Cycling in New York City

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Citi Bike bike share service, which started in May 2013
Biking through Chelsea, Manhattan

Cycling in New York City is associated with mixed cycling conditions that include dense urban proximities, relatively flat terrain, congested roadways with "stop-and-go" traffic, and streets with heavy pedestrian activity. The city's large cycling population includes utility cyclists, such as delivery and messenger services; cycling clubs for recreational cyclists; and, increasingly, commuters.[1]

While New York City developed the country's first bike path in 1894,[2] and recent trends place the city "at the forefront of a national trend to make bicycling viable and safe,"[2] competing ideas of urban transportation have led to conflict, as well as ongoing efforts to balance the needs of cyclists, pedestrians, and cars.[2] Dozens of cyclists are killed each year, and hundreds seriously injured in automobile related accidents.[3]


The bicycle boom of the late 19th century had a strong impact in the area, and the City of Brooklyn was especially responsive, providing accommodation in Eastern Parkway, Ocean Parkway, and elsewhere. New York didn't produce as many bicycles as other cities, so imported many from elsewhere, including Freehold Township, New Jersey. As a spectator sport, six-day racing was popular and spurred the building of velodromes in suburbs including Washington Heights, Manhattan, and Jersey City, New Jersey. Weekly races were held in suburban roads, including Pelham Parkway, Bronx. The biggest races were in inner city locations, notably at the original Madison Square Garden which had been designed for cycle racing and at the time was located adjacent to Madison Square. The Olympic sport, Madison Racing, is named after cycle races that became popular at Madison Square Gardens.

Several of the mid-20th century parkway projects of Robert Moses included bike paths; however, when more people could afford cars, bicycling declined and the bikeways fell into disrepair.[citation needed] Provisions for pedestrians and bicyclists were not included in the bridges connecting Queens to the Bronx (Throgs Neck Bridge and Bronx–Whitestone Bridge), and Brooklyn to Staten Island (Verrazano-Narrows Bridge).[4]

Late in the century, bicycling resurged. A narrow, physically separated bike lane on Sixth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan was unsuccessful[5] and consequently eliminated; however, bike lanes on major bridges were created, refurbished, or improved, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, in partnership with other agencies, created the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway and other bikeways. The Department of Parks and Recreation also added a vendor program to provide "hop on, hop off" bicycle rental services across various city parks.[6] The linked network of bicycle rentals is facilitated through concessions in Central Park, Riverside Park South, West Harlem Piers Park and The Battery.[7] By 2017, there were 450,000 bike rides per day in New York City, up from 180,000 per day in 2006. Of these, 20% were commuter trips.[8]


Utility cycling[edit]

Carrying freight on Madison Avenue
Motorized delivery bike for a restaurant, with chain, lock, and plastic bags on handles to protect from winter wind
Bike transport in Midtown
Demonstration of bike share before Citi Bike was implemented; shown, in Times Square
Brooklyn summer, large recreational group ride

Delivery bikes are commonly used in New York for fast food deliveries over short distances, sometimes using mountain bikes outfitted with a wide carrier for larger loads such as pizza, or other accessories. Electric bicycles are increasingly used for this service, their illegality being sporadically enforced.[9] [10] Proposals in the New York State Legislature in 2015 would define, legalize and regulate certain "electric assist bicycles" with small electric motors.[11]

Bicycle messengers use narrower wheels to carry lighter loads short distances. Specialized cargo bicycles and tricycles carry heavier loads.

Pedicabs became commonplace at the turn of the 21st century, offering novel travel over short distances, including guided tours of Central Park. In April 2007 the New York City Council voted to limit the number of pedicabs to 325.[12] A court overturned the limit,[13] later regulatory efforts concentrated on requirements for insurance and safety equipment[14] and in April 2011, new legislation tightened parking regulations and capped pedicab licenses at 850.[15]

Bicycle sharing[edit]

In 2007 the Department studied the prospects of a bicycle sharing system[16] and announced in 2011 that kiosks would be built for the service to begin in 2012.[17] The project was slated to introduce 10,000 bikes that would be available from 600 stations made by PBSC Urban Solutions and operated by Alta Bicycle Share,[18] the operators of similar schemes in other U.S. cities.

Citigroup bought a five-year sponsorship, and as a result, the bike-share system was named Citi Bike.[19] Stations in the first stage were located between 59th Street in Manhattan, the Hudson River, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and Bushwick Avenue.[20] The system opened for business in May 2013[21] with 330 stations and 4,300 bikes. In October 2014, Citi Bike and the City announced a price increase and a plan to expand the program to add thousands of bikes and hundreds of stations, to cover most of Manhattan and several other areas.[22][23][24]

Research conducted byQuinnipiac University Polling Institute showed that, as of June 2013, a majority of New Yorkers support the initiative.[25]


Some parks, including Central Park and Prospect Park, ban or restrict motor vehicles during certain weekday hours and all weekend to promote bicycling. Bike and Roll NYC operates bike rental stations in several city parks[26] and local bike shops also rent them, especially in areas of tourism. Less formal operators work on street corners or out of the back of a truck or in parking garages, although this type of operation is illegal on city park property. Additional services include paid guided tours.

