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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New York: More Bike-Friendly than Seattle?

posted by on November 21 at 11:42 AM

I recently returned from a quick trip to New York. On the plane, I read this fantastic and very funny article by Ben McGrath about the New York City bikers’ rights movement, which these days…

…includes more than twenty groups, with names like Right of Way, FreeWheels, and Revolution Rickshaws, drawing inspiration from sources as varied as the French Situationist philosopher Guy Debord, the civil-rights leaders John Lewis and Hosea Williams, and the urban sociologist Jane Jacobs. Their aims are at once specific (mandating bike storage at office buildings) and all-encompassing: Revolution Rickshaws, for instance, seeks in effect to create an entire pedal-based economy, offering “eco-responsible execution in people-moving services,” “rapid urban cargo transport,” and “outdoor marketing promotions,” through the use of pedicabs, tricycle rigs capable of carrying a thousand pounds of freight, and towable billboards.

Their nominal constituency, the hundred and twenty thousand New Yorkers who ride bicycles every day, comprises three distinct typescommuters (book editors, say, wearing cargo pants), exercisers (lawyers in spandex), and messengers (streetwise minorities without health care)whose agendas overlap only loosely. And, as with any growing movement, success has brought about factionalization. Roughly speaking, the bikers range, in their political leanings, from Hugo Chávez to Ned Lamont, and in methodology from anarchist street theatre to wonkish position papers. “I think a lot of people realize that this issue is really central to a lot of the dilemmas facing, you know, humanity right now,” Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said recently. “How are we going to deal with less oil? How are we going to make cities more sustainable, more livable?”

On 14th Street, I picked up this map of New York City bike routes. Surely Manhattan, even with its French Situationist bikers’ rights advocates, does not have better urban bike routes than Seattle, where our mayor has promised to make this the most bike-friendly city in the nation.

ManhattanMap.JPG

The dotted red lines are planned or proposed bike routes. The green lines are dedicated off-street bike paths (notice the green line that appears to be ringing the island it’s called the Greenway, it’s an almost-finished loop around Manhattan, and it puts the in-city portions of Seattle’s Burke-Gilman to shame). The solid red lines? Those are streets that have been striped with bike lanes.

Now, let’s look at the official bike map for Seattle.

SeattleBikeMap.JPG

The blue lines? Those are “arterial streets commonly used by bicyclists,” meaning: You’re on your own, no city-created bike lanes, good luck. So subtract the blue lines. They don’t signify a real effort to make the city more bike-friendly. What’s left? A few solid red lines (shared use paths) and some dotted red lines (bicycle lanes on streets). But nothing approaching the scale of Manhattan’s street-level interventions on behalf of cyclists.

And here’s the thing that’s going to make my editor’s head explode. Dan has been furious about the lack of good bike lanes over Seattle’s bridges (particularly over the biker-terrorizing Ballard Bridge) for as long as I’ve worked here. Well, as Seattle struggles to figure out how to improve bike access on just three in-city bridges commonly used by cyclists (the Ballard Bridge, the Montlake Bridge, and the University Bridge) as this city struggles to do that, every single bridge into and out of Manhattan has a separate, dedicated bike lane (including five serious, iconic, super-bridges: the George Washington Bridge, the Triborough Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge).

Here’s a shot of the lower Manhattan bike map, with the paths over the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges marked in solid green. Explosion of Dan’s head in five, four, three, two…

LowerManhattan.JPG

RSS icon Comments

1

The "blue line" network is total crap, having ridden on a fair number of them. Nothing like being run off the road of a city designated bike route.

And I have to tell you, a good number of the "red dashed" routes here lack a true bike lane. Think of Pike with those lame "Sharrows" rather than a true striped lane. Or the University bridge's bike lanes that abruptly stop at merging zones. I guess bicycle commuters are expected to levitate the rest of the way...

Posted by golob | November 21, 2006 11:57 AM
2

You're right, we should take a cue from New Yorkers and take ownership of this issue. Join a group. Get involved. Be part of the solution.

Seattle is preparing a Bike Master Plan that will sketch out which bike improvements are needed over the next 20 years (divided into short, medium, and long term phases). The first draft maps will be unveiled at two meetings in early December.

Posted by Patrick McGrath | November 21, 2006 12:06 PM
3

Put the brother's cranium back together. Chicago has NYC beat also, in part by recognizing different levels of bike usage:

1)off-road paths, like the Lakefront path (shared with pedestrians, rollerbladers etc)
2)bike-only lanes striped onto streets
3)shared use lanes, signed on the street
4)suggested bike routes, which sometimes include bike lanes, and other times are just side streets or arterials with lots of bike traffic. these routes are clearly signed (ie, To Lakefront or To Loop, or, my favorite on Archer Avenue at California, To County Jail).

See this page from the City's own bike website:

http://www.ci.chi.il.us/Transportation/bikemap/types.html

Any city should be able to do #4 very easily, at minimal cost. And you've got to start somewhere. . .

Posted by Bill | November 21, 2006 12:06 PM
4

I wish Mayor McCheese would stop the lip-service and actually try to ride a bike in this town.

Posted by DOUG. | November 21, 2006 12:13 PM
5

I forgot to say that the city's consultants will be accepting feedback and recommendations from the public at those Bike Master Plan meetings.

