Bicycling Mag Names NYC the Best City for Bicycling in America

Later this morning, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg will join the editor and publisher of Bicycling to announce that New York now tops the magazine’s list of America’s best cities for biking. The news leaked in Portland, which owned the top spot for years and where the stagnation of city cycling rates is a major story, as early as last week, so I figured I would share my thoughts on this development ahead of the official decree.

Here they are in old-school blogger bullet point format (didn’t have time to turn this into a proper listicle):

  • Man, this would have made so much more sense as a valedictory moment at the tail end of the Janette Sadik-Khan years at NYC DOT, in recognition of the bike lane designs the agency pioneered in the U.S. and the launch of the nation’s biggest bike-share system under her leadership. Instead it’s coming at the beginning of the as-yet-unproven Polly Trottenberg era.
  • Getting named the best city for biking in America is kind of like winning the Little League World Series or the MLS Cup. We’re not talking about world-class competition here.
  • This sentence from the Bicycling Mag write-up rings true: “Success here, we strongly believe, will radically speed up the spread of bike-share and cycling culture across the country.” It’s already happening. Progress on bike infrastructure in NYC has led to the proliferation of protected bike lanes in other American cities. Maybe a better way to phrase this distinction, then, is that NYC has been “the best city for American bicycling.”
  • America’s best city for biking really ought to have a better police force for biking.
  • Sure, Portland has higher bike mode-share. No doubt biking in Portland is generally less stressful than biking in NYC. But by the same token, bike mode-share in little Davis, California, beats the pants off Portland’s, and it’s probably even less stressful to bike there. Should Davis get the top spot? NYC is a behemoth with crushing car congestion and deserves a ton of points for turning scary meat grinder traffic sewers into bikeable streets (when cops aren’t parked in the bike lane). Compared to other big American cities with at least a million residents, New York can credibly claim to be the best for biking.
  • Even so, as former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt wrote in a post on Streetsblog last week, “cycling in New York is still relatively underdeveloped, with gigantic opportunities for growth ahead.” New York is not yet a city where safe bike infrastructure extends to every neighborhood, where most parents feel safe riding with their kids to school, or where older residents can comfortably bike to get groceries. Tons of work left to do.
  • Speaking of which, everyone wants to knock out the champ, and Bill de Blasio and Polly Trottenberg have their work cut out for them if they want to hang on to this title. Chicago is building decent bike lanes faster than NYC these days. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is backing up his bike-friendly campaign rhetoric with action. Even LA could catch up pretty quickly under new DOT chief Seleta Reynolds, if Mayor Eric Garcetti makes it a priority. In a few years, this could be a major league contest.

We’ll have more coverage from the Bicycling press event later today.

  • BBnet3000

    I guess they wanted to get it off the West Coast, but if a city with 1% mode share for cycling is the best big city for cycling, we are really screwed.

  • qrt145

    I guess the prize was based on hope rather than the current state of affairs, sort of like giving Obama the Peace Prize with the country in the middle of two wars…

    Let’s hope that the hope is well placed!

  • anon

    We can debate the merits of this ad nauseum (and I’m sure other commenters will). If NYC is indeed the #1 city for bicycling, what is it going to do to maintain that title? de Blasio and Trottenberg have yet to put forth a clear vision of what they hope to achieve over the next four years. Tell me that every resident will be within 1/4 mile of a Class I bike facility, that the mode share will double, that the city will push the state for strict liability laws, etc etc etc

  • SheRidesABike

    Sorry, but UGH. Bicycling is little more than a print catalog for overpriced sporting bike gear (I am an unwilling subscriber, so I’m familiar with its content — I flip through each month on the walk from the mailbox to the recycle bin). If this was coming from Momentum or Bicycle Times, which focus more broadly on the state of cycling overall, it would carry more weight. Yes, NYC has gotten much better — but mostly in the immediate core. But despite promising signs, those of us above 59th Street and pretty much in the outer boros have a long wait ahead of us. So if you were to measure by the percent of reasonable bike access per square mile of metro area…no way. Or even by how easy it is to go multimodal (hello, bus racks?). Or many other metrics. The only #1 ranking NYC deserves for cycling is “Most Improved.” That would be a more accurate ranking reflecting where NYC is right now, recognizing its strides and the gaping holes that remain to be addressed.

