New York Cycling, as Seen From L.A.


According to city statistics, over the last seven years the number of cyclists on New York streets has risen by 75 percent. With increased investments in infrastructure, overseen by a new, pro-cycling DOT commissioner, the city hopes to double the number of riders by 2015.

Of course, obstacles remain. As reported in a Los Angeles Times piece from yesterday on the current state of New York cycling, as their favored mode enjoys a renaissance that even a bike snob can’t ignore, riders must nonetheless contend not only with careless motorists, but also toasted newspaper columnists, a hostile police department, and certain double-talking City Council members.

Police here largely ignore jaywalkers, cyclists going against traffic and taxi drivers bounding across lanes to pick up customers. And anarchy begets anarchy. Cyclists — fearing for their lives — ride on the sidewalk, and pedestrians — to avoid the cyclists — step into traffic.

Jessica Lappin, a councilwoman from the Upper East Side, hears the horror stories almost daily.

Seniors in her neighborhood feel "terrorized" by delivery people who barrel down the sidewalks on two wheels, causing elderly residents to duck and dive. "While I understand that the cyclists fear for their lives in the streets," she said, "the answer can’t be whizzing by on the sidewalk at 20 mph and running into pedestrians."

Lappin added that she supported bicycling in general and — if it was safer — would probably bicycle herself.

Still, the article is mostly positive, profiling as it does an everyday Park Slope couple, Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein. Both are in their forties, and both bike to work in Lower Manhattan after dropping the kids off at school. (According to the story, cycling is growing in popularity among the "middle-aged" set — another positive trend.) Says Eckstein, who, along with Cohen, has ridden here for 15 years: "The city feels much safer than when we started. It even feels safe in the dark."

Photo: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times

  • uSkyscraper

    Here is a bike question that was bugging me over the weekend — why are bikes not allowed in Inwood Hill Park? There is a great network of paved trails through the park connecting the very northern tip of Manhattan west of the Henry Hudson Parkway / Amtrak with Broadway. Some of the park trails are easily wide enough to handle bikes in mixed traffic, but there are prominent “no bikes” signs. I understand the need to control speed on the steep grades, but it seems the city is missing out on a much needed northern connection.

  • I’ll take a moment to defend CM Lappin as I think this is a bit harsh and unfair to her. What she says is absolutelyy correct – she DOES hear stories from seniors that are afraid of cyclists. I’ve heard them at every CB8 meeting where bicycles are mentioned and sometimes completely out of nowhere. And she lives near the Queensboro bridge which is currently a nightmare for cyclists (I stopped riding on Second Ave near 60th after a few close calls).

    Would it be great if she was showed more leadership in more proactively addressing these issues through more bike lanes and more space for bike parking in her district? Absolutely! But I don’t think it’s fair to say she’s double talking on the issue.

  • uSkyscraper (and others): is the Inwood Hill bike ban enforced? Ever?

  • doramittelbau

    Why is that when talking about the difficulties of cycling in NYC nobody ever mentions the number of jerks on bicycles who blatantly ignore traffic rules such as riding the wrong way on one-way streets and zipping through red lights. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve nearly been hit while on my bike and while walking by these morons. And it’s not just delivery guys.

    These people pose as much danger to other cyclists as inconsiderate drivers.

  • One of the interesting paradoxes of cycling is that people who hate cyclists and people who want more cyclists have a lot more common ground than they realize. By creating safer places to ride in separated lanes, cyclists are more relaxed, less likely to ride on the sidewalk and more likely to be seen by pedestrians.

    Unfortunately the debate gets locked into a tit for tat – some cyclists misbehave, they should be penalized through more enforcement and they definitely shouldn’t get more space on the road. This ends with both sides frustrated and nothing resolved.

    I hope some of our elected “leaders” can start explaining this to their constituents. There’s a real win-win with separated bike lanes. It just needs more explanation and leadership.

  • I was riding in Inwood Hill Park once last year (I didn’t realize it was illegal) and someone stopped me to tell me bikes were not allowed. According to the lady who stopped me, she said they were cracking down on cyclists and issuing summonses. To be safe, I thanked her and got off the bike.

  • Stu

    doramittelbau, what are you talking about? Practically the only thing discussed when people talk about cycling in NYC is that there are a lot of jerks on bikes who should be locked up and beaten for running red lights and hitting pedestrians.

    Now, I hate bikers talking on the cell phone or going the wrong way on my one-way street or on my sidewalk as much as the next pedestrian, but I am sick of it being treated like a special trump card that stops all discussion of biking in NYC. It’s an inconvenience, part of living in a huge city, no more of one than double-parked cars or people who run red lights or tourists walking five by five.

    People need to stop elevating their pet peeves to the level of capital crimes.

  • Ace

    NYC bicyclists abandoning private automobiles in favor of bicycle to commute =0%

    NYC bicyclists abandoning public transportation in favor of bicycle to commute =100%

  • LN

    Last summer I led a bike ride though inwood park, we had a ranger give us a talk about the park and its history and then rode through the park with his blessing.

