What It’s Like to Bike in the Snow Where Cycling Is a Priority

Hertogenbosch, in the Netherlands, is a town of 140,000 about mid-way between Amsterdam and Antwerp, just north of the Belgian border. Hertogenbosch doesn’t get a lot of snow, but when it does the city does a good job keeping cycle paths clear, according to Mark Wagenbuur, a local who blogs at Bicycle Dutch.

Of its 300 km (186 miles) of bikeways, Wagenbuur says, 233 km (144 miles) are “gritted” — brushed and treated with salt. The equipment used is not uniform, and not all routes are cleared at once, but the city has a staff of 20 people working around the clock when necessary.

New York City has about 30 miles of protected bike lanes, not counting greenways and bridge paths. While in recent years DOT and DSNY have been pretty consistent in keeping the bridge paths and some protected lanes free of snow and ice, some lanes, including Lafayette Street and Grand Street, are not getting cleared. And the Parks Department is unreliable when it comes to keeping paths safe for riding.

Wagenbuur’s video shows a small tractor with a brush up front and a salt spreader in tow, dispatched to clear bikeways. DOT also has snow-clearing equipment for bridge paths. But DSNY hasn’t done as well keeping on-street protected bike lanes clear.

The SnowBuddy, basically a tricked-out lawn tractor used to clear neighborhood sidewalks in Ann Arbor, Michigan, would fit on a protected bike lane (and would be useful on many NYC sidewalks, for that matter).

Another thing that makes winter cycling easier in Hertogenbosch is motorist behavior. Even accounting for the snow, the vehicles in Wagenbuur’s video look as if they’re moving in slow motion, and yielding the right of way is rampant.

“It is good to see that drivers did give cyclists priority when they should,” says Wagenbuur. “When you are used to doing that under normal conditions, you don’t stop doing that in the snow.”

  • qrt145

    “yielding the right of way is rampant”.

    Funny choice of words, given that “rampant” usually gives the connotation of “out of control”. 🙂

  • Brad Aaron

    It’s unreal.

  • Jeff

    It is indeed a tough chicken-and-the-egg problem. Even I feel a bit guilty knowing all of the resources DOT puts into keeping the bridge path clear for all seven of us or whatever who actually cycle on days like we had earlier this week. But in order to grow that number and justify the snow removal and salt, people need to know the paths are consistently clear before heading out!

  • Kate

    We totally need that gritting machine for the Hudson River Greenway… as well as all the separated bike lanes.

  • BBnet3000

    Do people not bike year-round in New York because it’s cold or is the cold just the “stick that broke the camel’s back” on top of all the other difficulties cycling any time of year in New York?

    My hesitation to bike during or after snow storms here has nothing to do with riding in the snow itself, or even fear of falling off my bike on ice. If I fall off my bike on the East River path in front of the old Fulton Fish Market (a VERY icy spot right now) I’ll be fine. I’m afraid of falling while mixing with cars and being ran over.

    The same rule as ever applies: if you aren’t comfortable taking the lane while biking, you will be very constrained in where you can comfortably bike in New York. We are not going to come anywhere close to De Blasio’s 6% empty promise so long as this is true. I seriously doubt that we will even get into the 3-4% range of London/Paris/San Francisco by 2020.

  • Reader

    Citi Bike ridership levels are pretty good during the winter and that makes sense – most of the best bike infrastructure keeps people safe in bad weather. I’m a confident rider who will get out there in any temperature – it’s usually no colder than walking and sometimes means you’re less cold since you’re not out for long. But I haven’t been on my bike in weeks because I have the same fear: falling on ice in front of a moving car, bus, or truck.

    In order to be a successful winter cyclist in NYC, however, you have to be a confident *vehicular cyclist* since you wind up being forced to take the lane.

    That has to change. DOT needs to get over it’s wide parking lane fetish and build some protected lanes.

  • Eddie

    Why are there no rules forbidding the dumping of snow from sidewalks into protected bike lanes? Every time it snows, the protected bike lanes are still dangerously icy and slushy long after the traffic lanes are clear.

  • Sarah

    I am jealous.

  • Clarke

    The Fulton Fish Market spot is notorious. Parks refuses to clear it, endangering all who pass. Heading uptown it’s easy to take the lane on South Street, but heading south there are no real alternatives. Would be great if DOT simply continued the two-way lane on South past Fulton to Peck Slip and merged into the existing path on the river.

  • JK

    Citibikes are good snow bikes. I look forward to having them at both ends of my winter commute.

  • walks bikes drives

    Hmmm, I would probably be more inclined to use a citibike in this weather than my own. Too bad the citibike infrastructure is not here yet. I live in the UWS and commute to the UES. While I love my bike, and would continue using it while it was clear, on a day like today, I’d probably prefer the citibike’s more massive build.

    I am one of those riders who is not afraid to take the lane, but I can’t tell you how many times I get honked at or a car pulls very quickly over in front of me. And 9 times out of ten, it is either a cab or a car with NJ plates.

  • Aron

    * ‘s-Hertogenbosch 😉

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    That’s a dangerous condition, especially when more snow is on the way.

    Keeping NYC streets clean and clear is the responsibility of the DSNY. Judging by the twitter image of Columbus Av, I’m sure the DSNY has the equipment to clear this area.

    File a complaint via the link below or call 311:

    Be safe out there.

  • celticfrostythesnowman

    Unless you’re taking a short trip starting and ending on South St, Water St works fine if you take the lane, even during the evening rush. Two traffic lanes both ways north of Williams.

  • Jonathan R

    New Yorkers can use mass transit system during crummy weather.