  • Of course, they missed the fact that in NORTH America, Montreal is the top biking city – the only city on the continent that made it into the Copenhaganize top 15 list –

  • I might quibble and add one more possible category, though I understand the overall assessment above. How about “most people positively affected?” Certainly the events of the past 15 months or so bode well for New York in that regard, limited and unfinished though the improvements may be.

    It’s so easy to forget how even a modest program in and around the five boroughs (and doesn’t the core count? Why is it seemingly so despised?) potentially affects numbers of people unheard of in other parts of (yes, indeed) North America (throwing Montreal into the mix). Percentages? OK, New York lacks. Sheer count of people? We may not yet rock, but we’re rolling. Have hope!

  • Again, gotta start somewhere.

    And look at the *influence* that 1% is having. Look just a bit west across the Hudson Ocean, if one will. Look at Hoboken, Jersey City. Trust me; New York’s impact has been far more direct than model Portland, Ore., has been, and that’s no insult intended to Portland.

  • J

    I truly worry that De Blasio will use this as an excuse to do little to improve biking in NYC.

  • J

    Indeed, Ben got it right when he said it’s “the best city for American bicycling.” Mainly, this is due to the combination of being a massive highly influential city and aggressively pushing new ideas forward. We’ll see if that trend continues. NYC started from very low quality bicycling environment, and has made a ton of progress, but it has a LONG way to go to be anywhere near as bike friendly as Portland or even DC.

  • Albert

    Regarding “Progress on bike infrastructure in NYC has led to the proliferation of protected bike lanes in other American cities”:

    Let’s hope we don’t export our “mixing zone” design, which for some reason has superceded the earlier, safer design that still happily hangs on in parts of 8th & 9th aves. So-called “mixing” zones are dangerous for cyclists—especially and most importantly for the very cyclists we want to feel safe enough to start riding (i.e., the less experienced, new “everyday” cyclists). And the presence of each mixing zone prevents the installation of a pedestrian refuge island.

  • SheRidesABike

    I agree that sheer numbers count — and I wouldn’t read Streetsblog if I wasn’t an optimist! — but IMO, it’s a stretch. That it comes from Bicycling detracts further from its credibility.

  • That 1% includes the entire city. Staten Island and some of our more suburban-style neighborhoods bring mode share numbers way down. It would be like judging the success of the MTA based on the number of people nationwide who use subways.

    In 2012, I oversaw a TA bike count in a few Brooklyn locations. On Bergen Street between 4th Ave and 5th Ave, over 30% of the weekday morning traffic was bikes. On Kent Ave on a Saturday, over 50% of the traffic was bikes. Those percentages have surely gone up in the past two years.

    DOT should be doing everything it can to make cycling safer for people in every neighborhood in every borough, but the 1% figure doesn’t seem like a very useful yardstick by which anyone should measure NYC’s overall success. Too often it’s used by NIMBYs to dismiss cyclists as a tiny minority of commuters not worthy of greater infrastructure.

  • Jonathan R

    Obviously. New York is a great city a priori that is comparatively easy to navigate on a bicycle. And the magazine’s core readership really likes the run to Nyack and Bear Mountain.

  • YES!

  • The bike mode share in some parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and even a few spots in Queens must be between 5 and 10% (maybe higher on nice weekends!) Eastern Queens, North Bronx and most of Staten Island we are lucky if it is .01% and there are few bike facilities to speak of to encourage any more.

    Thus I take this achievement/rating – which is largely a joke – to say many parts of NYC are doing extremely well with protected lanes and bikes on the street. But NYC as a whole needs a hell of a lot of work to be rated a #1. On the other hand you can cycle probably 90% of the streets in Portland and feel relatively safe. And a good deal of Minneapolis is safe and has excellent greenway alternatives to riding the roads.

    Maybe a better idea would be for Bicycling Magazine to just post the Top Five or Top Ten in no particular order. That’d be more honest.

  • nycbikecommuter

    “NYC the Best City for Bicycling in America”. I know there was a good reason I don’t read Bicycling…

  • Joe Linton

    Yay for mentioning upcoming L.A. – look out for Seleta Reynolds! We’re expecting big things here.

