NYC: Moving On Two Wheels

Posted by Raymond Yeung
Source: Sustainable Cities Collective

On a sunny sunday morning, near New York City’s Intrepid Museum, the Hudson Greenway is filled with cruise ship patrons, joggers, and cyclists of varying speeds.

The path feels narrow given the swelling volume of traffic on a picture perfect weekend, especially with summer cruise ships filling the pier. But this is only one section of the Hudson path; the greenway stretches uninterrupted, roughly from the southern tip of the island all the way to the northern tip. There are many amenities alongside the path to keep people entertained, a far cry from what you would have seen just a decade ago when most of the city’s waterfront was in ruins, filled with garbage and unrecognizable faltered structures.

The development alongside Hudson has been a huge success, renewing land and creating open green spaces for all.

Currently, the city is rapidly extending the ambitious path to circle the entire Manhattan island. A costly and huge undertaking — yet worthy, considering the trends. This is especially good news to cyclists and people interested in taking advantage of the waterfront.

Summer Streets is a NYC program that closes some 50 blocks of city streets to cars. Bicycles and pedestrians rule. (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

The Hudson Greenway turned out to be quite popular, and this should be viewed as a sign that good public land development does not mean simply adding ‘nice features’ to already wealthy parts of the city.

Still, even the casual observer will find New York to be in dire need of more cycling infrastructure. New York is already home to the most cycled bridges in North America, and successes like these are indicators that should serve as momentum for further developments.

It took New York years to realize that, apparently people want to move around freely, and preferably not in bumper to bumper traffic, and for some, not even air conditioned subway cars. In just the past two years, the city has aggressively added varying degrees of cycling infrastructure and hundreds of miles of bike lanes, with an even bigger ambition yet still looming.

Hidden Dangers

Among the most recent additions is the 8th Avenue bike lane. Like others, it puts the cyclist on the left most lane of a one way avenue. The lane is cushioned by some three feet of paint on the ground, dictating the area when cars are meant to park. While the design seemes logical and perhaps fitting at first glance, a test drive of the lanes reveals many life threatening hidden dangers.

Unlike some of the other lanes — 1st Ave or 9th Ave — the 8th Ave lane does not have dedicated light signals for turing vehicles nor for the cyclist. While the surprise of an opening door is highly reduced — this danger makes up for over half cycling related accidents in the city — the highest risk of injury or death still comes from vehicular impact.

The Left Hook as it is sometimes referred to, is a concern at every other block.

The other risk for any bike lanes users comes from pedestrians who find it so irresistibly fitting to dash into the lane without looking, while texting, walking a dog, jogging with headphones pumping full volume; on top of all that, imagine delivery bikes zipping the wrong way, sideways, whichever way they feel like, hundreds of delivery vehicles and other  irresponsible drivers making a “quick stop,” then throw in street vendors and random garbage and the bicycle lanes are perhaps only a bit safer than not having them.

Why So Fast?

The big ambition — and soon to be reality — for the city is a massive bike share program. Whenever there is a bike share program being developed, fantastic images of European cities with overjoyed cyclists can be found. But is it particle to apply small-town-Europe ideas to main-street-America? While New York’s traffic chaos is not comparable to say, New Delhi, there are still substantial consequences to consider. In a city of 8 million, can the same stretch of road, butchered into genres of traffic, alleviate said traffic and protect the weaker, slower moving all at the same time?

New York’s bike share program is soon to be available, planned for late July, though it has already been delayed. The CitiBank sponsored project will bring some 600 share stations into Manhattan and some parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Skeptics have criticized the seemingly hastily put together project as adding congestion to an already crowded city. But Mayor Bloomberg — who has been a huge supporter of just about anything that will improve health — argued that not only will the program promote good health, but it will also lower congestion and pollution, a win-win for city planning, and for slowing the damage to our environment.

In the days leading up to the program’s due date, many major avenues have seen a seemingly overnight metamorphosis, with twenty-block long streets being repaved, painted and remodeled for dedicated bike paths in just under one week.

The Outer Boroughs

It would seem that the focus has traditionally been placed in Manhattan; the rest of the city, although they make deposits to the city’s coffers, are left with nothing. Conventional thinking tells people that government is more likely to allocate resource to the wealthy than the poor, but the trend is changing. The reality is, the poor are vastly larger in number than rich, so to speak, and screwing over the average person always ends up costing society in the long run, as they must be helped after the damage is done. Costly health care reform is one recent example of this phenomenon.

Jackson Heights Pedestrian Plaza in Queens, New York (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

Recently, I had a chance to wander though parts of Queens, and was presently surprised to find a small street permanently turned into a pedestrian plaza with wide cycling lanes. This was in the heart of Jackson Heights, where folks on bikes are either without cars, or delivering food. It’s a small sign, but a sure sign that the powers in charge are willing to invest in all communities for the good of all.

It is clear that whatever anyone thinks, the city — and perhaps America — is heading into a greener future. One that is continuously being challenged by powerful interest groups and lobbying, whether it be from taxi drivers or car loving citizens. However divided the opinions are though, it is certain that we need to change our current trend of vehicular reliance.

The rest of the world took their models of urban planning from America, and perhaps it’s time again for America and its citizens to remind the world what great things can be accomplished when we work together for a greener, safer, environment for all.