EDF Climate 411 Blog - September 4, 2008
Help Is On the Way for Bicyclists

I live in New York City, and when I started riding my bike to work last year, I became acquainted firsthand with the obstacles to using this most efficient and green mode of transport. Here's the short list:

Thankfully, help is on the way. New York City has turned decidedly pro-bike under Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Jeannette Sadik-Khan. And the non-profit group America Bikes is helping to bring bike-friendly changes to communities across the country.

An Early False Start in NYC

In early 1980, Mayor Koch visited China and saw bicycles dominating the streets rather than cars. He thought this was a brilliant solution to urban congestion, and came back to New York and installed bike lanes. The low concrete barriers separating the bike lanes were ineffective, and eventually removed.

Seven years later, that same Mayor Koch tried to ban bike traffic on three major avenues due to biking accidents. (This plan was strongly opposed and dropped a few months later.)

Doing Right by Bikes in NYC

Today, New York City is doing it right, with a comprehensive plan to make New York bike friendly. In 2006, NYC DOT committed to installing 200 miles of bike lanes over the next three years. Over 80 miles have been installed to date, and the city plans 1800 miles of bike lanes by 2030.

And that's not all.

Protected Bike Lane on 9th Ave in NYCNew York's Summer Streets program closes major streets to traffic on certain days. There are plans to create bike paths that are physically separated from traffic. And New York has issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for a bike share program.

Bike sharing is gaining traction in many towns and cities around the world. The idea is to place bikes in strategic locations, and let people pick them up where needed and drop them off near their destination. For example, Paris has 1,450 self-service rental stations about 300 yards apart. There are four times as many bike stations as metro stations, and the system has been a huge success.

There is a similar bike sharing system in Copenhagen, where EDF transportation expert Michael Replogle told me that 30 percent of trips are by bicycle, compared to less than 2 percent in New York today. Commissioner Sadik-Khan has brought in consultants from Copenhagen to help New York do what Copenhagen has done.

Bike parking is critical, and NYC DOT is working on that, as well. Last week some whimsical racks designed by David Byrne were installed around the city. The broader CityRacks program has plans to install free, convenient bike parking throughout the five boroughs.

There are private efforts, as well. In January, the New York Times published an article about a planned bike parking garage, with an attendant, in midtown Manhattan. At the time the developers were looking for funding - I don't know if they ever received it. The nonprofit group Bikestation also provides parking, but they're only in a few cities so far and New York isn't one of them.

With the great progress New York is making, it won't be long before I'm riding my bike to work again.

This post is by Sheryl Canter, an online writer and editorial manager at Environmental Defense Fund.

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