Why The NYC Century Bike Tour Is Riding Into the Sunset

TransAlt's leaders give Streetsblog readers the context for the group's decision to stop hosting the 100-mile race.

The NYC Century will be held for the last time this year. Photo: TransAlt
The NYC Century will be held for the last time this year. Photo: TransAlt

century logoEarlier this week, we at Transportation Alternatives announced that we would present the New York City Century Bike Tour for a 30th and final time this September. The ride has been a favorite for TransAlt members and activist volunteers — many of whom are Streetsblog readers, so we weren’t surprised when folks came to us looking to know why we’d discontinue this ride.

Our approach to bike advocacy has changed over the years. When TransAlt launched the NYC Century in 1990, riding a bicycle in the five boroughs was practically an act of protest. So bringing together a mass of cyclists on one day was a way of demanding to be seen and heard as a constituency.

century1

Since then, the biking community in New York has grown and evolved dramatically. Today, about 800,000, or roughly 10 percent of all New Yorkers, ride a bike at least several times a month; 50,000 commute to work via bicycle every day; and New York City is home to the largest bike-share system in the nation. Given all that, TransAlt’s approach today is focused less toward establishing cycling as a legitimate mode of transportation, and more toward better accommodating and building this now mainstream way of getting around.

As our general approach evolved, so have the concrete needs of cycling advocacy. Our thriving five-borough activist committee structure has changed and matured over the years, and we’re actively working to elevate the unrealized activist energy that exists in our city. We want to unleash the brains and brawn of TransAlt’s events staff to uplift these committees and produce more local volunteer-led events — including bike rides like Kidical Mass and the Tour de Flushing.

Photo: TransAlt
Photo: TransAlt

It’s not that big one-day citywide events don’t have their value, but ultimately we’re advocates for everyday cycling. And to create the kind of lasting change required to nurture an environment where riding a bike keeps on getting safer and easier, we need to continue to dig deep, expand our roots, and bolster our local activist committees.

And from a purely practical standpoint, we’re a non-profit organization that has responsibility to optimize the use of our limited resources. NYC Century registrations have been declining significantly since 2013, when we reached a peak of 7,000 riders. Since then, we’ve had to invest the same level of time, money and energy into the event — all of which would have a greater impact if invested in what we’re best at.

Producing major citywide events isn’t where our power comes from. We draw it instead from our ability to bring people together to demand change; from our relationships with decision-makers and the media; and most importantly, people like you who feel the urgency of our mission to reclaim streets from the automobile — a feeling shared by hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who come to rallies, lobby elected officials, read our emails, participate in the Bike Month Commuter Challenge (sign up here!), and who walk, scoot, and ride every day.

The 30th and final NYC Century Bike Tour will be a celebratory ride for all we have accomplished to make New York City streets better for biking over the last three decades. Join us for this final “victory lap” on Sept. 8! To learn more and register, visit nyccentury.org.

Marco Conner and Ellen McDermott are interim co-executive directors of Transportation Alternatives. Follow them on Twitter at @marco_conner and @HeyNell.

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