Streetfilms: NYC Biking Up Big for Two Years Running

This year the New York City Department of Transportation measured a 26 percent jump in commuter cycling. Coming on the heels of 2008’s unprecedented 35 percent growth, that puts the total two-year increase at a whopping 66 percent.

Much of the growth in cycling can be attributed to the installation of 200 miles of bike routes in the past three years, including innovative facilities like the cycletracks on Eighth Avenue and Ninth Avenue, which separate car traffic from cyclists. Safer streets get more people to ride, who encourage their friends to ride, and more riders on the road means cyclists are more visible and safer. The virtuous circle is in effect here in New York.

With triple the number of cyclists on the road since 2000, we thought now would be a good time to get a reality check from riders: How’s it going out there? Overwhelmingly, folks we interviewed said it is getting quite crowded on New York’s streets and bridges. Good thing bikes aren’t space hogs!

  • It’s been great to see the growth in cycling the past few years. Although, by my math, 35% growth followed by a 26% growth combines to 70% growth…even better than 66%! (1.35 * 1.26 = 1.70)

  • TKO

    Well the way many cyclist cycle I would call them space hogs. They forget that there are pedestrians that also share the road with them.

  • a cyclist

    biking is much improved and improving. however i wish peds would walk on the sidewalk and respect the bike lane. i counted 15+ peds in the street on a one block stretch of 42nd street last night

  • Frank Z.

    Thge percentages are meaning less without the raw numbers which I suspect are low. In the real world of commuting how is someone from Queens or Staten Island going to safely commute the 15+ miles into Manhattan? They are not. They will take subways, express buses or the ferry.

    For Manhattanites commuting to jobs in Manhattan it’s doable. I still think it’s risky but to each his own.

  • Frank Z may want to consult a map. 15 miles from midtown Manhattan gets you all the way to the outer edge of Queens. Hundreds of thousands of Queens residents live much closer to Manhattan than that.

    It’s true, though: no matter how many people take up commuting via bicycle, you can always say that “in the real world” other people live too far from their jobs to do it! As if that was an argument instead of a non sequitur.

  • Move over Portland, New York is fast becoming the pattern city for bicycling in America.

  • “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    Never has there been such a misuse of stats than in the reports of DOT. Check out their website and read the true data before extolling manipulated numbers.

    In fact, this ‘whooping increase’ represents a mere increase of 3,167 cyclists, i.e., 15,495 from a prior years base of 12,328. After all the PR, fanfare and $$ spent by DOT, an increase of 3, 167 cyclists in a city of millions is such a small increase to be NO increase. Think Sisyphus.

    Further, when DOT began taking these stats in 1980, it tabulated 2,081 in its first survey. Thirty years later, after all the press releases and publicity stunts by DOT (see picture above), the 2,081 figure is now a mere 15,495, just over 13,000 more cyclists in three decades. After all the TA rallies and demos, all the blogging here and all of DOT’s efforts, this is not an impressive number.

    Hate to say it guys, but the Empress isn’t wearing any clothes.

  • Jackie, I’m sorry if you don’t like math or bicycles but you’ve failed to establish that there is anything dishonest in the presentation or the data. Both the raw numbers and the percentages are relevant, as always, and they are both readily available. I’m plenty happy with the raw numbers, tho, because I am one (1) of them. I started riding daily during your empress’s reign, and I couldn’t be happier than to see my tax dollars spent in this way.

  • @ Frank Z — Cycling solves the last mile issue.

    The entire transportation network opens up when you are able to safely cycle the mile or two to your train, express bus, or ferry.

  • cat

    I wish my fellow pedestrians would start respecting bicyclists more so that the bicyclists would find it in their hearts to respect us back.

  • Also worth pointing out that these numbers only count cyclists on the East River bridges, the SI Ferry, and the Hudson River Greenway. There are tens of thousands of people who bike-commute to work within lower/midtown Manhattan, through Central Park, or down one of the avenues who are not reflected in these numbers. So while these numbers are interesting in their own sake, mostly to see how cycling grows and shrinks, it’s completely wrong to say there are “only” 15,000 bike commuters a day. In all probability, there are two or three times that number going to jobs in Manhattan, and tens of thousands who don’t work in Manhattan as well (many of them commutes within Brooklyn and within Queens).

  • kapes

    The lack of basic understanding of this statistic is stunning. Just as the total number of cars crossing 4 bridges and on the west side highway would not in any way equal the total number of cars driving in New York City – neither do these raw numbers equal the total number of cyclists in New York City. 2 or 3 times more? I’d say the daily total is probably closer more like 10 times more than the 15,495. Not all cyclists are internet reading livable streets advocates. A huge number are recent immigrants and the poor, commuting between apartments and work in boroughs other than Manhattan.

    The raw numbers are only useful as a means to monitor the general trend of cycling. The idea is, if there are more people crossing those bridges and on the west side path, there is likely a proportionally larger number of cyclists in the entire city.

  • auk

    After years of being afraid to bike two blocks in this city, I started riding my bike on the weekends (with a friend). I love it and I wish I could commute to work by bike. I live in Brooklyn and work on w. 57th st and see no reliably safe way to do it. Keep in mind I’m a newbie biker and while I follow traffic rules, there are too many careless peds/cyclists/drivers out there. It would be great if the city was structured so bike lanes could be completely separate from car and ped pathways, as in a city of 8 mil I don’t think law enforcement could keep order.

