3 Big Takeaways From NYC DOT’s 2014 Bike Count [Updated]

2014_screenline
The last double-digit percentage jump in the screenline bike count came in 2010. Graphic: DOT

NYC DOT has posted the 2014 screenline bike count [PDF] (after some prodding from us last week), showing a 4 percent increase over the previous year. Following double-digit percentage growth every year from 2006 to 2010, this marks the fourth consecutive year without an increase of 10 percent or more.

The screenline captures bike trips across major thresholds to the Manhattan central business district: The four East River bridges, the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street, and the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal. With counts going back to 1985, it’s very useful for tracking trends in cycling to and from the city’s biggest job centers, but its flaws as a proxy for overall city cycling activity become more apparent every year.

Here’s a look at what we can glean from this year’s count and what we can’t.

Growth in cycling to and from the Manhattan core is slowing

Until 2014, DOT conducted bike counts only once or twice per month (last year the agency started using electronic counters that can continuously collect data), so in any given year the screenline count could deliver a number that’s off the mark a bit. But it’s now been four years in a row without a double-digit jump. The rate of growth has definitely slowed since 2006-2010, when the annual increases ranged from 13 to 35 percent.

The de Blasio administration has an ambitious bike mode-share target — 6 percent of all trips by 2020. Imperfect as it may be, the screenline is sending a clear signal that more must be done to make biking feel safe for large numbers of New Yorkers.

Campaigns to improve the approaches to the Manhattan Bridge bike path on Chrystie Street and Jay Street point the way toward reducing key barriers to biking across bridges. The Queens Boulevard protected bike lane NYC DOT is planning to implement later this year should make cycling to the Queensboro Bridge more accessible too, but that brings us to another barrier…

Capacity crunch on the Queensboro Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge

The average 12-hour bike count on the Queensboro Bridge increased a healthy amount to 3,228 — more than 10 percent higher than its previous peak. But as former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt noted on Streetsblog last fall, the bridge’s shared biking and walking path is already feeling uncomfortably cramped. As bike traffic grows on the Queensboro, the case for repurposing the south outer roadway for walking or biking gets stronger.

The average count on the Brooklyn Bridge, meanwhile, dropped from 2,684 to 2,566. The bridge is the quickest route to reach Lower Manhattan and the Hudson River Greenway from Brooklyn by bike, but the narrow promenade is simply inadequate for all the cyclists, walkers, and tourists who want to use it. Don’t expect cycling to increase on the Brooklyn Bridge very much until the path is widened or the city dedicates a lane of the roadway to bikes.

NYC DOT needs to do more annual counts in addition to the screenline

Last year was the first time DOT released a screenline count since the launch of Citi Bike. One of the big takeaways was that the screenline count didn’t capture the huge increase in cycling in the bike-share zone. This year’s count proves that 2013 was no fluke — the screenline is good at measuring trips across the boundaries of the Manhattan core, but doesn’t reflect what’s happening inside that boundary. Turning DOT’s 2013 bike counts inside the Citi Bike service area into a recurring annual metric could fill this gap in measurement.

The screenline method isn’t a good proxy for bicycling activity beyond the neighborhoods that ring the city center, either. Many of the more significant bike projects NYC DOT is developing right now — like protected bike lanes for Upper Manhattan, Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx, and 111th Street in Queens — are too far away from the screenline to register much in the count.

Last September, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT had to develop a better method to track citywide cycling. To measure the impact of DOT’s upcoming slate of bike projects farther out from the city center, the agency will have to start counting soon.

Correction: This post originally said DOT only counted cyclists one day per month in 2014. In fact, last year the agency began using automated counters, providing a much more robust data-set than in the past — between 11 and 17 days per month.

  • BBnet3000

    The de Blasio administration has an ambitious bike mode-share target — 6 percent of all trips by 2020.

    As far as I am aware this should read: “the De Blasio campaign had a”

    Also no mention of taking the Queensboro Bridge into or out of the Manhattan core is complete without mentioning the 1st and 2nd Ave protected bike lanes that have remained uncompleted for half a decade now.

