Are “Directional Miles of Bike Lanes” a Good Metric?
Monday night I attended Manhattan Community Board 8's pedestrian and cycling safety forum. There was an All-Star cast of panelists. Former DOT Commissioner Sam Schwartz, Manhattan DOT Commissioner Margaret Forgione and Director of Street Management and Safety Ryan Russo, Matthew Bauer of the Madison Ave BID, Traffic Enforcement Agents as well as other transportation experts.
There were the usual complaints about cyclists running red lights or riding on the sidewalks and the level of enforcement that should be put forth, but generally the conversation was more directed at making people safe from automobiles in the district. Almost everyone was supportive of bike lanes as a way to provide cyclists with a safer place on the road and minimize conflicts with other street users, but there was an exchange between one of the Community Board members and Mr. Russo that brought up something fairly fundamental to me.
The Community Board member stated that she saw biking as purely recreational, not for commuting or running errands, which just sounds crazy but, hey, when you want to keep all residential and commercial zoning completely separate to the point where you won't site a greenmarket in a school playground, why not extend that to every aspect of life. She added that bike lanes should be built for the recreational user in mind as opposed to the commuter.
Mr. Russo vigorously defended the idea that bikes are currently and will increasingly be used across the city for everyday commuting and local errand running where good bike lanes and bike parking make that possible. He then repeated the Mayor's pledge to build out the bike lane network by several hundred miles over the next few years and set up more city racks for parking. He then added that in the Upper East Side that they are considering some bike lanes to connect the East River Greenway to Central Park.
In some strange twist of logic, even though DOT disagreed with the concept of biking as only for recreational users, the DOT's bike lane network extension in my area seems to be mostly geared toward recreational users. I fully support the idea of integrating the greenways with the Central Park loop, but if the DOT's goal is to increase the number of commuter cyclists on the Upper East Side, the bike lanes that would make much more sense are extending the current Second Ave bike lane north from 14th Street to 125th Street and the existing First Avenue bike lane south from 72nd Street down to Houston. This would increase the number of cyclist commuters on the Upper East Side and East Harlem dramatically. It would also provide commuter cyclists coming over the Queensboro bridge access to a good North/South bike lane network.
But number of biking commuters doesn't seem to be the measurement the DOT is working toward. Their primary measurement is the number of directional bike lane miles they lay each year. A more meaningful and ambitious goal would be to set a target to double or triple the number of commuting cyclists in the city. Here on the Upper East Side, a goal like that would mmediately change DOT's mindset from increasing lane miles to using bike infrastructure to help relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue subway line.
If increasing the number of bike commuters was the metric by which DOT measured the success of its bicycling program, the alignment of future bike lanes and the sensitivity toward making biking accessible to the average commuter would be much different.
Photo of First Avenue Bike Lane at 85th Street - Glenn