On the sidewalk of Lafayette Street this morning, next to the city’s newest protected bike lane and across from a Citi Bike station, officials and advocates celebrated New York’s #1 ranking on Bicycling Magazine’s list of the best American cities for biking. As Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg accepted the honor, a question lingered: Given that so much of New York’s progress on bicycling came under the previous mayor, how will the de Blasio administration hold on to the top spot?
Bicycling Magazine issues its ranking of the 50 best American cities for biking every other year, taking into account Census data on commuting, the amount and quality of bike lanes, and the political commitment to cycling, among other factors. In 2012, New York ranked seventh, with repeat champion Portland, Oregon, snagging the top spot. This year, New York leapt to the #1 slot, with Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, and Washington, DC, rounding out the top five.
Bicycling Editor-in-Chief Bill Strickland said today’s announcement is “a surprise to many cycling insiders,” with New York’s recent track record as a role model for other American cities putting it over the top. “New York City is on the leading edge of how cities can use bicycles to improve the quality of life for everyone,” he said. “We think it’s going to influence cities not just around the country, but around the world.”
Trottenberg promised this morning that New York would not slow down on her watch. “The de Blasio administration is moving forward with our own bike initiatives, to meet the mayor’s very ambitious goal of increasing the share of all trips in New York City taken by bike to six percent by 2020,” she said. “Do not worry. We will not rest on past accomplishments.”
Under Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC DOT added more than 366 miles of bike lanes, including 31 miles of protected bike paths [PDF], during the last seven years of the Bloomberg administration. Trottenberg said that, by the end of this year, there will be 58 additional miles of bike lanes citywide, including five miles of protected lanes.
On the heels of today’s announcement, DOT released a study showing that streets with protected bike lanes have seen injuries for all road users drop by 20 percent [PDF]. “The results confirm the safety benefits of protected bicycle lanes, and that’s why DOT has committed to adding five more miles a year. And those bike lanes will be all over the city, not just in the core of Manhattan,” Trottenberg said, citing planning efforts in East New York, Long Island City, Ridgewood, and Washington Heights. “We’re looking to create robust, neighborhood bike networks,” she said.
DOT will be installing protected bike lanes on Fort George Hill in Upper Manhattan, the Pulaski Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens, and Paerdegat Avenue North in Canarsie, in addition to studying requests from community boards for protected lanes on Amsterdam Avenue, Fifth Avenue, and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Most if not all of the projects that are definitely moving forward, however, entered the pipeline during the previous administration.
Trottenberg also rattled off statistics on bike parking. This year, the city has installed nearly 1,200 bike racks, including 24 on-street bike corrals, and converted nearly 1,000 former single-space meter poles to bike racks. That brings the total number of bike racks citywide to 21,300.
In recent years, DOT has been putting streets on road diets to calm traffic, but the agency leaves an “extra-wide parking lane” to both accommodate double parking and give cyclists some breathing room, instead of installing a bike lane. “People in the community might not initially value the importance of a street to the bike network until there’s some initial calming and the character changes,” DOT Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs Josh Benson said, citing Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights and 44th Drive in Long Island City as examples where DOT later converted extra-wide parking lanes into bike lanes. “People don’t necessarily envision a street as a bike-friendly street,” he said. “Once you make an improvement, people take to it and opinions change.”
Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White noted the growing political support for cycling across the city. “Our City Council is now solidly super-majority pro-bike. First time that’s maybe ever happened,” he said. “On the community board level, hardly a week goes by that we don’t see a new resolution in favor of protected bike lanes, complete streets, Citi Bike expansion.”
The most immediate challenge for bicycling in New York may be Citi Bike itself, which operator Alta Bicycle Share has struggled to run efficiently, leading to financial troubles and an expansion timetable that never seems to advance. “The mayor’s ultimate goal, and his assignment to me, is ‘I want Citi Bike in all five boroughs,'” Trottenberg said. “There’ll be some expansion next year… I can confidently say 2015 and not get myself in trouble.”
Still, the much-anticipated restructuring of the bike-share contract with the city, under which REQX Ventures would purchase a controlling stake in Alta and double the size of the system, has yet to materialize. “For the city, our negotiations with REQX are essentially done,” Trottenberg said, directing questions to Alta and REQX. “Alta are not the easiest guys in the world to negotiate with. I don’t think that’s a secret… We’re very keen to have the negotiations done, and to urge them to hurry it along, but in the end these are private entities negotiating amongst themselves. They don’t answer to the city.”
Police departments have a big role in a city’s bike-friendliness, and Trottenberg said she discussed Operation Safe Cycle — critiqued for issuing bogus tickets and focusing on harmless offenses — with NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan yesterday. “It’s a first big effort. There are some lessons learned about how we can do it better, and he and I talked in general about what are some of the best models of enforcement that we can look at around the world,” she said. “I want to give the NYPD credit for engaging in culture change in this.”
“The NYPD is still catching up to the times,” TA’s White said, adding that a recent meeting of TrafficStat included a section where precinct executive officers were chewed out for parking in bike lanes. NYPD wasn’t at today’s event, and some precincts are taking street safety more seriously than others. “We’re really going to be highlighting the exemplary precincts and trying to bring all the precincts up to that level,” White said. “There are very positive signs that they are moving things in that direction.”