathema to most streets blog readers. What separates you from pedestrians and transit users? The 15 to 25 pound, 72 by 24 inch piece of human scaffolding you carry around, leave chained up to something, and/or occasionally ride on top of. Citibike and bikeshare is one thing but there is simply no good reason
    (from a societal perspective) for you to take up sidewalk, transit, or street space with your Private bicycle. Using a private bike in NYC benefits absolutely no one besides you and your ego. Am I supposed to say thank you? Like “cool, the sidewalk is even narrower now that the 1% of biking
    commuters in NYC have decided to repurpose everything on my street as a bike rack!” Or “cool, now that cyclists have bike lanes they feel even more emboldened to ride in the bus lanes and slow down all those working class morons who haven’t seen the light yet” – Yeah people who bike also walk
    from time to time but that dose not mean everyone who walks rides a bike every now and then. I assume you were raised in Somewhereelse so this may not apply to you but have you ever considered that many NYers don’t know how to bike? We don’t have the same expansive high school parking lots and dead places for practice. To suggest that any pedestrian or transit users is like a cyclist is a radically suburban notion. @dporpentine:disqus I hope that counts as a response, I wasn’t sure exactly what you meant through all that sardonic non-sense. It turns out that bikes/biking, walking and taking transit can be considered discrete concepts, they even have separate wikipedia articles!

  • Jesse

    I agree with @disqus_dlP91vGbzC:disqus in principle, however I would say that from a societal perspective, assuming a reasonable urban density, it’s usually better to take transit even when your individual incentive dictates otherwise. As long as bikes require free-to-use infrastructure like lanes and parking they represent a net drain on transportation and economic efficiency. Surface space is surface space and if they’re charging and average of $431/month for underground parking spaces in manhattan (roughly $38.03/month when scaled down to bikes by required area) just think about the value of that surface level bike parking that remains uncompensated. Those bike parking spots will always be there taking up the same space. This is expensive real estate that the DOT has decided to give away for free! Thats why I walk (and take transit but thats a whole different convo) . I don’t like the idea of my city having to pick up the tab for my personal choices.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    My point: biking and walking and transit are complementary. Before I got “born-again”(it’s tongue-in-cheek and a reference to the fact that when I first starting riding a bike again, yeah, I was a little enthusiastic and loud about it. So, maybe lighten up ‘cos I’m kind of mocking myself with that handle? @BornAgainMultimodalist just doesn’t have the same ring.) I walked and used transit to get around NYC. Now, I use all three modes, and frankly, it’s made my life easier to have more choices. As a life-long nondriver who has never been able to afford the cost of owning and operating a car, I feel confident saying that I want and deserve all three choices and that others also deserve (and no doubt want) all three choices.

    I’m involved with a bike education project that helps new cyclists learn safer cycling habits, including how to share the road with other users, BTW.

    The idea that because that walking and transit and cycling have separate articles on wikipedia means they aren’t complementary forms of transit just makes me . . . . I dunno. Scratching my head. I honestly cannot get around what that is supposed to mean.

    There is also an entry for multimodal transport:

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

    So what do you make of that?

    Also, there is tons of research that shows that when you add bike infrastructure, safety improves for all road users. How is that not a gain?

  • Joe R.

    Citibike and bikeshare is one thing but there is simply no good reason(from a societal perspective) for you to take up sidewalk, transit, or street space with your Private bicycle.

    The same could be said even more emphatically of private automobiles. Private autos take about 15 to 25 times the street space of bicycles, cause several hundred thousand times more wear and tear on the streets per vehicle (no, that’s not a typo-road wear is proportional to mass to the fourth power), directly kill hundreds of people in NYC annually, and indirectly kill probably ten times that number due to pollution. Additionally, personal cars are no more beneficial to anyone besides the end user than personal bicycles.

    If anything, you’re making a case for apportioning far less street space to personal automobiles than to personal bicycles. The fact is public transit and walking can’t fulfill all transportation needs in NYC. We need personal transport of some kind. For efficiency reasons it’s much better that this personal transport have as minimal an impact as possible. That means bicycles. Yes, bike share is good where it exists, but in many parts of the city bike share won’t be around for years, if ever. If we can replace a significant number of personal automobiles with bicycles it could go along way towards making the streets more pleasant for everyone.