  • J

    A 6% mode share goal for biking is meaningless when the administration has no plan to get there. The last time (and only time) NYC took a comprehensive look at creating a network of bicycle infrastructure was in 1997!

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/bike/mp.shtml

  • Ben_Kintisch

    You are very right on this count. Those are great routes except for when they suddenly turn hairy/scary. So even as we try and expand the network outward (a worthy goal) we should also improve the existing routes to make the entirety of each route safer. No more sharrow nonsense on major N/S routes.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The years with large jumps in volume of cyclists coincided with the fiscal years where there was a big increase in the miles of bike lanes installed as you can see from this chart below:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/bikeroutedetailsfy07-fy14.pdf

    Fiscal years 2007 through 2009 had a large amount of bike lane miles installed. The fiscal years after that had a significant drop-off in the miles of bike lanes installed.

    Janette Sadik-Khan is still claiming that New York City installed 400 miles of bike lanes under her administration. The only way that is true is by redefining what a bike lane is. A shared lane marking in a motor vehicle lane is defined as a shared bicycle lane by NYC. No other city that I’m aware of uses that definition. Using that definition New York City could put sharrows on all 6,100 miles of streets and claim that have bike lanes on all of their streets. Far more than any other city in the world.

    Chicago defines a buffered bike lane as a buffer protected bike lane. This is the only city that I’m aware of that claims additional striping creates some sort of protection for cyclists.

  • Tralfaz the Great

    It’s going to be tough to get to 6%. But I am absolutely sure the neighborhoods on the bike maps that have lots of bike lanes and facilities CAN reach that. In fact, I am sure that some on really nice summer days are already hitting near that.

    Since Staten Island, eastern Queens, south and east Brooklyn and the northern half of the Bronx all would count in the averages, that for NYC to reach an actual 6% overall, you’d need to be hitting near 20% mode share in the sections of the boros where biking is big.

    But the question of Citibike remains. Are Citibike trips being factored in? What if you take transit for your AM/PM commute but ride around on Citibike for lunchtime and errands? The methodology needs to be adjusted and better calculated in the future. The screen line counts work because it is a barometer. But I propose we keep doing the screen line counts but add a better method for a 3 year overlap, then perhaps discontinue the screen line.

    Portland has many surveys that go out asking people about what modes of transportation they use. I think that would be a good thing to try once and see how it works out.

  • USbike

    While I’m not aware of my city of Tallahassee going as far as considering sharrows as “a shared bicycle lane,” it’s nonetheless putting these up all over, often on the most busy streets with narrow lanes. Recently they were installed on the central/downtown portion of our main arterial, which is a 6/7-lane road that carries over 50,000 vehicles per day on that stretch (they are painted on the right-most lane in each direction). I’ve still yet to see a single person riding on that road. Quite baffling, I must say! After all, the upgrade should have made the riding experience 10x better than what it use to be on Tennessee Street.

    On a positive note, at least Tallahassee is an experiment in itself, since the only solution they are implementing these days is to put in sharrows everywhere. We’ll see how well relying only on sharrows will work out in the coming years. Maybe by 2025/2030, we’ll start rivaling or even overtaking cities in the Netherlands with bicycle ridership!

  • Painted bike lanes are better than sharrows and buffered bike lanes are better than painted bike lanes. How much better though? A lot depends on the character of the street, speed of traffic, volume, etc.

    If painted bike lanes produce a modal share of 2%, what will buffered bike lanes produce? 3%? 4%? What’s needed to get to higher numbers?

    Here’s a chart I did for this article: http://streets.mn/2015/02/11/every-road-for-every-person/#lightbox/2/

  • Jonathan R

    There are 6,000 miles of streets in New York City, so I assume that a couple dozen miles of parking-protected bike lane don’t make a big difference to the citywide mode share.

