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Digging Into the New Report on New York City Cycling

2:15 PM EDT on April 27, 2010

Picture_4.pngWhere bike commuters live, according to Census data compiled by the authors of a new report on New York City cycling.

As we mentioned yesterday, a team led by Rutgers professor John Pucher just released a major piece of research on the state of cycling, bike infrastructure, and bike safety in New York. If you want to get a better sense of who bikes, where they ride, and how cycling is changing, you need to read "Cycling in New York City: Innovation at the Urban Frontier" [PDF].

Here are some of the highlights from the data marshaled by the authors. Many of these stats should help inform the public discussion of cycling and how to make it a safer and more appealing choice for New Yorkers. They do come with a caveat, since many figures are derived from different and imperfect sources. Census data understates the number of cyclists, for instance, while DOT's screenline counts probably don't represent citywide cycling rates. Trends and patterns are more reliable than any particular number. 

  • According to the Census, the number of New York City bike commuters increased 153 percent from 1990 to 2006-2008. DOT's screenline indicator shows more rapid growth in cycling into the Manhattan core: an increase of 340 percent since 1990.
  • Brooklyn has overtaken Manhattan as the borough with the most residents commuting by bike, according to the Census. Bike commuting grew by 315 percent in Brooklyn from 1990-2008. Queens saw the second-biggest increase: 163 percent. But Manhattan still has the highest mode share of bike commuters -- 1.0 percent (which probably understates the true number).
  • Census tallies indicate that more people choose to commute by bike in the densest parts of the city. Lower Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn have the highest rates of bike commuting. There are areas with comparably high bike commuting rates in East Harlem and the South Bronx. In southeastern Brooklyn, eastern Queens, most of the Bronx and all of Staten Island, the mode share for bike commuting is less than 0.3 percent, about the same as in the Jersey suburbs.
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  • Three-quarters of bike commuters are men, according to a 2007 report by the NYC Department of Health. That number is the same as in 1990. On off-street paths, the percentage of women cycling is three times higher than on on-street lanes and streets with sharrows.
  • Cycling rates decline with age: According to the same DOH report, 17 percent of New Yorkers aged 18-24 bike several times a month, compared to 10 percent of those 25-44, seven percent of those 45-64, and three percent of those 65 and over.
  • Income and education don't seem to affect cycling rates. Among the poorest New Yorkers, 9.4 percent bike frequently. Among the highest earners, 9.8 percent. Among college graduates, 9.7 percent are frequent cyclists, compared to 10.6 percent of those without a high school diploma.
  • There are some notable variations in cycling by race and ethnicity. According to the breakdown compiled by the Census: 10.7 percent of non-Hispanic Whites identify as frequent cyclists, 9.5 percent of Hispanics, 6.7 percent of Asians, and 6.2 percent of Black non-Hispanics.
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  • Cycling is much safer now than a decade ago. Over
    the period between 1999-2001 and 2005-2007, severe injuries per 1,000
    bike commuters fells by 44 percent. Fatalities per 1,000 commuters fell
    20 percent.
  • To comprehensively improve cycling safety, you need to address wide roads and dangerous intersections. More than half of bike fatalities take place on wide arterials like Delancey Street or Atlantic Avenue, although that type of road comprises only 10 percent of New York city streets. In addition, 89 percent of fatalities and 70 percent of serious injuries take place at or near an intersection.
  • There were 600 public bike racks in 1996. In 2009, there were 6,100. Even so, New York has extremely low amounts of bike parking per capita compared to the 50 largest American cities.
  • New York is particularly behind on integrating bicycling with its transit system. The MTA provides no bike parking near subway stations (although the city does have racks near many). In contrast, the Chicago and San Francisco transit systems each provide more than 6,000 bike parking spaces. Outside New York, an average of three-quarters of city buses are equipped with bike racks. There are none on MTA buses.

The authors wrap up by assessing how New York compares to other American cities that have made a commitment to improving bicycling. "New York may someday become the best cycling city in America, but it does not yet deserve that status," they write. To earn that title, their top recommendations include installing more bike infrastructure outside of Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn, better integrating bikes with the transit system, and tighter NYPD enforcement of traffic laws.

What do you take away from this study? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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