    As for NYers who don’t know how to bike, that’s an outlier of mostly pensioners like my mom who grew up in a time when cycling was seen solely as something children do. Anyone born around 1960 or later lived during a time when adult cycling was viable for at least recreation, and sometimes transportation. Granted, the cycling as transportation movement is less than a decade old, but the majority of people who could benefit from it do in fact know how to ride a bike. I don’t know anyone under 60 who doesn’t know how to ride a bike, and my friends come from all walks of life.

  • Joe R.

    The problem is in quite a few cases (not necessarily in Manhattan but in the outer boroughs) distances are too far for most people to walk, and transit is horribly inefficient. It’s not uncommon here in Eastern Queens to have a trip of a few miles involve changing buses once or twice, and taking 30 to 60 minutes. The same trip on a bike could be made in under 15 minutes. It’s really a matter of picking your poison. Would you rather have the city subsidize automobile users or bike users? I know which I would pick, and it’s not just because I bike but don’t drive. It takes far fewer resources to serve one cyclist, as opposed to one automobile driver.

    And the city picks up the tab for walkers. All those sidewalks and curb cuts aren’t free, not to mention the pedestrian signals. That’s fine with me however because as I said, I want the most efficient modes (cycling and walking) to be subsidized first.

  • Jesse

    Totally, my main gripe is that the way DOT seems to allocate street space is so un-scientific it boarders on negligent. Most informed people agree when I say that cars are terribly over used but when I say that adding bikes is not only a bad solution but makes the problem worse they freak out. This is why I find bikes to be the more interesting topic to argue around, fewer people agree with me. I’m just saying if you extend the lessons learned from car culture to bikes the problems become very clear yet our approach to biking is virtually identical to our approach to cars. We say free lanes, free parking, it’s “good”, ect. I agree that NYC’s public transit network couldn’t support the removal of private vehicle transit (or even the efficient pricing) right now but I think this is mostly a result of the fact that a huge portion of our transit dollars go to benefiting private transit at almost no or low cost to the user. Take even half of what we spend on road capacity and apply it to transit and 20-30 years from now we’ll have the capacity. Private transit is a great stop-gap to implement while building transit but it is not a long term replacement for transit.

  • Anonymous

    That’s pretty clever, using one of the arguments people around this blog use against private cars (namely, that they take too much space), and apply it against bikes. And you are right: bikes *do* have a “cost” in terms of space, whether they be parked or on the road, even if it is an order of magnitude smaller than the cost of cars, and it is fair to ask whether that cost should be subsidized or not. Should we have bike parking meters? Bike toll booths? Let me tell you why I think the answer is negative, at least for now.

    The city as a whole benefits from people having the ability to move from one place to another. Now the question is, how do we best do that? How do we allocate the space needed for mobility?

    It would be great if everyone could walk everywhere, but that doesn’t scale beyond a very small town. So walking alone is not the answer. Cars, in a big city, are not the answer either because there’s just not enough room for everyone to drive, not to mention pollution, crashes, the opportunity cost of giant parking lots, etc. So we definitely need transit. But even the best transit doesn’t work for everyone, because there’s a limited number of routes and schedules, and it can be slow for many trips.

    Enter bikes: they don’t fix all the problems either, but they fill some of the gaps where the other modes fail. They have a range at least three times bigger than walking, which allows them to cover the distance of a large fraction of everyday trips. They have the route flexibility of a car, while taking little over one tenth of the space, and without polluting and killing (with rare exceptions).

    Now, that still doesn’t mean that space for bikes must be free, but there are two reasons why I think it should be free, at least for now. The first is that I do believe we have excessive car use, and one way to encourage people to switch is by providing economic incentives. Make the “good” cheap, and the “bad” expensive. The second is that the footprint of bikes is so small that a fair price might be too cheap to be worth the overhead of collecting it. On a street where meters charge $1 for cars, would you charge $0.10 for bikes? Would that meter even pay for itself?

