Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bike lanes in New York: are they working?

Are New York's Bike Lanes Working?
A Subsidy for the Few
New York Times
December 22, 2010

I may be dreaming but maybe, just maybe, the current controversies over bike lanes in New York City might drive some rational discourse over the proper uses and limits of bicycling as an alternative transportation mode in US big cities. This would be a rare occurrence in the US because passions tend to dominate the debate, with ideologically driven pro-bikers shouting over indignant and inconvenienced drivers, commercial haulers and small neighborhood businesses that lose entire segments of their market because of bike lane restrictions.

The hard, cold December reality of bike lanes in U.S. cities is that they will inevitably be a small part, even tiny part in most cases, of America’s solution to congestion and mobility. Bike networks represent concentrated, subsidized benefits for a small portion of the commuting public.

Oddly enough, New York City officials don’t have a ready numbers on bike commuting mode share. Instead, they rely on overall counts (see the press release from the New York Department of Transportation here), a misleading statistic since the investment in bike lanes is based in large part on the belief that an expanded network will shift significant shares of commuters out of their cars (and perhaps even buses) to relieve congestion, reduce air pollution, and lower carbon dioxide emissions. That doesn’t appear to be happening in New York.

In this respect, New York City is more typical of what we can expect in the rest of the nation. Despite adding 400 miles of dedicated bike lanes, the response from most New York commuters has been tepid at best. A small fraction of commuters or travelers who already use public transit or drive switch to biking, and many of the existing bike commuters still prefer the non-striped routes and avenues.

Regular bike commuters are a hardy bunch, and those committed few have often already overcome the psychological and practical hurdles necessary to integrate their preferred transportation mode into their lifestyle.

All this is not to say that dedicated bike lanes are a complete waste of time and resources. Rather, it suggests that programs need to be strategically focused and recognize bike travel for the seasonally limited, commuting niche it is rather than a broad-based travel alternative advocates want it to be. These programs also need to be rigorously evaluated to make sure their intended benefits materialize with measurable benchmarks to monitor progress.

Getting bike acceptance levels up to those of models like Amsterdam and Copenhagen takes more than striping lanes. It takes a focused anti-car policy that dramatically increases the costs of using automobiles. At this point, New York City’s experiment appears to demonstrate more the objective limits of a pro-bike strategy than a ringing endorsement of a major shift in urban transportation policy.

Sam Staley
is the director of urban and land use policy at Reason Foundation and the co-author of “Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century.”

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At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Getting bike acceptance levels up to those of models like Amsterdam and Copenhagen takes more than striping lanes. It takes a focused anti-car policy that dramatically increases the costs of using automobiles."

Sam understands what many do not. We need to be pretty much draconian in our anti-car policies going forward. The only problem with the San Mateo Congestion tolls was that the proposed tolls were TOO LOW.

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I figured you'd skip the other 4 opinions and only post up the one that most closely resembles your own.

Keep drinking the kool-aid, Robby.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's my blog, so naturally it represents my opinion. You have Bike Nopa and Streetsblog to represent your views, along with the Bay Guardian, Fog City, and the Bicycle Coalition's site.

Staley referred to the "draconian" anti-car policies you favor just to show how impractical they are in New York and, by implication, in most US cities. Even our aggressively anti-car Board of Supervisors rejected any more study of the dumb San Mateo County border fee idea. Even though your opinion is common among the city's bike people, it's interesting that you submit it anonymously. What are you afraid of?

At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid of you hunting me down and labeling me a bike-nut.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, you're afraid of coming out of the closet as a bike nut.

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe that's it. You are so wise Rob. If only I had someone like you as a father figure growing up. Then I wouldn't have to work out my daddy issues on a bike on the streets of San Francisco. I'd drive a car like real Americans who amount to something in life. Thank you for setting me straight. It's a Festivus miracle!

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Oh, no the credit is all yours for acknowledging your bike fetish and the Daddy issue---and the shame that prevents you from coming out of the closet on my blog. Continue working on these problems with your therapist, and you will make progress.

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd rather work on these issues in my bike lanes as they continue to take over precious ROW all over the city. And if there isn't a bike lane, then I'll work those issues out in the middle of the lane making sure to slow as many people as possible (delaying a bus would be tops!).

Only when other people suffer do I feel complete.

At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, another cyclist was struck and badly injured by a vehicle at 25th and Bartlett streets 2 days ago.

I'm sorry for her injuries, but sadly, more bike lanes, more striping will still not prevent accidents.

Cars and bikes don't mix well in this dense city. And cars are not going away.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you neglect to mention that the driver neglected to stop, leaving the cyclist for dead. Not exactly shocking, seems that drivers have figured out that the best course of action when you hit a pedestrian or cyclist in this town is to just drive off. Cretins.


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