    There are certain residents of the area that are very anti-bike, and they have prevented the greenway from extending into the park (and into the bronx). So dont believe everything you hear from people walking in the park. They could be an anti bike person– sometimes they are in disguise.

  • Ace – I’m not sure I buy your 100%, but I agree a vast majority of cyclists would have otherwise taken mass transit. Think of those that would have otherwise taken cabs. Think of outerborough cyclists going to places not serviced by mass transit.

    But let’s take the logic further. NYC cyclists that don’t take public transportation take the burden off overcrowding on lines like the 4,5,6 subway line. That makes the ride more comfortable for everyone else. That helps convince drivers further away to take the bus or subway.


    More cyclists –> less overcrowded subways/buses –> more comfortable ride –> more drivers switching to mass transit

  • uSkyscraper

    Whether the ban in Inwood Hill Park is enforced or not, it should be lifted. No one likes feeling like a criminal when they are doing something that should be legal. It’s a big park and the trails are far too remote for all but the hardiest pedestrians, and as a result it can feel unsafe at times. But on a bike the park is easily and quickly travelled, if you can handle the inclines. Encouraging bikers would do wonders for the park’s use while providing much-needed connections at the top of the island. I’ve made a little map to illustrate what should be put on the next edition of the NYC bike map:

    All of these trails exist now and are wide, paved and provide stunning vistas. Mixing with pedestrians can be handled with proper signage (“slow on descent”, “be careful”, etc.) The narrower trails and the inner/eastern part of the park can be left for hikers.

    Only bureaucracy is keeping these trails hidden from the mass of cyclists who live below Dyckman and don’t know what lies up in them hills…

  • Shemp

    Dora, you are wrong about the danger. Having been hit multiple times by both cars and bikes, I can say categorically that it’s far worse and much more likely to be catastrophic when you are hit by a car.

    Does it suck to be crashed out by another cyclist? Of course. Is it life or limb threatening? Generally not (bone-threatening sometimes).

  • Hiker

    Why do bike routes always have to be created at the expense of the city’s precious natural areas and parkland, instead of its street and highway network? Bicyclists may be benign relative to motor vehicles, just as automobiles are benign relative to trucks, but they introduce pavement and speed to places that are sanctuaries from both. Sure, it’s easy to use parkland for bikeways just like it’s always been easy to use it for road building. Parkies are not anti-bike. Bikers are anti-park.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (NYC bicyclists abandoning private automobiles in favor of bicycle to commute =0% NYC bicyclists abandoning public transportation in favor of bicycle to commute =100%)

    That could come in very handy when the game of chicken, with no one willing to kick into the MTA, reaches its logical conclusion. With debts high, sooner or later parts of the system start will become so unreliable as to be useless and then shut down for extended periods as money is scrounged for patchwork repairs.

    I don’t see a course alteration before that time — short of every member of the state legislature getting thrown out and replaced by someone better. Will all the debt, it may be too late anyway, and it may not make sense to accept higher taxes and fares to forstall the collapse.

  • doramittelbau

    Shemp, point taken about the comparative danger. I’ve only been hit by a bicycle and that was as a pedestrian.

    I do find it galling when I encounter people on bikes decked out in all the right safety gear riding in the bike lane…..going in the wrong direction.

    It’s hard enough to watch out for cars and taxis in NY; I don’t want to have to worry about others on two wheels too.

  • Ace

    “Why do bike routes always have to be created at the expense of the city’s precious natural areas and parkland, instead of its street and highway network?”

    This is exactly the problem with bike/pedestrian paths. Pedestrians deserve a route where they do not have to be constantly aware of/afraid of the possibility of something on wheels running into them. I would appreciate serenity/scenery of the walkway along the Hudson, the Brooklyn Bridge, The Manhattan Bridge etc., a lot more if the bike and pedestrian paths were entirely separate/segregated.

  • KOB

    (NYC bicyclists abandoning private automobiles in favor of bicycle to commute =0% NYC bicyclists abandoning public transportation in favor of bicycle to commute =100%)

    I’m one of them, just started the commute from Staten Island to Manhattan (via the ferry). Express Bus service is too expensive and has become so unreliable, local bus service to the ferry takes forever. I have met a ton of people who make the same commute, some to Queens, some to Brooklyn, some to Manhattan (like me), even one to Jersey (via the GWB!). Every single one of us has given up on the rest of the public transportation system.

  • @Ace: Commuting by bicycle does not necessarily mean abandoning mass transit. Mass transit and cycling can actually be synergistic. I’m not going to ride my bicycle to Albany, for example, but I might ride my bicycle to Penn Station, fold it, and hop on the train. I also have a lengthy bicycle commute (almost 13 miles), so there are some days (particularly when I’m fatigued or there’s bad weather) where I may choose to use the subway for one or both legs.

  • @Hiker & Ace, you make several good points. As both a pedestrian and a cyclist, I agree in general with the desire to separate cycling and walking paths in parks (although I would hardly characterize cyclists as anti-park). I ride on the Greenway for most of bicycle commute, and it is a beautiful and meditative ride for the most part, but it can get nerve-wracking for everyone where the paths are shared. I agree that parks should be a place to slow down and relax, which can be difficult if you’re worried about being run over by a bicycle.

