The Daily News Settles It: NYC Needs More Protected Bike Lanes

Strip the conclusions from Alex Nazaryan’s bike lane review in yesterday’s Daily News — by my count, the 434th “Vicious Cycle” headline of the past three years — and you actually come away with some observations about NYC streets that I think most people who bike in the city would agree with.

Nazaryan, you may recall, is the Daily News editorial page staffer who turned a tremendously dull ride over the Manhattan Bridge into a “battleground.” His bike lane prose is still rife with warfare metaphors (this time it’s “an army of farmers’ market shoppers” and “a battalion of MacLarens and Bugaboos”), but based on yesterday’s dispatch, Nazaryan probably sees eye-to-eye with bike-riding New Yorkers and livable streets supporters on the following statements:

  1. Protected bike lanes like the ones on Prospect Park West and First Avenue in Midtown are the best, especially when people don’t walk in them.
  2. It’s also quite enjoyable to bike on streets with low traffic volumes.
  3. You’re better off finding routes that avoid high-speed traffic sewers like Coney Island Avenue and the Bowery — they’re scary to bike on.
  4. There’s something about riding a bike that’s very different than driving a car.
  5. Compared to protected bike lanes, painted bike lanes lead to a much more stressful riding environment, where you have to constantly be on the lookout for double-parked cars and other incursions.
  6. Don’t you hate it when you’re riding somewhere and a great bike lane dumps you into high-speed, swerving traffic before you reach your destination? Wouldn’t it be great to have a bike network that got you from point A to point B without having to deal with that kind of stress?
  7. The Hudson River Greenway: insanely popular.

Of course, this is the Daily News here, so there’s no mention of how the new bike lanes — especially the protected ones — have reduced traffic deaths and injuries. There’s nothing about the rising rates of cycling into the Manhattan CBD.

Data like that might lead one to conclude that the bike lanes are working. There would be a clear imperative to keep on calming traffic and providing safe space for cycling on high-speed streets. (After all, biking on First Avenue used to feel pretty much identical to biking on the Bowery, until the damned DOT came along and made it safer.) Those gaps in the bike network would have to be plugged. The pressure on the Hudson River Greenway and other places where pedestrians and cyclists vie for scarce space would have to be relieved somehow — by providing more room for all those thousands of New Yorkers who want to walk and bike, perhaps.

None of that is in there. Instead, all of Nazaryan’s observations somehow turn into one more installment in the paper’s endless campaign against transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Nazaryan, it seems, falls into what bike planners would call the “interested but concerned” demographic — he might bike, under the right conditions. There are probably millions of New Yorkers who, like him, would bike if they felt safe enough out on the streets. When Portland transportation planners surveyed residents about attitudes toward cycling, they found that most people feel the same way:

Graphic adapted from PBOT by Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition

Widespread “interested but concerned” sentiment would help explain why two-thirds of adult New Yorkers support bike lanes, while far less — one in six — report riding on a regular basis, according to the most recent New York Times poll.

As NYC’s bike network expands, it’s increasingly possible for interested but concerned New Yorkers to make whole trips without riding on stressful streets. So for all you tentative cyclists in NYC who don’t have an ax to grind with the current NYC DOT leadership, Christopher Robbins at Gothamist has three routes to get you started on overcoming your concerns.