Several organizations, including Five Borough Bicycle Club and Bike New York, conduct tours every weekend. Most are day trips for no fee;[27] some larger or overnight tours require payment. New York City is host to several long annual recreational rides, including the Five Boro Bike Tour. New York Cycle Club and others specialize in fitness and speed. Bicycle track races run most summer weekends in Kissena Park and elsewhere. Road races are held on weekends and some weekday evenings at Prospect Park, Central Park, and Floyd Bennett Field.

New York City Department of Transportation distributes a free and annually updated bike map [28] through bike shops. The map shows Class I bike lanes in green, and Class II/Class III bike lanes in other colors. It shows the locations and names of bike shops and points of touristic interest. Shops that rent bikes are shown in red.


Many New Yorkers live less than a dozen miles or 20 km from their job, and can be seen bicycle commuting over various bridges connecting Manhattan with the outer boroughs and along the Hudson or elsewhere in good weather. In 2008 the NYC Department of Transportation released a "screenline count report"[29] suggesting that commuter cycling had more than doubled since the turn of the century.

For mixed-mode commuting most suburban commuter rail stations provide free parking in racks, and some have bicycle lockers for security. Regulations on bicycles on trains vary by railroad and time of day; Metro-North and LIRR require a permit that can be obtained for a $5.00 fee by mail or at Grand Central Terminal. New Jersey Transit also allows bicycles onboard trains en route to New York City but restricts them on rush hour trains. Bikes are allowed on New York City Subway trains at all hours, though it is sometimes difficult to fit a bike into a packed subway car. Typically, cyclists use the subway security gates to bring bicycles into the system, and board either the very first or very last train car.

Rules against fastening bikes to subway property, including fences around street stairs, are enforced more rigorously than those concerning lampposts and other street furniture. Municipal bicycle stands are installed in many neighborhoods. Most are simple "bike staples" but a few, including one each at the northwest ends of Pulaski Bridge and Union Square are larger, with a roof. More are planned.[30]

Due to traffic patterns and transport network geometries, mixed-mode bicycling-plus-subway can be the fastest way to commute, or to achieve transport within NYC, for many routes and times.[citation needed]

Folding bicycles, which often allow parking in a workplace or home closet where there isn't room for a full sized bike, became increasingly popular early in the 21st century.[31] European city bikes from the Netherlands, though lacking this virtue, became a lesser trend in 2008.[32]

In 2009, a local law created by the New York City Council went into effect, requiring commercial buildings with freight elevators to allow employees to transport their bikes on them up to tenant floors. The purpose of the bill was to allow access to indoor storage spaces to encourage commuting by cycling.[33] The City Council also created another local law in 2009 requiring many off-street parking facilities to replace some of their spaces for vehicles with bicycle racks. So far there has been limited demand by cyclists for paid off-street bicycle parking at these garages and lots.[34]

The non-profit organization Transportation Alternatives promotes bicycle commuting and bicycle friendly facilities to lessen the impact of cars on urban life. On its website, the organization states that is "working to make New York City’s neighborhoods safer and restore a vibrant culture of street life" and advocates "for safer, smarter transportation and a healthier city."[35]

Renting, parking, and shopping for bikes
Renting, outside Artisans Gate, Central Park 
Zukkies Bike shop in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn 
Parking under a bike shelter in Long Island City near Pulaski Bridge 

Bikeway types[edit]

Class II Bike lane in the door zone. This is common in New York City.

There are three types of bike lanes on New York City streets: Class I, Class II and Class III. Class I bike lanes are typically physically separated from vehicular/pedestrian paths. Class II bike lanes are simply marked with paint and signage, and lie between a parking lane and a traffic lane. Class III bike lanes are shared vehicular/bike lanes, usually only marked by signage.[36] The majority of bike lanes in New York are Class II or Class III bike lanes.[28]

Most cycling is in Class II or Class III bike lanes, since most streets provide no separate facilities for bicycles. However, Class I bike lanes connect most neighborhoods. Those are in parks and Greenways, segregated from traffic. The Hudson River Greenway is so heavily used that it requires separation of the bikeway from pedestrians. Other parts of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway and the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway are less continuously segregated. An east-west Greenway runs through Pelham Bay Park and across the Bronx along Mosholu Parkway to Van Cortlandt Park where it connects to the South County Trailway. Others include foreshoreways along the north shore of Jamaica Bay, the south shores of Little Neck Bay and Flushing Bay and other locations.[citation needed]

As of February 2009, about 170 miles (270 km) of Class II bike lanes run in streets, and the network is growing.[37] Class II and Class III bike lanes are often blocked by trucks unloading and by double parked cars. A few, as in the westernmost block of Tillary Street between Adams Street and Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn, replace the parking lane and are separated from motor traffic by concrete barriers. The 8th and 9th Avenue bike lanes in Chelsea, Manhattan were rebuilt in late 2008 as Class II bike lanes between the curb and a new parking lane, and are expected to provide more safety.[38] Similar layouts were used in the reconstructions of 1st and 2nd Avenues in 2010, and in that of Columbus Avenue in 2011.