  • @uSkyscraper, I live in Inwood just a couple of blocks from the park. I second your proposal!

  • Brad Aaron

    While we’re at it, let’s find a way to keep the punks on motor scooters out of IHP…

  • Bigupps

    @Ace, I as a bicyclist would also like a physically segregated bike path from motor traffic and pedestrians. In fact, the Manhattan Bridge does this by giving the north side to the bikes and the south side to the peds. Unfortunately the north side almost always has peds on it, most who are oblivious to the bikes behind them or ones that are trying to pass. On the narrow two way path it’s a highly irritating and often dangerous situation.

    I’ve never gone onto the south side of the bridge so don’t know if bikes are usually found there. I can however say that to do so would be a royal pain in the ass (lots of stairs on the brooklyn side at least), so doubt many cyclist take that route.

    And I avoid the Brooklyn Bridge if possible precisely because the bike and ped paths are too close.

    “Salmon” are just plain in the wrong. Yesterday I passed by a completely oblivious girl slowly weaving the wrong way up the 2nd Ave bike lane…talking on her cell phone…without a helmet. By far the biggest upstream swimmers are delivery guys without lights at night. Please, for the love of god, can’t we paint big directional arrows on the lanes? Maybe they might be ignored, but maybe if it’s made crystal clear more people would follow.

    Oy, griping too much.

  • As someone who is a pedestrian, cyclist, and (occasionally, when upstate) an automobile driver, I think *everyone* could do a better job of looking out for another on the streets and in parks. Yes, I get annoyed when cyclists go the wrong way on a one-way street bike lane or blow through red lights, but I also get annoyed when motorists stop in bike lanes and turn in front of me without checking first, and I most certainly get annoyed when pedestrians cross against lights and walk in bike lanes and paths when there is a perfectly good sidewalk or (as is the case on the Greenway) walking path right alongside.

    And, you know what? Sometimes in each of these roles I do stupid things, too.

    So, can we all stop blaming each other and make more of an effort to foster safer streets and parks by watching out not only for ourselves but for other classes of users? I know I will, because I could very well be that pedestrian, cyclist, or driver who ends up in an accident.

  • Ace

    “I’ve never gone onto the south side of the bridge so don’t know if bikes are usually found there.”

    Every time I walk across the Manhattan Bridge I encounter bicyclists (always plural, generally 4-6 per crossing)in both directions. Especially dangerous when they come upon you from behind while a train is going by as it is impossible to hear the bicycle’s approach.

    I see walkers on the other side when I ride the train across and I imagine it drives the bicyclists nuts, interrupting what must be an otherwise glorious ride.

  • Reading these comments, I sense that there’s a “divide-and-conquer” effect going on here: too much street space is given over to cars, and pedestrians and cyclists end up fighting over the precious little space that’s left. If street space were reallocated to provide more area to pedestrians and cyclists, we wouldn’t (I hope) be having this quarrel–and isn’t that the goal of this blog?

  • Bigupps

    Urbanis, absolutely 100% agree.

  • uSkyscraper

    Sorry to have started a biker-hiker war. My proposal was very specific – I’m talking about the western portion of IHP that is not used by hikers because it is a very far distance for them to walk to (over an hour from “base camp” for a slow walker) and somewhat creepy/deserted as a result. At the same time, these semi-abandoned western trails extend the greenway nicely.

    By the way, this is a recreational bike issue – I want to enjoy the park on a bike – so it’s not about being squeezed off the roads. And yes, within the park it would be ideal if hikers and bikes had separate routes, as they do at Central Park. My route selection is an attempt to achieve this segregation with minimal conflict.

    Didn’t know about the anti-bikies in the area – I live two blocks from IHP as well – but will try to learn more and be a model neighbor.

  • Hilary

    Yes, bikers never conceive of themselves as anti-park, anti-environment, or anti-preservation, and for the most part they are not. When they advocate for getting cars out of Central and Prospect parks, they will be allies. But when they pave wide new trails through natural areas, and cede parkland to automobiles and trucks (e.g, the third of the parkland that is the parkways), thinking it will make the streets more bicycle-friendly, then they undercut the efforts of park advocates, environmentalists and preservationists. Of course there will be cases where we disagree and should be open to persuasion, but I wish there could be a summit of these groups led by Regional Plan and MAS to reach broad agreement on the most fundamental principals of how we should integrate transportation and open space. PlaNYC is a portfolio of micro-plans, many of them contradictory. We still lack an overall vision for the city’s future.

  • David

    Got a deal for all of you who kvetch about evil bikers running red lights. When pedestrians stop crossing against the red, bikers will stop crossing against the red. OK? Didn’t think so..

    IMHO, it makes no sense for either group to wait for stop lights 100% of the time. How long would it take you to walk or ride twenty blocks up or down Broadway if you waited for every light to turn green?

    Salmon are a totally different story and I have zero tolerance for them, esp. if I’m riding in a bike lane. It’s bad enough to watch for delivery trucks, cabs, and police cars who seem to think bike lanes are parking places.


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