  • John

    While I love the fact the cycling is growing, Manhattan is only so big, it is after all an island and its the smallest borough geographically. We need to increase cycling and mixed-mode transportation modes throughout the tri-state area, including Long Island, NJ, WestChester county, Queens, Staten Island, etc..

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Your making a lot of assumptions.

    One way to see the difference in how many more people will ride in a city when buffered bike lanes or cycle tracks are installed versus conventional bike lanes is to compare the results from two closely matched cities. Of the ninety biggest cities in the U.S. the city that most closely matches the amount of bike lanes and paths per amount of population and bicycle commuting mode share that Los Angeles had in 2009 is Chicago.

    It turns out that Chicago started installing its goal of 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes over four years in mid 2011. Also in mid 2011, Los Angeles started installing a large amount of bike lane miles and added 244 miles of mostly conventional bike lanes by mid 2014.

    Measured by miles of bike lanes per square mile of land, Chicago will have added 44% bike lane miles per square mile of land. Los Angeles has added 52% bike lane miles per square mile of land.

    The first bicycle commuting mode share increase for Los Angeles as a result of these bike lane miles installed was in 2013, grabbing an additional two tenths of one-percent of commuters in the 2013 Census Bureau American Community results. Chicago dropped two tenths of one-percent (that’s within the margin of error) in its share of bicycle commuters. The difference could be that most of the additional bike lane miles in LA were finished by the end of 2013 and Chicago still has almost a third of its 100 miles of bike lanes to be completed this year. It also takes time before a bicycle commuting share increase happens after installing additional bikeways.

    I would expect Chicago to advance in the 2014 results and Los Angeles also may. So far, there is no sign that the buffered and protected bike lanes that Chicago installed has increased bicycle commuting as much or more than the conventional bike lanes that LA installed. Chicago also installed a large bicycle sharing system which will have a positive effect on the rate of bicycle commuting.

  • All excellent points. My research and chart was based largely on the findings of Dutch engineers over the past 40 years and what they have found works and doesn’t work.

    I think that in the U.S. given our extremely low transportation bicycling that any valid measurements will take years. The majority of the people who ride a bikeway in the first few years are people who already ride. They may increase how much they ride with a safer facility and may encourage a neighbor to do so occasionally but it’s mostly the same people who have already been riding. Getting many new riders will take several years. First is simply a mindshare issue — they need to have the thought that riding to dinner instead of driving is an option. Then they need to have a bike to do it on. While many people might have bikes they rarely have bikes that work for transportation (and too many shops only sell recreational bikes that don’t work so well for transportation).

    People also need a connected network that gets them from A to B safely and comfortably. The facilities going in now will do it for some people but not others. Some people will be happy if 40% of the worst of their route is improved, some will need 90%.

  • You have to start somewhere.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Attracting the 60% of the population that are interested but concerned involves making their entire route low-stress. One-off low-stress street projects that are not complete routes tend to not fair much better in getting people to use it on a daily basis than conventional bike lanes.

    Here’s a study that discusses low-stress bike networks:

    http://transweb.sjsu.edu/project/1005.html

    In the 2011 and 2013 Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition bike counts in the city of Los Angeles there was on average a doubling of bike counts on streets that had conventional bike lanes installed. In the 2013 counts there was a 134% increase in bike counts on mostly residential streets that had sharrows installed. I’d venture to guess that the sharrows are a form of directional tool that encourages people to use that street for riding.

    Contrast that with mostly 30-60% increases in cycling on streets that had protected bike lanes installed in cities around the country. That’s not as good a return in increased cycling as the conventional bike lane installations that Los Angeles is getting. Again, that may be due to incomplete low-stress routes for the interested by concerned to ride on.

  • I think we have to be careful focusing too much on U.S. cities where even the best infrastructure is well below the standards of mediocre in other countries and where few people even think about transportation bicycling.

