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Two reports published yesterday highlight the success of more bike use in New York, with rider numbers booming and the air quality getting cleaner.
Although the Cycling in the City report produced by the NYC Department of Transportation focussed mainly on East River crossings and what is happening in Brooklyn, W42ST sifted through the data to discover encouraging growth of bike use on the west side.
Since the Hudson River Greenway (which includes the west side bike path) opened in 2001, bike traffic has increased by 244%. The installation of protected bike lanes, which started in 2007 with a seven-block stretch of 9th Avenue in Chelsea, has also given more New Yorkers the confidence to take to two wheels.
Christine Berthet, who for the past 15 years has led the charge locally to stop the gridlock, improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists and demand clean air through the non-profit CHEKPEDS, told us: “This is phenomenal growth. Over 100% from the time of protected bike lane installations. In the case of the Greenway, it also points to New York State’s inadequate investments in the bike highway — which is ultra congested — while they continue to upgrade the west side highway for cars.”
“This growth is incredible, and hopefully it doesn’t stop. Providing safe, protected cycling infrastructure for New Yorkers has been an abject failure by the city and the state, and even where there are ‘protected’ bike lanes, they’re willfully ignored by ConEd, NYPD, and DOT. We need more people feeling safe on bikes as a way to improve the city’s carbon footprint. And while cycling numbers have boomed, it’s a dangerous and at times deadly commute in NYC.” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, a Hell’s Kitchen Resident and daily CitiBike commuter.
LeFrancois called for “bold, 21st Century change brought to our streetscape” comparing progress in other cities around the world. “Time will tell if the status quo continues to reign supreme, that of providing so much space for cars and their fossil fuel, while cyclists, public transit, and pedestrians continue to get the least amount of space,” he said.
Earlier this year, Hudson River Park announced that it had received funding from Governor Cuomo to upgrade a two-block stretch of the bike path in Hell’s Kitchen between W57th and W59th Street. The price tag of $5m was seen as high by many, with one local “wondering if it’s going to be paved in gold.”
The pandemic also gave a boost to pedal power, with the west side bike path showing ridership leap from 5,989 in 2019 to 7,264 when it was measured in September last year. The statistics do not show whether the increase was because of commuters deserting the subway for fear of catching the coronavirus or using a bike for leisure.
In a second report, 48 million Citi Bike trips were analyzed over four years. Researchers found that during 2014-2017, cyclists saved 13,370 tons of oil, decreased 30,070 tons of carbon emissions and 80 tons of nitrogen oxides. The findings in the paper, produced by a team of researchers in the journal Cities, were first reported in Axios. They noted that emission savings were at a peak during rush hours, when gridlock traffic ensured cars idled emitting pollution — a familiar sight in Hell’s Kitchen when long lines wait to get into the Lincoln Tunnel — while cyclists keep moving.
Both reports highlighted a gender gap in bike use — and thereby an unequal contribution to energy saving. The American Community Survey (ACS) shows that New York is similar to the national trend of one female biker to three male cyclists. In the past 10 years, the gap has lessened a little, moving from 23% to 28% female riders.
The Citi Bike researchers concluded: “Evaluation of gender dynamics reveals that men produced greater environmental benefits through the bike-sharing initiative.”
On a typical New York day, there are about 530,000 cycling trips made on the 1,375 miles of city bike lanes. Hell’s Kitchen’s cycling infrastructure has improved during the pandemic — with new Citi Bike stations being installed and additional crosstown bike lanes on W38th and W39th Streets and should get even better with the announcement of new protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands along W40th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues, and a north-south bike lane on 11th Avenue between W38th and W42nd Streets. However, locals will note that the everlasting work along 9th Avenue mixed with outdoor dining sheds makes that “protected bike lane” one of the most treacherous in the city.