  • So many points well taken above. There is a huge Latino community in western and central Queens who bicycle into Manhattan each day, many to work in the grocery and food service industries. Many of them head uptown from the Queensboro Bridge and never make it into the DoT screenline counts which so the 66%+ increase. I commuted in when I lived in Long Island City, I was much closer to work in midtown than many I knew who lived uptown and downtown.

    Obviously the modal share for bicycling is still very small in absolute terms compared to the NYC population, but the rate of increase is astounding and augurs big changes in the profile and political power of the cycling community in months and years to come. Not to mention the immediate “safety in numbers” effect.

  • Jackie, the numbers do not attempt to quantify the total number of bikes in NYC, just the increase. Thats why percentage is important.

    There is no multiplier being used to estimate the total amount of bikes.

    For all we know, it might be 50,000, with a 30% increase…

  • Muenster

    The 66% growth in bike commuter trips from 2007 to 2009 measured by the NYC DOT screenline counts is extremely encouraging and should generate political and public support for continued expansion of the bikeway network in NYC. BUT the DOT screenline counts are misleading and highly unrepresentative for NYC as a whole. They overestimate the actual growth in cycling for various reasons. Most importantly, the screenline counts are all focused on the lower half of Manhattan, basically the CBD south of 50th Street, and totally ignore what is going on in the outer boroughs except for trips to and from Lower Manhattan. The US Census (annual ACS surveys) reports a DECLINE in worktrips in NYC by bike from 2007 to 2008 when all sections of all five NYC boroughs are included in the survey, instead of just the tiny portion of NYC that is included in the screenline counts. That ACS US Census survey finding of reduced bike trips to work from 2007 to 2008 might be a statistical quirk, and I certainly do not believe that cycling actually declined. But even over the long term, Census data show a much smaller growth in cycling since 2000 than portayed by the screenline counts, about a doubling instead of a quadrupling. And a doubling in biking to work is just fine, very impressive indeed. And NYC DOT is to be congratulated for their fine work and encouraged to do more. But why is DOT using a screenline count with changing methodologies over time and restricted to a tiny portion of NYC? Why ignore the other four boroughs entirely, and even the upper portion of Manhattan? At least the US Census ACS methodology is consistent over time and the exact same methodology used for all cities and metropolitan areas throughout the USA. Incidentally, according to the US Census ACS numbers, the bike share of work trips in all five boroughs in NYC was 0.6% in 2008, compared with 6.0% in Portland. Yet with only a tenth as high a share of work trips by bike, NYC DOT claims that NYC is “the bicycling capital of the nation.” Time for a reality check. I would like to have NYC DOT explain the discrepancy between their screenline counts with changing methodologies, and the official US Census surveys, which are done every year and use the same methodology.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Jackie, I could bring up about a dozen good points how your math doesn’t add up. But one of the things we did was to go out to the people to talk to cyclists and see if this data jives with them. We talked to about 20 folks – we only featured 9 of them in the video – and ALL of them talked about how there were many more people on the roads riding bikes. In fact a few said there were actually too many!!

    I’ll add that the increase jives anecdotally with everything I have heard. Before I knew the actual numbers, my personal guesstimate was that I was seeing between 20 and 30% more cyclists on the road. So I was in the ballpark.

    Muenster – I’ll point out that I would always love to see even more exact data (Portland has some tallying methods where you can see the # of people who use bike by neighborhood which is amazing) but one disadvantage that NYC has with the .6% figure is this – NYC covers all five boros – even the furthest outreaches of Brooklyn and Queens (and Staten Island) all of which have fewer bike commuters. I have made bets with many friends that in non-winter months there must be close to a 4 or 5% mode share of people on bikes in places like: Manhattan below 14th street, Park Slope, Williamsburg, LIC, Red Hook, etc. and until we can see stats on numbers of cyclists by neighborhood we won’t be able to confirm that.

  • Ian Turner

    Clarence, your instinct seems to be correct; the census says that Brooklyn and Manhattan together account for 80% of New York cyclist commuters. Note that this data exempts non-work trips, including commutes to school, and that the margin of error is huge at ±20%. Although the census data does show a decrease 2007-2008, the difference is not statistically significant. At best we can say that over the year, the 35% annual increase figure seems overstated.

    In 2008 the census reported 24,428 people commuting to work primarily by bicycle, indicating a multiplier of roughly 1.5X compared to the DOT numbers (note that DOT records round trips as distinct trips, while the census does not).

    This information came from table B08301 “MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION TO WORK”.

  • Moser

    The census is no better a proxy for overall bike use than the DOT screenlines are. They ask only about primary mode of journey to work (work trips < 20% of all travel) and so eliminate irregular commuters as well as trips for other purposes. More interesting will be the pending update of the regional household travel survey:

  • Larry Littlefield

    My own observation is that bicycling is up for all kinds of purposes. People on bicycles were rare 20 years ago; now they are common.

    I wonder if it would be possible for someone to get some PSAs up in, say, February. I didn’t think bicycle travel was practical until I actually did it enough times for my muscles to get used to it.

  • Ian Turner

    Moser, agreed, if only because of the huge margins of error in these ACS parameters.

  • Frank Z.


    It’s about 15 miles from Oakwood, SI to midtown Manhattan, by car. Maybe a little less if you figure by bicycle to the SI ferry to Manhattan, but still a long impractical trip.

    The SI Advance an article about a handful of people who commute from the north shore of SI to jobs in lower Manhattan. That’s a much shorter trip but still risky because of the traffic patterns on SI. Only a few main roads, no true street grid, narrow streets, etc. The road network here is basically what the Dutch and British left us from colonial times.


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