Only Part of the City is Bike-Friendly

The city needs even more of these kinds of protected bike lanes, 13 groups demand in a letter to the city. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The city needs even more of these kinds of protected bike lanes, 13 groups demand in a letter to the city. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

New York City is a great place to bike — but only in Manhattan and Brooklyn, according to a new report from bicycle advocacy group, PeopleForBikes.

The group ranked the “most bikeable places” in America for the second year in a row, and only two of the five boroughs made the cut. The three boroughs that didn’t are experiencing double-digit increases in fatalities and injuries to cyclists.

The whole Big Apple came in 11th place in 2018, but this year, PeopleForBikes ranked each borough separately after the Department of Transportation said that the single rank for such a large and geographically diverse city didn’t do justice to all the various efforts in different communities.

“By considering all of the five boroughs as one entry in the system, it left out a little bit of the nuance about borough-specific projects and programs happening there,” said the group’s Director of local Innovation Kyle Wagenschutz. ”The success of what’s working in Manhattan and Brooklyn … was overshadowing the lack of progress being made in the Bronx and Staten Island and … parts of Queens — and left advocates feeling like the benchmarks were a bit too broad and generic.”

It’s not just the benchmarks that are the problem. Road design is crucial to the success of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative — but critics say the effort has stalled, with fatalities up overall this year.

Fatalities and injuries are soaring in parts of the city that have been largely untouched by Vision Zero, including the three shunned boroughs. As a result, fatalities in Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island are up 16 percent so far this year, compared to the same period last year. Injuries to cyclists are up 15 percent. And total injuries are up 2 percent, according to police statistics.

In southern Brooklyn, which also lags behind the rest of the hipster borough and its neighboring borough to the east, fatalities have doubled so far this year, and injuries to cyclists are up nearly 17 percent, city stats show.

New York was the only city out of the 510 surveyed that was broken down into smaller municipalities. Both Manhattan and Brooklyn fell safely in the top 10 across the country — Manhattan ranked fourth, and Brooklyn seventh.

Queens made it into the top 20, coming in 16th place, but the Bronx and Staten Island — both underserved boroughs that get the short end of the street-safety stick — barely ranked amongst the top 50, with the Bronx coming in at 45 and the The Rock at 51.

The report underscores the desperate need for more street improvements.

“In some ways it makes places like Manhattan and Brooklyn rise in the scores because all success in the past, and it showcases that there’s still a lot of work to do particularly in the Bronx,” said Wagenschutz.

NYC bike map in 2018.
NYC bike map in 2018 shows growth in many areas, but not all.

And the ratings seem pretty obvious if you were to compare them to the city’s bike network — which is built out significantly in Manhattan’s Central Business District, but then flickers out as it moves east and north, according to Bike New York’s Jon Orcutt.

“If you’re looking at the city bike map [PDF], it’s very apparent there are big distinctions geographically,” he said. “I think even between Manhattan and Brooklyn, in terms of protected bike lanes, Manhattan is off the charts. Manhattan really stands out with the quantity and connectivity of its protected bike lanes.”

Orcutt says the drastically different ratings by borough should remind the city to do more, but he also blamed the poor ratings for the Bronx and Staten Island on communities that choose parking over life-saving road redesigns. In Queens and upper Manhattan, for example, Mayor de Blasio ended up overruling community boards’ objection to street safety plan — but the delays led to hundreds of injuries and several deaths.

“In some ways it’s easier to do protected bike lanes in the Manhattan central business district because the NIBMYism in rest of the city is much more intense in some residential areas,” said Orcutt, a former DOT official. “In order to build Queens Boulevard and Skillman Avenue, the city has had to overrule the community boards.”

The Department of Transportation revealed back in December that it fell short of its own projection of installing 29.4 miles of protected cycling routes in the city this year, building only about 16.05 miles of protected lanes in 2018 — far less than the previous year’s record, Streetsblog reported.

But Orcutt was sympathetic to the DOT and the fact that only two of the five boroughs ranked in the top 10 best places to bike across the country, conceding that creating one of the most bike-friendly places the world took time.

“In fairness to the city, Copenhagen wasn’t built in a day,” he said. “It’s gonna take a while to make the whole city bike friendly.”