    The most successful system is Dutch with around 36% modal share (going from memory, may be off a bit). Danish is next with 23%. The major difference in these is that the Danish system is less segregated, particularly at junctions. Sweden is next at about 19% and again is less segregated with many more lanes than Danish with more protected infrastructure. Germany is next (16%?) and again is less protected with more lanes than Sweden. Germany also suffers from more poorly designed and poorly maintained infrastructure.

    That tells us a lot. Greater segregation (greater feeling of safety, actual safety, and comfort) leads to greater numbers of people riding bicycles.

    When you look at the U.S. you have to remember that exceptionally few places have attracted anyone outside of the Strong & Fearless category and only one tiny city, Davis, has reached beyond Enthused & Confident. Portland & Eugene have stagnated and survey’s tell them that others are not riding because they don’t feel safe enough.

    A well designed painted bike lane will get me to ride more places than I do today but it will do absolutely nothing for my neighbors who don’t feel comfortable on roads with any significant traffic or speeds, including three who’ve taken bike skills from LCI’s.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The biggest problems to getting enough comfortable routes for the majority of the population to bicycle in U.S. cities is obtaining the space and money.

    Portland has $150,000 in annual discretionary funds to spend on bicycling. That’s why this city has plateaued in its bicycle commuting share for six years in a row. Its not that they no longer care, there just isn’t the money to do what they want. In fact, Portland doesn’t have enough money to improve the quality of their street surfaces. About a third of the streets in Portland are in D or F condition.

    The bicycle commuting mode share in the U.S. is 0.6%. The lowest bicycle mode share for the Netherlands was about 20% in the early 1970’s. Amsterdam hit a low of 25% bicycle mode share during that time. Twenty percent is 33 times greater than 06%. To be able to obtain 20% of the transportation budget for bicycling in this country would be impossible starting at a 0.6% mode share. It would also be impossible to take away a fifth of the road space from motor vehicles on arterial streets in cities and give it to bicycling starting from a 1% mode share for bicycling.

    The closer each mile of on-street bikeways in the U.S. comes to the standards that the Dutch have, the more each costs per mile to install. It cost about $50,000 a mile to install a conventional bike lane in Los Angeles. The 391 miles of bike lanes in LA would cost about $20,000,000 to install today. That may not be enough money to install 10-miles of Dutch style cycle tracks.

    Unfortunately, as I’ve said before, getting to the amount and quality of bikeways that the Dutch have installed per square km in the U.S. is more evolutionary. Its much like trying to breed a wolf into a cocker spaniel. This takes several generations. Some people are saying why not just go out and get a cocker spaniel and skip all of those steps? That’s not how it works. Again, you have to build up the volume of cyclists to get the money and space allocated to build a network of Dutch style cycle tracks on arterial streets throughout a city.

    There is no faster way to obtain on-street space for bicycling than to go out and stripe bike lanes. After you’ve got that space, it can be upgraded at a later time as it was recently with the cycle track installation on Reseda Blvd in Los Angeles. There were no intersection treatments for bicycling for that cycle track. That also can be installed at a later time. Its a series of progressive steps that are needed to get to a higher level of bicycling. Giant leaps are few and far between starting from a low mode share for bicycling.

  • Joe R.

    Totally separate bike infrastructure is even better than buffered bike lanes. That’s really what we should be aiming for, particularly along congested arterials where buffered bike lanes still subject cyclists to many delays at intersections. Yes, it costs more but there is a quick return on that cost in terms of time saved. The best Dutch bike infrastructure is not only separate between intersections but also at intersections. Even though it’s not yet common, even over there, I’ve noted a trend towards building overpasses or underpasses for bikes at very busy intersections. That’s really the future as our cities continue to get more crowded.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    it’s important to realize in much of Manhattan, 10% of roadway traffic is bicycles. Latent Demand is huge as UES rollout of Citibike showed in first 3 weeks (Oct 10-21), Citibike on UE/ experienced 75,000 trips, that’s 3,500 daily trips. there might be as many daily bike trips as private cars in Manhattan below 86th

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