  • Anonymous

    Holy crap–you’re on the warpath against . . . bike parking? Do you imagine that somehow all (or even a significant fraction) of the city’s bikes are chained up outside at this moment on the sidewalk? And do you really think that when you walk or take mass transit you’re somehow Being Noble and Not Creating Any Social Costs Whatsoever? And the idea that that bikes in any systematic way can be said to slow buses. I would love to see the teeny tiniest study suggesting that’s true. A single one. I beg you to present it.

    Anyway: I don’t see a reason to formulate a counterargument for something so incoherent. Other people in this thread have made points about the rather clearly demonstrated social, economic, and environmental benefits that come with increases in cycling infrastructure. These are pretty much beyond dispute. I could pile on but it seems futile.

    But good luck with hating on bike parking. I think a lot of people will agree that it the probably ten thousand-to-one car-to-bike parking ratio represents an obvious injustice–to pedestrians, of course.

  • Anonymous

    Most informed people agree when I say that cars are terribly over used
    but when I say that adding bikes is not only a bad solution but makes
    the problem worse they freak out.

    Perhaps they “freak out” because it’s a ridiculous idea–and a very “un-scientific” one at that. Not all transit can be mass transit because not every place can be a bus stop or a subway stop, etc. Bikes are great private transit, full of benefits for riders and nonriders alike. I think you’ve found your Slatepitch in the War on Bike Parking. But you’ll never find an intelligent audience for it. Because it’s not an intelligent position.

  • Jesse

    The reason I call out your handle, don’t worry this is relevant to your post, is because I find most bicycle advocates to be entirely consumed with the bike as an identity. Your handle identifies you as someone who has not only decided that the bicycle is their religion but has been converted to it. I understand this is meant to be tounge-in-cheek but it fits perfectly with the pro-bike narrative and the contents of your post. This identification with the act of biking, a surprisingly common trait amongst cyclists, is what I find to be the greatest argument AGAINST bikes and against private vehicle transit in general (cars). How can you advocate for an efficient and fair transit system when you construct your mode as part of your identity? Indeed, it appears that you actively engage in the proselytizing this in your day-to-day life being “involved with a bike education project”. For about a year I used to read streetsblog daily but there was so much of this bicycle as a way of life (or religion) stuff I could no longer take any of the transit analysis done by this site seriously, so I stopped reading (Admittedly, I’ve returned only recently to agitate the comments section). You say that you “deserve all three choices and that others also deserve (and no doubt want) all three choices” with no humility when this is an incredibly audacious thing to say! If a driver told you that they and everyone else “deserves” to drive in NYC without paying for it your head would probably explode yet it’s really no different from what you are saying about biking. We all know that two wrongs don’t make a right but the holier-than-thou approach to transit modes (IMO most bike-advocates) advocate just that. *This* is the faulty logic of the “bike culture”. Sure a hummer in midtown consumes far more of the public surplus than you on your bike but this is a question of degree, your both consuming the public surplus (space, time, money ect.) to the exclusion of others. Don’t tell me what you’re doing is “good” or “multimodal” cause its no different than riding in a smaller car that burns hamburgers instead of gasoline. If you were the proverbial driver and taught drivers ed classes on the side I’m sure you could quote the same kind of safety stats in defense of the automobile. Growing up in NYC I’ve been hit hard by both cars and bikes, and while the risk is much lower with a bike close encounters happen far more frequently and thats the last thing I want to be looking out for when I go outside. Biking, walking, and transit are only complementary in the mind of the professional cyclist.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been thinking about this, and I can’t stop being uncomfortable with the fact that the pollsters gave leading information before asking the question, even if I think that the information is true. Of course, after being primed with the information that bike lanes are wonderful, people are more likely to say that they support bike lanes. But by the next day, when they have forgotten that information or had more time to think about it, or have been “nearly hit” by a bike, or no longer feel the “pressure” to agree with the pollster, they may change their mind. And isn’t the purpose of a poll to try find out what voters “in the wild” think? Would you ask “Given that Candidate X did [insert act of corruption here], would you vote for him?” Of course not, because real voters won’t have that information in their faces the day of the election, and might have never even heard of it. The answers would have zero predictive value (except maybe as a tool to determine which attack ads to launch).

  • Finbar Higgins

    How can these Anti-Transportation people put out a report like this and actually expect New Yorkers to go along with it. I can smell the bull${|t through my computer screen.

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