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] Cycling is increasingly popular in New York City; in 2017 there were approximately 450,000 daily bike trips, compared with 170,000 daily bike trips in 2005.[2]


The bicycle boom of the late 19th century had a strong impact in the area, and the City of Brooklyn was especially responsive, building bike lanes in Eastern Parkway, Ocean Parkway, and elsewhere.[3] 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 Garden.

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] Since July 2018, buses along the Q50 route, which travels across the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, contain bike racks at the front of each vehicle.[5]

Late in the century, bicycling resurged. A narrow, physically separated bike lane on Sixth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan was unsuccessful[6] 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.[7] The linked network of bicycle rentals is facilitated through concessions in Central Park, Riverside Park South, West Harlem Piers Park and The Battery.[8] 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.[9]


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.[10][11] Proposals in the New York State Legislature in 2015 would define, legalize and regulate certain "electric assist bicycles" with small electric motors.[12]

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.[13] A court overturned the limit,[14] later regulatory efforts concentrated on requirements for insurance and safety equipment[15] and in April 2011, new legislation tightened parking regulations and capped pedicab licenses at 850.[16]

Bicycle sharing[edit]

In 2007 the Department studied the prospects of a bicycle sharing system[17] and announced in 2011 that kiosks would be built for the service to begin in 2012.[18] 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,[19] 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.[20] Stations in the first stage were located between 59th Street in Manhattan, the Hudson River, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and Bushwick Avenue.[21] The system opened for business in May 2013[22] 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.[23][24][25]

After Citi Bike was launched, the city also started experimented with dockless bike sharing, wherein bikes do not need to be returned to a dock after the trip is complete. The bikes would instead lock themselves into place, and can only be used once a cyclist pays using an online application.[26] In early August 2017, the dockless bike-sharing company Spin had started a dockless operation in the Rockaways, but had been told to cease and desist operations by the NYCDOT, which had licensed Citi Bike as the only official bike-share operator in New York City.[27][28][29] In July 2018, the city rolled out a dockless bike-sharing pilot in conjunction with five companies, with 200 bikes provided in each of three outer-borough neighborhoods.[26][30]

Research conducted by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed that, as of June 2013, a majority of New Yorkers support the initiative.[31]


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[32] 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;[33] 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.


Like other forms of cycling in New York City, commuting by bicycle has increased significantly over the years. In 2015, 46,057 people said they used a bicycle as their primary mode of commuting, compared with just 16,468 who commuted primarily by bicycle in 2005.[34] Commuters accounted for approximately one fifth of bicycle trips in New York City in 2017.[35]

Many New Yorkers live less than 12 mi (19 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"[36] 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.[37]

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.[38] European city bikes from the Netherlands, though lacking this virtue, became a lesser trend in 2008.[39]

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.[40] 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.[41]

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."[42]

Bike lanes[edit]

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

As of 2017, New York City had 1,333 miles of bike lanes, compared to 513 miles of bike lanes in 2006.[43] The New York City Department of Transportation distributes a free and annually updated bike map online and through bike shops.[44]

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.[45] The majority of bike lanes in New York are Class II or Class III bike lanes.[46]

Between 2007 and 2018, New York City added just over 100 miles of Class 1 bike lanes.[47] Perhaps the most heavily used Class 1 bike lane is The Hudson River Greenway, which 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]

Class 1 bike lanes are generally regarded as the safest road design for cyclists, and are credited with helping increase the number of cyclists in the city, while reducing crashes and injuries to all road users. Between 2009 and 2014, cyclists riding in parking protected bike lanes experienced a 75% reduction in crash-related injuries, while pedestrians on those routes experienced a 22% decrease in crash-related injuries.[48]

Despite their documented safety benefits, some have been critical of bike lanes.[49][50] A group in Park Slope sued in March 2011 to remove a new bike lane[51] and in November the City Council voted to slow the installation of new lanes and pedestrian plazas.[52] 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.[9] However, an August 2012 survey found two thirds of New Yorkers in favor of bike lanes.[53]


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,[54] must not ride on sidewalks, and must use lights at night (red in rear and white in front).[55][56]


In 2017, 24 cyclists were killed, and 4485 were injured in crashes in New York City.[57] Some fatality locations are marked by white-painted ghost bikes.

Although crash-related injuries to cyclists are not uncommon, their incidence has decreased even as the number of cyclists in New York City has increased. Between 2011 and 2015 there were 12.8 cyclist fatalities per 100 million cycling trips, compared with 44.2 cyclist fatalities per 100 million cycling trips between 1996 and 2000.[58]

Being doored (colliding with the door of a car unexpectedly opened) is a hazard.[59] Many Class II/Class III bike lanes run in the door zone.

In 2014, newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to bring all traffic fatalities to zero through his Vision Zero initiative.[60] Private parties have made maps of fatal accidents.[61]

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'.[62] 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.[63]). Other rides were also followed by arrests,[64] tickets[65] though in 2008 the NYPD was content to leave alone.[66]

See also[edit]


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