By: Joel Epstein
With all that is wrong in the world and US politics at the moment it is easy to forget what has been achieved active transportation wise in New York since 1980. That was the year Mayor Ed Koch installed Manhattan’s first protected bike lane, only to rip it out six months later. Blame Koch, drivers, the governor at the time and a few lower Manhattan business owners who whined that the bike lane was making it hard for customers to get to their stores.
Fast forward to today. According to Cycling in the City, a NYCDOT update on cycling trends in New York, in 2020:
- Nearly eight hundred thousand New Yorkers (773,000) ride a bicycle regularly (at least several times a month).
- 26% of adult New Yorkers, approximately 1.6 million people, ride a bike (at least once in the past year)
- 1,375 lane miles of bike lanes installed in New York City as of 2020
- 546 lane miles of protected bike lanes installed in New York City as of 2020
- On a typical day, there are over 530,000 cycling trips made in New York City
Thank you DOT. But so much of what New York bikers now take for granted daily didn’t just happen overnight. Our growing web of protected bike lanes and sharrows is the product of decades of advocacy and prodding by groups like Transportation Alternatives and others who toiled to make the City’s network of bike infrastructure a reality.
The pandemic has only further boosted the numbers of New York City cyclists and scooter riders who use Citibike, Bird, Lime and Veo to get around. And if my own experience is any indication, cycling and scootering is likely cutting into transit ridership as more and more New Yorkers realized they can get where they need to go without a train or bus or dollar van.
I found myself again thinking about this recently as I biked and walked around the Bronx.
If you think the only New Yorkers riding Citibike and scooters look like me, look beyond the Hudson River Greenway. Look to the Bronx.
Beyond the current range of Citibike, east of the beautiful New York Botanical Garden in Bronx Park, NYDOT is piloting an e-scooter program.
Phase One of the pilot includes neighborhoods from Eastchester and Co-op City to Morris Park. Phase Two, slated for expansion later this year, will include neighborhoods farther south, including Throggs Neck and Soundview.
According to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, more than a third of New York’s 8.8 million inhabitants are immigrants. Due in part to the gentrification that has priced hundreds of thousand of affordable housing residents, many of them immigrants, out of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens, many of these New Yorkers have settled in the East Bronx. In total, the e-scooter pilot serves an 18-square-mile area that is home to a diverse population of 570,000 residents, including 25,000 NYCHA residents.
Though e-scooters are not my thing when a bike is available, one can’t help but notice how important the e-scooters that now occupy the bike corrals in Pelham Parkway along White Plains Road under the El have become.
Or on the sidewalk at transit stops like the 180th Street Station in West Farms.
While it remains to be seen whether these dockless scooters are here to stay, for now they are helping solve the first/last mile problem — how one gets to the nearest subway or bus — for residents of Pelham Parkway, Little Yemen and elsewhere in the Bronx. I like the East Bronx pilot because the sidewalks here are wide enough to accommodate the corrals as well as pedestrian traffic.
I also like that my day here gives me an excuse to visit Damascus Sweets on Morris Park Ave. With Damascus Sweets within biking and scooting distance, there’s no need to schlep from my home in Sugar Hill to Brooklyn or Queens for my fix of a date or walnut ma'amoul.
Best of all, the Bronx is no longer burning.
While considerable work remains to be done to make transit in this City safe and more traffic enforcement is needed to eliminate the hazards faced by bikers and pedestrians, the progress that has been made is tangible and all New Yorkers are the beneficiaries of more of us biking and scooting instead of driving to work.
Between the bike lanes, Citibike, e-scooters and even the costly but IMHO worth it, NYC Ferry, we are a better City than we were in 1980. At times like this, that’s worth remembering.
Yours in transit,
Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space.
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