By now, it seems almost all of Roosevelt Island’s 12,300 residents have heard about Anna Maria Moström, the cyclist left brain dead last week after a bus driver struck her while failing to yield during a turn. The quiet island, shaped into a mostly residential neighborhood by a 1970s redevelopment effort, has long fostered the feeling of an urban village. Despite its natural advantages and a decent number of bike riders, cycling has never really boomed on Roosevelt Island. For the past year, a joint effort from Bike New York and the state authority overseeing the island has sought to change that. Even before last week’s crash rattled islanders, many residents here didn’t feel comfortable on two wheels.
Two miles long and no wider than the distance between two Manhattan avenues, Roosevelt Island today is connected to the rest of New York by an aerial tram, a subway stop, and a bridge to Queens (the Queensboro Bridge passes over the island but does not connect to it). Because it is effectively a big cul-de-sac, traffic volumes are low and drivers travel slowly. While there are more cars than envisioned in the 1970s master plan, which called for a mostly car-free island, Roosevelt Island remains a contrast with the rest of the car-clogged city. The speed limit on the island is just 15 mph.
Despite these advantages, bicycling has struggled to blossom under the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, the state body overseeing the neighborhood’s day-to-day services. But in recent years, RIOC has become more interested in bicycling. A few years ago, the corporation inventoried bike racks on the island, and despite occasional missteps like an overzealous program that resulted in wholesale removal of parked bikes, continues to show interest. “This is a family-friendly place, and we have a lot of cyclists,” said Erica Spencer-El, a community relations specialist at RIOC.
RIOC hosted a temporary demonstration from bike-share provider B-Cycle in 2010, before the advent of Citi Bike. It was popular, but RIOC’s board has put future discussion of bike-share on hold. “We were putting the carriage before the horse. Our infrastructure is not ready,” Spencer-El said. She pointed around the island’s streets, which have a hodge-podge of signs and markings. Some crosswalks include stop signs; others only tell drivers and cyclists to yield. There is no consistent street design.