The Big Apple is no picnic for cyclists – but the riders keep on coming
New York is one of the world’s most impressive and multifaceted cities. It’s the financial and cultural capital of the world, the gateway to the United States and – importantly for us – home to one of the world’s fastest growing cycling communities.
Any large, densely populated city presents a challenge when it comes to moving people around effectively. This problem is particularly apparent in New York where 29,000 people are crammed into each square mile, especially for cyclists competing with cars, trucks and trains for its prized pathways. Bike lanes are growing but limited, motorists rule the roads and dozens of riders are killed every year on the city’s streets – with hundreds more left injured.
Bikes are so history
But New York’s transport system hasn’t always been the challenge for cyclists that it is today. The United States’ first bike path was opened in the city in 1894 during the USA’s late 19th century cycling boom. In fact, the original Madison Square Garden was purpose built for inner city bike racing (and is the source of the popular ‘Madison' racing discipline).
As the 20th century progressed however, cycling experienced the same decline in New York as was experienced the world over. Bikes stood little chance against Fords and Chevys – enduring symbols of social mobility and the ‘American Dream’. The popularity of cars – viewed as symbols of wealth and inclusion in the middle class – quickly pushed cycling down metropolitan priorities. New York grew and flourished as a city of cars, while notoriously underfunded roads became a deathtrap for the few cyclists that remained.
The cycling tide has been turning in the past few years as health and environmentally conscious New Yorkers have made moves to roll back the automobile’s ascension and make their city bike-friendly once more.
Manhattan’s 1.34 million daily commuters have driven this change, not simply because of their sheer numbers, but also because of the economic imperative of providing safe and efficient travel for the lifeblood of the city – its workers.
Supported by the ‘Citi-Bike’ scheme launched in 2013, over 200,000 daily cyclists now travel on New York’s streets. Couple this with pedestrian numbers and non-motorised movement now accounts for 21% of all trips in the city (against a national average of 8%). The figures undoubtedly tell a story of progress, but there is still much to be done. In London 610,000 journeys are made every day and in Amsterdam, a city less than a tenth of the size of both London and New York, it sits at 490,000.
New York, New Choice
Change has the habit of dividing people, and it is in the younger generations that New York must place its cycling dreams. The millennial view of the American dream is very different to that of their parents, and surveys have shown huge support for cycling in the under 40’s. This is in stark contrast to the over 40’s who in the main oppose cycling as an expensive sign of an activist government (which, unlike in Europe, is not necessarily seen as a positive thing).
The New York cycle movement has pedaled on despite being faced with bad roads, local opposition and even recent cuts to the city’s cycling infrastructure and ‘pothole patrols’. Europeans shirking at their own cities approach to cycling (like us) should take a leaf out of New York’s book and – quite simply – get on with it.More stories