07 September 2014

Why Do The Editors Of "Bicycling" Think New York Is The Best City For Cycling In The USA?

If you read Bicycling, you already know the magazine has just rated my hometown, New York City, as the best city for cycling in the USA.

I am always suspicious of "best of" ratings in any subject. Even when using the most objective criteria, people come to different conclusions about what is "best".

Now, I grant you that more people are riding bikes now than at any other time I can recall.  Best of all, the riders aren't all lycra-clad racer wannabes or twenty-year-olds on tires wider than those on a Hummer.  People are actually riding to work, shop, visit galleries and museums and attend concerts, ballgames and school. Some are riding, well, to ride.

We also have bike lanes, some of which are completely segregated from the streets.  And, of course, we have a bike-share program that has proved immensely popular.  These would have been all but unimaginable only a few years ago.  Moreover, the number of bike shops has grown exponentially a decade after it seemed that online retailers would wipe out all but a few brick-and-mortar establishments. 

But--not to dump Gatorade on anybody's Gran Fondo--I have to wonder whether all of the things I've mentioned actually make New York the "best" cycling city.

Now, it's hard to argue that a bike-share program isn't good for a city's cycling infrastructure and culture.  On the other hand, as I've mentioned in other posts, bike lanes don't necessarily make cycling safer or entice more people to ride.   For one thing, some are so poorly-designed that they actually put cyclists in more peril than they would have found themselves while cycling on the street.  This is particularly true in intersections or spots where lanes begin or end.  For another, some motorists become resentful--and, as a result more agressive and confrontational-- because they feel the lanes have taken parking spaces and roadway against them.  

Even more to the point, when bicycles are segregated from traffic, motorists don't learn how to interact with bicycles, and cyclists don't learn the safest ways to ride.  As I've mentioned in at least one other post, such awareness is what makes many European cities safer (or, at least, to seem so) than their counterparts in the US.

Finally, I have noticed that the Big Apple Bike Boom, if you will, is not spread across the city.  I see many other cyclists on the streets of my neighborhood, Astoria, which is the northern end of what I like to call "Hipster Hook".  The communities of Long Island City, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, as well as the area around the Navy Yard, are part of it, and are full of young, well-educated, sometimes creative and often ambitious people, most of whom are white.  Those characteristics are shared by the cycling-rich neighborhoods of (mostly downtown) Manhattan.  

On the other hand, one still finds relatively few cyclists in the poorer and darker (in residents' skin hues) neighborhoods of central and eastern Brooklyn, upper Manhattan, southeast Queens, the north shore of Staten Island or almost anywhere in the Bronx.  The same holds true for the older white blue-collar neighborhoods of central Queens, southwestern Brooklyn and much of Staten Island.  Moreover, one almost never sees a female cyclist in any of those areas.   

So, while I am happy to see that there are more cyclists--and, most important of all, more consciousness about cycling--here in the Big Apple, I am not sure that those things make it the "best" cycling city in the US.  And we are certainly nowhere near as bike-centric as any number of European cities are.

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