  • Adam Herstein

    Blame NACTO for the mixing zones they put into their standards.

  • I don’t know how Philadelphia failed to crack the top 10. I was down there this week, having ridden there and back for my longest ever bike trip (116 miles going; 41 miles in the city; 119 miles coming back).

    I was thoroughly impressed with the network of bike lanes in Philadelphia, and by the huge amount of bike-friendly streets. Also, the ordinary street signage is exemplary, indicating on every street sign whether the street in question is or is not an arterial. And most street signs show the directions in which the street (officially) runs.

    Like New York, Philadelphia is mostly devoid of large hills. While the presence or absence of hills is not something that is under the control of city governments, it should be considered as part of any city’s bikeability rating.

    Also like in New York, in Philadelphia bike riding seems to have become very normalised. I had no trouble getting my bike into supermarkets, delis (even being invited into one deli after I had assumed I would have to leave my bike outside), fast-food places, and gift shops. I brought the bike without incident into the building that houses the Independence Mall gift shop, and also into the Bourse.

    But one thing that was very unlike New York was the attitude of the drivers — both towards each other and towards bicyclists.

    Overall, there clearly was much less aggression on the parts of Philadelphia drivers as compared to their New York counterparts. The drivers in Philadelphia are noticibly much more polite; they actually stop at stop signs!

    The right-on-red rule exists there; and the drivers make a true stop before proceeding. Both in New York where there is no right-on-red rule (but where lots of people do it anyway), and in the places just outside New York where the right-on-red rule applies, such as Long Island and New Jersey, drivers typically make only a cursory stop, barely looking around, and then just blithely roll on into the turn. By contrast, the Philadelphia drivers stop for one beat… two beats… and then go.

    I also constantly saw evidence of politeness at intersections. In New York we typically see drivers racing through intersections to beat a light, and also weaving around turning cars. However, in Philadelphia I observed a general practice of hanging back, and the willingness to yield to turning cars.

    And this politeness evidently extends to bicyclists, as well. Whenever I gave a palm-out “stop” signal to a driver coming from the other direction who was about to turn left in front of me, that driver stopped — I mean the driver actually stopped; he/she did not just go into a slower roll, as occurs here in New York.

    I am an unabashed promoter of New York as a bicycling wonderland; and it does not surprise me that a magazine would name it number one in the country. But Philadelphia is not very far behind. Riding in Philadelphia was a joy, and was almost as good as being home.

  • qjk

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean by old and new mixing zones—would you mind giving an example? I ride along 8th and 9th every day, but mostly only in midtown and above, so I guess I haven’t noticed any differences.

  • Kevin Love

    “…the presence or absence of hills… should be considered as part of any city’s bikeability rating.”

    Sorry, but I must disagree. Sure, hills can be annoying, but thanks to Sturmey-Archer we have gears to deal with them.

    Notoriously mountainous Switzerland has the following bike mode shares:

    Basel 25%
    Bern 20%
    Zurich 7%


  • I don’t say that hills ought to disqualify a city. But they’ve got to be factored in somehow, as they surely impact the amount of riding that people are willing (or able) to do.

    Those mode-share figures, while dreamy by U.S. standards, are surely depressed by the mountainous topography. In other words: who knows how high the mode-share figures would be in those Swiss cities if they were flat.

    You wouldn’t ignore the winter weather problem when discussing Minneapolis, or, let’s say, some Finnish cities. You’d take it into consideration when rating the suitability of these places for bicycling. They could still be highly rated, but it would be despite the flaw of the weather. The same goes for hills.

    (Maybe I am still having flashbacks to my unpleasant battle with Eagle Rock Mountain in New Jersey!)

  • Albert

    The intersections on the 8th & 9th Avenue bike lanes (which are older) are different from those on the 1st & 2nd Avenue lanes (which are newer). There appear to be two main differences:

    1) On 8th & 9th avenues, painted lines (and sometimes raised islands) direct the turning cars to continue parallel to the bike lane all the way into the intersection before turning, while the newer treatment used on 1st & 2nd actually directs cars into the bicycle lane itself to make their turn, which forces bikes to maneuver around these cars while their drivers are busy looking way ahead at crossing pedestrians. This can even be scary for long-time NYC cyclists. I can only imagine how many first-time cyclists are scared off completely by these zones. Besides this specific danger for cyclists, this newer design in effect “rounds off” the corner and allows cars to turn at higher speed than the older treatment did, a big danger in a city where failure to yield kills & injures so many pedestrians.

