Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New York Bike Counts Continue to Grow

cycling growth new york city image
Another year, another double-digit increase in New York City’s cyclist count. NYDOT estimates that the number of cyclists riding into the center of the city jumped up 13 percent in 2010, continuing a three-year pattern of rapid growth [PDF].

In terms of absolute growth, 2010 marks the third-largest increase in the number of cyclists counted since DOT began counting in 1986. Only 2008 and 2009 showed larger gains, according to DOT, of 32 and 26 percent respectively. This year’s 13 percent jump is on top of that rapid growth. In total, the bike count is up 88 percent in the last three years.

So what has changed in the city that would spur this growth? I would hypothesize that the city's investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure has been the most determining factor. According to Streetsblog, "As the city continues to build out its biking network and add a bike-share system, we are certain that more New Yorkers will choose this affordable, healthy and non-polluting form of transportation."

In Toronto, the new Mayor thinks roads belong to trucks and cars, and thinks bike lanes slow them down. He calls bike lanes and streetcars a "war on the car." In fact, in many cases, a person on a bike might otherwise be taking up road space in a car. Car people often preach that bikes are a hazard, that they don't pay their way and that they should be licenced, and their riders should be insured, just like people in cars. In London, Peter Walker of the Guardian explains why this would be pointless and counterproductive.
First, Walker explains the benefits of cycling, not for cyclists but for society in general:
Cycling and cyclists are good for society; good for everyone, in fact. You might not like our funny, Lycra-wearing ways, but it's an undeniable truth. If 50% of a hypothetical city's car drivers abandoned their vehicles overnight for bikes it would slash pollution and congestion (for the remaining drivers, too), also bringing less wear to the roads and better health for the new cyclists. It would additionally, at a stroke, dramatically cut the numbers of people killed or badly hurt on the roads, saving millions of pounds and - more importantly - reducing the number of lives lost or devastated through grief or grave injury.
He then points out that any impediment to cycling is going to reduce the number of people who do it.
Cycling's appeal is that it is gloriously simple and impulsive, a habit usually acquired in childhood. It's been shown time and again that even compulsory helmet wearing reduces cyclist numbers. Imagine what would happen if you introduced a registry of bikes and riders, which you'd need to make any licence and insurance scheme viable. Only the truly committed would trek to the test centre, fill in the forms for number plates and screw them onto the frame.
So in the end, if you want fewer cars on the road slowing you down, lower taxes for road maintenance, and reduced health care costs, what you want to do is build more bike lanes, promote cycling, subsidize bike share programmes and stop complaining about cyclists getting a free ride.

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