The top three places to bike this year are Boulder, Colo.; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Eugene, Ore. To compile the data, PeopleForBikes used Census figures, analysis from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and the group’s own analysis of city planning information, maps, and surveys from community members in cities. PeopleForBikes takes into consideration traffic injury rates, ridership figures, public investment in creating bike lanes, and other infrastructure when compiling the data.


  • Vooch

    Some points –

    1) The bike network map showing ‘growth’ and ‘density’ of the network should only show PBLs. The rest are simply half measures for transition toward PBLs.

    2) The City Council should set as a goal 50 miles of PBls annually. There are 6,000 miles of streets in the 5 boros. 50 miles of PBLs annually gets one to 10% converage after 10 years. 10% PBL coverage might be the minimum target for a true network.

    3) Advocates should be arguing how roadway capacity increases for the cost of pennies when a PBL is added. PBLs are dirt cheap. They are the cheapest form of increasing roadway capaity available.

    Of course – we don’t need PBLs everywhere because “Streets are for People” as this amusing video shows:

  • Geck

    I noticed they have been removing street marking on 4th Ave in Park Slope/Gowanus. I am hoping they are getting ready to stripe PBLs there.

  • iSkyscraper

    I would divide Manhattan further into Upper Manhattan and Everything Below 125th St. Upper Manhattan wouldn’t make the top 100 in terms of bike-friendly, and some of the lanes shown on the graphic above have already been ripped out (RIP Seaman Ave, W218th St, and Dyckman Street).

  • AstoriaBlowin

    Also, even having a PBL doesn’t make the street “friendly” to cyclists. 2nd Ave in the morning rush is hardly a pleasant, safe for all age and abilities, experience. The fact that we have mixing zones anywhere in this city is almost enough by itself to question whether NYC is a bike friendly city.

  • BrandonWC

    They are from 1st to 15th St

  • I just got back from rural New England. I saw highway bike lanes, and cyclists riding them, on winding roads, alongside cars going 60 mph. Riding in central Manhattan, even with all the car traffic, seems like child’s play compared to riding rural roads. Even places like Cape Cod seem scarier to me on bike. By comparison, here in Manhattan, cyclist presence is pretty big by now. And infrastructure is getting better all the time. Wow, look at me being all pro-cycling.

  • Jacob

    Yeah, it takes a lot of time to build a bike network when you 1) have no plan and 2) miss opportunities constantly.

    Also, biking in Manhattan is no treat. Yes, there are a lot of protected bike lanes now, but few of them connect to each other, and there are huge gaps (meat grinders) in many corridors. See DOT’s own map:

  • Simon Phearson

    Agreed. I’ve been getting to know 2nd and 1st in midtown during the rush hours, and the fact that they are held up as any kind of prize by Streetsblog makes me question their sophistication.

    Better than nothing? Maybe. But not for novices, by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Basically, the dense area is in the pre-auto area south of 30th street and in parts of “old Brooklyn.”

    The ride is much more pleasant now that I’m working Downtown again, rather than up in the center of Midtown.

  • crazytrainmatt

    The bronx has a surprisingly good backbone of low-stress leafy routes. Until Queens Boulevard, none of the outer boroughs came close. The critical gap is in the connections to Manhattan, notably getting to the west side greenway, and the gaps in the Bronx River trail in West Farms and by the Bruckner.

  • crazytrainmatt

    Still not a single safe, continuous route heading downtown on that map:
    – no plan for the east river UN gap
    – the 2nd ave gap at the QMT is delayed for years pending construction
    – the narrow 7th ave lane in Times Square is like a boxing match
    – 9th ave still has that section of awful pavement and trucks plus the gap at Penn station

  • Daphna

    Even Manhattan and Brooklyn have a long way to go to be truly bike friendly. Even the areas of Manhattan in midtown that have more protected lanes than elsewhere, still need more bike infrastructure and need the quality of the existing bike infrastructure to be improved. Protected lanes are too narrow, they are not enforced and are still blocked by parked vehicles, there are too many gaps, some of those gaps are very large (ex. Sixth Avenue from 34th Street to 59th Street), some lanes are useless because the sidewalks were not widened and pedestrian traffic is so heavy that it spills over into the bike lanes. NYC could do so much more and so much better. I am appreciative of the progress, but it could be improved 100%. We need politicians with courage to change.