Posted by Patrick McGrath | November 21, 2006 12:13 PM
6

Did you actually read the New Yorker article? It wasn't about how a heroic group of bicycle freedom-fighters made New York a better place. It was about what a bunch of ridiculous, squabling, narcissistic, hypocrites all the people active in this "debate" are.

Posted by David Wright | November 21, 2006 12:51 PM
7

I've been in Manhattan for almost 6 years, and only this summer did I brave purchasing a bike. I've been very pleasantly surprised with the riches offered to the two-wheeling NY'ers. Several times, my friends and I have loaded our bikes on the subway and ridden to the end of the line in Far Rockaway or Coney Island, then ridden back into the city. Thrillseekers: I suggest trying the Queensborough Bridge bike bath. The speed you reach on the downslope into Long Island City is a trip!

Posted by Joe.My.God. | November 21, 2006 12:58 PM
8

I'm not even a biker--in fact I don't know how to ride a bike, but I would love to see bike lanes on every road. As a driver, it would be easier to drive knowing that the bikers had adequate room, thereby reducing my fear that I might inadvertently hit one of them.

Posted by nice driver | November 21, 2006 12:59 PM
9

I admit the network NYC's sporting here looks absolutely spectacular, but again, isn't NYC predominately navigated by Subway and walking anyway?

Posted by Gomez | November 21, 2006 1:04 PM
10

Right on Nice Driver @ 8. I commute by bicycle daily AND drive occasionally and I cannot second this comment enough. Bicycle lanes are nearly as positive for drivers as cyclists.

Posted by golob | November 21, 2006 1:09 PM
11

In my first NYC apartment my roommate was a crazed white girl bike messenger who would every day ride her messengering bike from 187th Street where we lived to her downtown office, ride messenges all day, ride back in the evening, strip naked, and ride her track bike on rollers in the highway at ultra-high speed for an hour with Madonna playing so loud on her headphones you could sing along. You couldn't see for the cloud of steam she gave off. She also had a mentally ill German Shepard who would stand in the hall with her and bark furiously (and bit the motherfucking hell out of your shoes if you tried to leave the apartment).

New York's a great city to bike in, though. Grids, baby.

Posted by Fnarf | November 21, 2006 1:19 PM
12

Ok, you have to admit that's not entirely fair, as the two maps are shown at somewhat different scales, the Manhattan map showing a larger area than the Seattle map.

But all in all, yes, a striking illustration of this town's inability to live up to its rhetoric on bike friendliness.

Posted by david | November 21, 2006 1:33 PM
13

David,
Yeah, I read the article. I think whether the scene in NY is "ridiculous, squabling, narcissistic, hypocrit[ical]" or , say, vital, depends on your point of view. Why are you so down on them? What's your beef?

Posted by Patrick McGrath | November 21, 2006 1:34 PM
14

@ David Wright: Yes, that's why I called the article "fantastic and very funny." Advocacy groups being made up of possessed, self-righteous people is old news, but McGrath does a great job of illustrating the weirdness of this particular group of advocates—-along with the sensibility of some of their complaints, and the near-futility of others.

Posted by Eli Sanders | November 21, 2006 1:35 PM
15

@12 is wrong, I believe. Central Park is 2.5 miles long, so that's about a 5 mile north/south image of Manhattan in photo #1. The similar image of Seattle shows Volunteer Park to Boeing Field. That's about 5 miles as well, maybe further.

Posted by DOUG. | November 21, 2006 1:49 PM
16

Patrick,

I appreciate all the local advocacy groups do for bicycle commuters. I'm just not sure how effective they are going to be.

Honestly, I think most of the groups should take a more combative tone with the city. Things like the "bicycle master plan" seem like circular files, with no real funding or political will behind them. Just a way to corral and quiet the advocacy groups without really delivering anything.

Why didn't any groups call bullshit on the "Proposition 1 is for more better bicycling" propaganda? The non-roadway funding was a pittance, and the city has never shown an interest in integrating cyclists concerns. Look at the recent repaving and striping of the University Bridge for a classic example.

Start fighting. Start getting confrontational, and I'll give some time.

Posted by golob | November 21, 2006 2:30 PM
17

SEATTLE FUCKING SUCKS TO BIKE IN! I was hit three times when I lived there (in 2.5 years) though the drivers who hit me weren't going more than 5 mph when they hit me because they were just not looking forward when they were driving. I can't believe for a minute that Seattle would even try to label itself as bike-friendly. I'm sorry, but 1 in 20 roads (or less!) that have bike lanes? Fuck that, and the chemical burns you get from all the cars on pike/pine? Not worth it. Face it, Seattle, you like to kill bikers.

Posted by Yomama | November 21, 2006 5:15 PM
18

golob,
In answer to your question about Prop 1, take a look at our page on the issue. The City Council was responsive to our needs as they crafted the measure. Bike and ped projects received a generous percentage of the funding. It also ties in with our push for a Complete Streets ordinance and the Bike Master Plan.

Posted by Patrick McGrath | November 21, 2006 5:43 PM
19

New York isn't bad, and Boston can be a pretty good city to bike around, too. I have to say, though, that one advantage that New York has for bikers is that it's (mostly) flat.

As far as I know, the only major bridge in NYC that doesn't have a bike like is the Verrazano Narrows, and that's a car-only bridge (except for the first Sunday in November).

Having said all that, NYC is still far, far behind European cities when it comes to integrating bikes in to city transportation.

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