On three Saturdays in August 2008, a route on the East Side of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Street along Lafayette Street, Park Avenue and other streets was cleared of motor traffic to allow easy non-motorised use as an experiment called "Summerstreets".[39] It was repeated in 2009 and became an annual event.[40]

In mid-August 2008, two lanes of Broadway between 42nd Street and Herald Square were transformed into a pedestrian plaza and bike path, which were rearranged in May 2013.[41][42][43] In late May 2012, four one-way pairs of crosstown bike lanes in Midtown received preliminary approval.[44]

Appreciation of the new bike lanes in streets was not unanimous.[45][46] A group in Park Slope sued in March 2011 to remove a new bike lane[47] and in November the City Council voted to slow the installation of new lanes and pedestrian plazas.[48] Much of the opposition has been concentrated in Manhattan and Queens neighborhoods where bike lanes are sometimes seen as a nuisance or danger to pedestrians and nearby businesses.[8] However, an August 2012 survey found two thirds of New Yorkers in favor of bike lanes.[49]


Laws and rules[edit]

A bicycle is treated similarly to a motorized vehicle under the law of the State of New York with several exceptions. No license is required to operate a bicycle. Cyclists must ride in the direction of traffic. On one-way streets 40 feet or wider, they may ride on either the left or right side. Children aged 13 years and under must wear a helmet. Adult cyclists must use hand signals, must only wear headphones in one ear,[50] must not ride on sidewalks, and must use lights at night (red in rear and white in front).[51][52]


Being doored (colliding with the door of a car unexpectedly opened) is a prominent hazard.[53] Many Class II/Class III bike lanes run in the door zone. While the law requires caution in opening car doors into traffic lanes, dooring remains common, and doored cyclists face injury and sometimes death. Cyclists must exercise caution, riding a door's length away from parked cars whenever practicable.

Approximately 20 cyclists are killed most years, usually by collision with a moving motor vehicle (including those who are knocked under wheels by a door). From 1996 until 2005, 225 bicyclists died in crashes. Bicyclist deaths remained steady during that 10-year period. Between 1996 and 2003, 3,462 NYC bicyclists were seriously injured in car accidents. However the annual number of serious injuries decreased by 46% during those 8 years.[3] Some fatality locations are marked by white-painted ghost bikes. Traffic accidents kill approximately 160 pedestrians per year (about half as many as in the late 20th century) and a lesser number inside cars.[54] In 2014, newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to bring these numbers to zero through his Vision Zero initiative.[55] Private parties have made maps of fatal accidents.[56]

Public efforts[edit]

Bike New York, an organization in New York City, encourages cycling and bicycle safety. They host rides throughout the year, including the Five Boro Bike Tour, in order to fund their free bike education programs. With ten community bike education centers around all five boroughs of New York City, Bike New York offers bike education programs for children and adults.

Monthly Critical Mass rides in New York have resulted in conflict between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and bike riders. On August 27, 2004, during the Republican National Convention, more than 400 riders were arrested for 'disrupting traffic'.[57] The arrests, thought to be preemptive action against protests during the convention, spawned lawsuits and courts subsequently ruled that the rides are legal (c.f.[58]). Other rides were also followed by arrests,[59] tickets[60] though in 2008 the NYPD was content to leave alone.[61]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c Goodman, J. David (November 22, 2010). "Expansion of Bike Lanes in New York Brings Backlash". The New York Times. New York has a long relationship with the bicycle, with the first bike path in the country running along Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn as early as 1894. 
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  7. ^ Wil Giron (22 June 2011). "Bike and Roll Launches New ‘Hop On Hop Off’ Bike Rental Program in NYC Read more: Bike and Roll Launches New 'Hop On Hop Off' Bike Rental Program in NYC". Inhabitant New York City. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
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  13. ^ Chan, Sewell (January 17, 2008). "Court Strikes Down Pedicab Licensing Plan". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
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  15. ^ Zack Stieber (28 April 2011). "NY Legislation Caps Pedicabs at 850". The Epoch Times. Retrieved 2013-06-28. 
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  25. ^ Pat Smith; Maurice Carroll (27 June 2013). "NEW YORK CITY VOTERS BACK MAYOR’S STORM PLAN 4-1, QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY POLL FINDS; SLIM MAJORITY BACKS FOOD RECYCLING, BIKE RENTALS" (PDF). Quinnipiac University Poll. Quinnipiac University. Retrieved 2013-06-28. 
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  48. ^ City Council Acts to Slow Transportation Projects by Gail Robinson, Nov 30, 2011, Gotham Gazette
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  55. ^ Vow to end traffic deaths vs reality by J. DAVID GOODMAN and MATT FLEGENHEIMER, New York Times, 2014 Feb 14
  56. ^ Location Data Crucial The Epoch Times, March 2013
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  58. ^[dead link][dead link][not in citation given]
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