  • Daphna

    Let’s let some other country host the UN for a few years (or decades). USA has done more than it’s share of hosting. The other countries are supposed to pay rent for their UN offices but they just turn in “I Owe You” notes to the USA and never pay. So the USA foots the bill for everyone. Let someone else make such a sizeable charitable donation to the UN for a while. Voila! Less taxpayer money spent on the UN and no land conflict anymore for the East Side greenway.

  • Daphna

    The Second Avenue gap at the Queensboro Bridge and at the Queens Midtown Tunnel are both extremely dangerous for cyclists. The enhanced shared lane does not work at all. That design failed the first time it was tried and it is shameful that the DOT has continued to implement enhanced shared lanes as if they are a valid design feature that works. That should be thrown out of the DOT toolbox. Road space could be re-allocated in those locations if there was the political will to do it.

  • Daphna

    De Blasio made a little noise about re-considering the removal of the Dyckman Street protected lane. But De Blasio ran out of courage and let the removal of the lane stay. That lane should have been restored. Typical of the mayor to chicken out.

  • Joe R.

    Not to mention any street with traffic lights every 250′ isn’t “bike-friendly” no matter how what treatments the city does. The Dutch realized about two decades ago that frequent stopping is incompatible with safe, efficient cycling. In NYC we still haven’t figured this out.

  • Jack

    Minneapolis > NYC for bike lanes any day.

  • Janet Liff

    It’s all relative. Midtown East, our CBD, is hardly bike able and that’s the destination for a huge percentage of working people. People need to get to work.

  • Janet Liff

    Yep, I posted elsewhere. And that black hole probably has the highest density of office space in the city.

  • crazytrainmatt

    The UN may not be the best neighbor, but it’s the city’s fault there is no traffic management or alternate bike route during UN week.

    Just north of the UN, the state built an entire FDR bypass two decades ago that the city will only now rebuild as a greenway, at a cost of another $200M. It was the city that forgot about the leases that above the FDR on Sutton Terrace that expired in the 1990s and are still not open as parks. The same neighborhood is now protesting the bike path connection to 54th.

    Imperfect as it is, the city could have included 2nd ave down to 37th, where the water tunnel construction ends, in the ongoing expansion. The city could roll out protected intersections whenever they want; this would have a huge effect on how 1st ave feels during rush hour because of the turn volume.

    Most galling, there are plenty of places along the FDR where reallocating space to the greenway would smooth traffic and increase safety even for drivers. For example, a new ramp from the dead-end greenway stub on the coned pier could connect to the huge breakdown lane on the 42nd St northbound FDR offramp; right now through traffic exits at 37th. Frankly, there is enough space in the FDR breakdown lane under the UN that with some jersey barriers, they could have probably have provided an interim gap closure by extending the section under construction a few blocks south. Or the wide service road/ramps between the waterside and the heliport. Or the huge breakdown lane/offramp between 14th and Ave C. None of this would make for an especially scenic greenway, but it would provide a safe east side route while waiting for more funding to appear.

  • 1soReal

    Yeah I’ve noticed that too. The Bx has a fairly extensive and interconnected network of greenways. You can do a lot of cycling completely separated from traffic and surrounded by greenery if you choose too. I struggle to find an equivalent in Brooklyn or Queens. The problem with the Bronx is that a huge chunk..basically west of the Bx river and south of Kingsbridge or so can be terrible to ride a bike through. That leaves no nice way to ride to Manhattan. If your riding through the northern and eastern Bronx and into Westchester county its not bad at all. In many cases areas that may be dicey can be avoided or minimized by using a parallel quieter residential street. The south Bx however has fewer streets like this, and the street grid is so irregular it becomes nearly impossible to find reasonable alternatives.

  • Pookasan

    New York is a terrible place to bike. Even the “good” bike lanes are a mess. It’s an even worse place to drive and the subway a disaster, so I suppose biking may be marginally better. But after 10+ years of biking here I can confidently say that this is the worst city I’ve ever biked in. I feel less safe and less welcome than ever before. The west side is a clusterf**k. The Brooklyn Bridge is the stuff of nightmares. Grand Street has been a construction zone for the better part of a decade–it felt safer before the lane was put in. The 8th Avenue lane is a great place…to die. Painting lanes and enforcing behavior are two very different things. We have so far to go.


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