    2) On 8th & 9th many of the intersections have “split phase” traffic signals, with separate phases for bikes and turning cars, while on 1st & 2nd most of the intersections allow motor vehicles to turn at the same time as bikes are trying to go straight (except for some of the “major” intersections—14th, 23rd, 34th—which do have split phases).

    If you haven’t ridden on 1st & 2nd avenues yet, for safety’s sake I recommend you reset any preconceptions you may have from your experience on 8th and 9th.

  • Joe R.

    Hats off for doing that kind of mileage in weather where I was ready to pass out just walking a mile. I barely broke 125 miles this August. I was hoping to do better now that September and supposedly cooler weather is here, but it looks like we’re making up for the relative lack of summer heat waves right now. It might be tolerable without the humidity. Just walked 1.5 miles to the store and back. Miserable out there even now. I guess either you have a tolerance/love of heat or you don’t.

    If general traffic levels are lower in Philadelphia that might explain the better manners. In NYC for much of the day you’re encountering crap nearly every block which requires slowing, stopping, changing direction. It quickly gets tedious and turns people into nervous wrecks. Their manners disappear in the rush for any amount of progress, no matter how small. Anyway, it sounds like you had a great time.

  • qrt145

    Not all Switzerland is mountainous, and Basel is actually very flat. Bern and Zurich do have some mountainous parts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that lots of people bike on them!

  • Joe R.

    If they would count recreational cycling mode share would be quite a bit higher in the parts of the city you mentioned. I never understood why the only cyclists who count are the ones going to work.

  • Thanks for the kudos. I do love hot weather; in fact the weather this week is actually what made me go ahead and finally do this long-mulled plan.

    We got a week of glorious weather after a depressingly cool August; and I wasn’t going to let it go to waste. Riding home on Tuesday when it was 90+ degrees was perfect for me. I’ll take that weather every day.

    Despite the coolness of August, I totalled 947 miles, after having done 1065 in July. So, while I didn’t quite make 1000 for two months in a row, I did average more than 1000 a month for the past two months.

    I’m just sad that it has to end.

  • Joe R.

    That’s really impressive. One these years I may well finally break 1000 miles for the month but it may not be until I retire. With my latest consulting gig there often isn’t time for sleep, never mind riding. At least my last four years until this one were decent. I totaled 11,510 miles from 2010 through 2013.

  • I work a regular 9-to-5 shift. But, even with those regular hours there would be no time for 1000-mile months if I didn’t take days off. I use almost all my vacation days during the summer months, just to ride as much as I can.

    I hope you can ultimately get back to logging heavy miles. I totalled 5857 last year; and I am ahead of that pace this year, despite the terrible first three months. But I have read that winter is expected to come early and be harsh this year; so I doubt that I have a realistic chance to get to 6000 miles for the year.

  • Kevin Love

    Sure, and it rains quite often in The Netherlands. Very few places in the world are ideal in terms of weather, terrain, etc.

    But so what? We’ve got gears for hills and clothing for winter. Neither should be a big deal.

    By US standards, Minneapolis or Madison, Wisconsin (where I spent 12 years of my life) are pretty good for cycling even in the winter.

  • qjk

    Thanks! Well explained.

    Along 8th and 9th where I ride, I often still have to weave around drivers nosing left into the bike lane, where they idle (or, worse, inch into the crosswalk) while pedestrians finish crossing. Since they still have to wait for the crosswalk to clear, I can’t quite wrap my head around why so many drivers do this. Oh, well.

  • Albert

    At the risk of sounding simplistic, I think the main reason drivers block the bike lane while waiting for peds to cross and inch into the crosswalk is, Because They Can.

    Unless cars are physically prevented from turning “early” (say, by a pedestrian refuge island), human nature will prevail and most sealed-off, isolated drivers will use their massive bulk to bully their way through the rest of us.

    I probably would too, if I weren’t careful.


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