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Bicycle Safety

Cyclists Statewide Agree: More Bike Lanes Means More People On Bikes

10:00 AM EDT on May 1, 2023

If you build them bike lanes (and somewhere to park), they’ll ride. Photo: David Meyer

If you build it, they will come.

Cyclists across New York said that better bike infrastructure is the key to unlocking more bike trips across the state, according to the newly released New York Cycling Census.

"While there is some regional variation statewide, the lack of bike lanes or safe routes represents the most frequent barrier to cycling, according to 73.6 percent of respondents," according to the authors of the new survey, which was run by Urban Cycling Solutions and supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The need for safe bike routes to make cycling more popular might seem like an obvious solution to anyone who's deep in the street safety fight, but one of the architects of the survey said that the results help make the case that every part of the state should make cycling infrastructure a priority.

"No matter where you are in any county, we see an overwhelming demand for more protected bike infrastructure and trails," said Urban Cycling Solutions CEO Dan Suraci. "So when we're thinking about infrastructure and policy solutions, that is a priority for any municipality, any county government, any state agency, it doesn't matter where you are, whether we're talking about super urban Manhattan, or about rural North Country."

The cycling census, which ran from February to May last year, received 13,740 responses, and included respondents from every county in the state. According to Suraci, the number of responses makes the census the biggest bike survey ever commissioned at a state level and one of the largest in the entire country.

The survey gave a statewide picture of why people in New York bike and what keeps them from doing it more often, which Suraci and other said could provide a backdrop for planners and government officials to make decisions that encourage cycling and other safe modes of transportation.

"This cycling census is an additional piece of the puzzle that will go a long way to improve current transportation demand models by providing a very informative insight on a mode that is often left out from transportation analyses," said Camille Kamga, the director or the University Transportation Research Center at City University of New York.

The census explored both the reasons that New Yorkers get on their bikes, and what keeps them from doing so more regularly. The survey found that the top three reasons people rode their bike were for fitness (21 percent), fun (21 percent) or mental health (19 percent), and that the top three trip types on bikes were recreation (28 percent), exercise (27 percent) and commuting (17 percent). A majority of respondents also said that they rode their bikes two to three times per week or every day.

In order to get a good snapshot of attitudes towards cycling across skill levels, the survey asked respondents to assign themselves one of four different types of cyclists: fearless and confident, enthused and confident, interested and concerned and no way no how.

A majority of respondents, 61.4 percent, identified themselves as enthused and confident cyclists, which the survey described as people "attracted to cycling by advances in local bicycle network development" and who can get comfortable sharing streets with cars but prefer not to. Among that group of respondents, over 70 percent of them said that a lack of safe bike infrastructure kept them from biking more, followed by weather issues and potential conflicts with automobiles.

A lack of safe infrastructure and conflicts with cars were also top barriers to cycling for interested and concerned cyclists, people described as "curious about bicycling" who do ride sometimes but are turned off by speeding and other unsafe or unpredictable behavior by drivers.

In the same way, hearing from from the cyclists who don't describe themselves as fearless and confident is a roadmap to making roads safer even to those cyclists according to Suraci.

"Regular people are biking, and ... if you want to appeal to people who are out there riding for fun, now you can see what are the things that are stopping them. If we're working to eliminate the lowest common denominators, the big barriers to everyday cyclists, that also helps people who are out there with cargo bikes or people happy to bike without a bike lane if they need to," he said.

The barriers people with different bike skills across New York say keep them from getting on a bike more. Graphic: UCS and NYSERDA
The barriers people with different bike skills across New York say keep them from getting on a bike more. Graphic: UCS and NYSERDA
The barriers people with different bike skills across New York say keep them from getting on a bike more. Graphic: UCS and NYSERDA

The final survey also cemented an early finding that Suraci shared with Streetsblog last year, that a lack of secure bike parking is one of the major barriers to expanding cycling statewide; 44 percent of total respondents said that the lack of secure bike parking kept them from biking more, which was a consistent response among the three types of cyclists who responded.

Secure bike parking is an especially necessary element of getting more people to bike to and from transit according to the census.

"Availability of amenities at transit hubs is an important factor that could influence more New Yorkers to bike to transit — especially in large urban areas. More than half of respondents (54.3 percent) reported that bike parking is an important factor in biking to transit," the survey authors wrote, with respondents asking for both paid-for secure bike parking and free uncovered bike racks at transit facilities.

The census also demonstrated the hugely positive impact that cycling has, just using the data from the respondents to the survey. Based on the ridership data from just the 13,740 people who answered the survey, researchers said that the cycling habits were the carbon dioxide emissions equivalent of taking 312 gas-powered cars off the road for a single year or 142,436 gallons of gas consumed.

The census authors suggested that, based on these numbers, if the state set a goal of getting just 5 percent of the state's population to bike once a month for any reason, the resulting decrease in carbon dioxide emissions would be the equivalent of taking 2,053 gas-powered vehicles off the road for a year.

Beyond better bike lanes and bike parking, the census suggests a number of ideas for policy makers across the state to explore including:

    • An expansion of open streets programs, mostly seen in New York City to this point, as a way to expose New Yorkers across the state to people-centric ways to use streets instead of car-centric street uses.
    • Allow local communities more input on how to turn local roads overseen by New York State into complete streets.
    • Emphasize more bike safety education for both local law enforcement and drivers statewide, such as the recent update to the state driver's manual that adds pedestrian and cyclist safety information for prospective drivers to learn.
    • Expand e-bike use around the state by passing an e-bike tax rebate such as the one proposed by state Sen. Julia Salazar, or create another form of e-bike subsidy.
    • Provide more opportunities for cyclists to learn basic bike maintenance, something that 51 percent of female census respondents asked for.

The data that focuses on the specific reasons why people get on bikes is an important tool for city planners, the survey authors wrote in the census, as it allows for a new way for governments to figure out how to build bike-friendly communities. With the census, policy makers have more than traditional data like traffic volume, vehicle speed or "grim statistics" like crash data and traffic fatalities to understand what needs to be done to get people on bikes.

"Relying solely on these traditional metrics has led to an overemphasis on bike lanes and other on-road design solutions. As a result, features like bike parking and bike safety training — for cyclists, educators, and law enforcement — haven't received adequate attention or funding. With the release of this report, planners and policy-makers now have a robust set of tangible data points to draw on when making decisions and investments around active transportation infrastructure and related education and enforcement programs," they wrote.

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