Cycle traffic in New York

| May 4, 2011

Background and purpose
The journey was arranged as part of a project, seeking to update and rewrite a “Collection of Bicycle Concepts” – a project which has received national funding from the Danish Road Directorate. The study trip was undertaken in end of March, 2011.

The purpose of the journey was to study how good results have been achieved in the city of New York, by a dedicated effort by mayor Bloomberg, subsequently implemented by Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation; Janette Sadik-Khan. The focus is on establishing segregated bicycle infrastructure, partly modeled after the Danish so-called ”Copenhagen lanes”, supplemented by direct information, communication and events.

Many of the projects in New York have been carried out as temporary, making it possible to achieve very rapid changes. Consequently, in terms of a study trip to the city of New York, the following questions were raised;

• How does one establish 80 kilometers of cycle lane, in a city such as New York, in only a year?
• What infrastructural solutions are applied?
• What are the challenges they are facing, and how do they approach the new problems arising?
• How is a cycle-culture promoted from a low starting point?
• How are the citizens of New York informed of the massive infrastructural changes?
• What may Danish cities learn from the methods applied by the city of New York?


The embassy was represented by participants from; VEKSØ A/S, COWI A/S, Municipality of Copenhagen, Danish Cyclists’ Federation, Aros Kommunikation, and Municipality of Fredericia.

Meetings were conducted with: Hayes A. Lord, Director of Bicycle Program, NYC Department of Transportation. Dani Simons, Director of Communications and Marketing, Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. Robin Lester Kenton, Director of Communication at NY DOT. Caroline Samponaro, Director of Bicycle Advocacy at Transportation Alternatives. And Jeff Olson, Principal, Alta Planning + Design.

Bikes were rented and part of the infrastructure in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, were subjected to testing.

As part of the study trip, meetings with the following representatives took place;
• Susanne Nordenbæk, Director North America, Visit Denmark.
• Ulla Dubgaard, Press & Communication Officer, Consulate General of Denmark, New York.

At these meetings, Danish-American partnerships were discussed in terms of new cycle projects.

General observations and information
New York has decided on trebling the cycle traffic from 2007 till 2015. This should be viewed in light of cycling being primarily seen as a leisure activity, a sport and an activity fit for children. A great deal of inhabitants in the city, only remember the bike from their childhood.

Racing bikes and mountain bikes are the most predominant cycles in the city. Due to a high risk of theft, quality bikes are seldom seen. There are plans to introduce 10.000 city bikes to central parts of the city in 2012. City bikes could change the perception of who typically uses a bike, by providing ample opportunities for all people to try and ride a bike. This may consequently add new user groups.

The infrastructure in general
New York wishes to create a ’World Class Cycling City’. In 1997 the city established a very ambitious bike plan.

American cities may now apply for state funding to promote cycle traffic. Portland received funding by implementing a tax on gasoline, yet to other cities the new funding scheme was a great importance.

New York is now receiving financial support for the fourth time, with funds increasing. In 2007 New York received a national cycle award, due to a report from 2006, which acknowledged that the estimated growth in traffic would be impossible to handle without an increase in cycle traffic. 200 miles of cycle paths were proposed, adopted and implemented in only 3 years.

The traffic department have studied other American and European cities, but found London to be the most suitable model for infrastructure in New York. Taxies, deliveries of goods and pedestrians crisscrossing the streets, present special challenges in New York. The cyclists are in need of a separate network of cycle paths.

The cycle path network and cycle traffic has increased, while the number of accidents involving cyclists has decreased. The ”Safety in numbers” effect is hence clearly visible. Parents are beginning to bring their children biking with them, and more women are starting to cycle. This is the reason why cyclists are now being registered according to their gender and their use of a helmet – or lack hereof.

Urban design
New York generally does not want to reduce the capacity for the car traffic.

Almost every road in New York is unidirectional, which is why they have chosen not to apply the American recommendations from AASHTO. The cycle lane is often placed left of the moving cars, in order to avoid any conflicts with car doors being opened in the driver´s side.

’Shared lanes’ are roads with symbols, signaling that motorists must pay attention to cyclists. In reality, the solution is cycle streets based on the German principle: fahrradstrassen. The intention is that the cars must remain behind cyclists, as illustrated by the placement of the cycle symbols, however in reality the cyclists move to the side, letting cars overtake. Pedestrian accidents have been reduced by 25 %.

’Dedicated bicycle lanes’ have reduced accidents by 34 % and decreased the speed of the cars. Right turning cars are placed on the left of the cycle lane.

’On street bicycle paths’ reduces accidents by 50 %, reducing accidents involving pedestrians by 29 %. Cycling on the pavement has decreased by 84 %.

The parking lane is made extra wide, ensuring that car doors can be opened, without posing a risk to cyclists. The cycle lanes are painted green, and are often completed with a marked barrier; a three feet wide ’buffer zone’. The Buffer zone is a road marking, which is typically shortened 15 feet prior to the intersection. At some places, bollards are placed on the marking.

A few stretches have unidirectional cycle paths, placed on each side of a median strip. Outside the cycle lanes, a marking forms a barrier, while a curb stone has been placed to the side where the cars are passing. The kerbside is leaning towards the ground, making it possible for cars to cross it, in case cars ahead double-park.

In cases where cycle paths are being placed on the left of moving vehicles, special circumstances are often the reason – such as for instance cyclists mainly turning left – and hence not turning right – further on.

The very first projects had cycle paths segregated from cars by bollards, when approaching an intersection. This, however, has proven unnecessary, as long as the capacity in the left turning lane is sufficient. Now, the preferred solution is a shortened cycle lane, combined with a mandatory duty to give way to cyclists, when entering the right turn lane.

Often, the stop line for motorists have been placed prior to the intersecting edge of the road, providing better space for cyclists turning left, as well as pedestrians crossing the street. In many intersections, an advanced cycle stop line placed in front of the stop line for cars provides space for cyclists, creating an opportunity for making a soft left-hand turn.

The Danish model, in which the side of a pavement or street is bordered by a curb, has been rejected partly due to the increased expenses, partly due to fear of pedestrians choosing to enter the cycle path.

Car parking is almost always preserved, except from the space used for pedestrian refuge islands and such.

Machines for clearing snow and sweeping, often needs cycle paths to be 10 feet wide, meaning that unidirectional cycle paths are often used as bi-directional.

In the future, parking meters will gradually be replaced by parking vending machines. This in turn provides a greater flexibility in terms of the shape and design of cycle facilities and kerbside parking.

Many of the projects have been carried out as pilot projects, making it easier to establish an advanced number of projects in a limited time span. Similarly, the projects may easily be adjusted – only if major problems occur in terms of capacity or traffic safety, is a given project subject to removal.

The citizens are generally complaining a lot about the changes, however following a three month period, most people have gotten used to the change.

Parking facilities
11.000 cycle stands have been placed all over New York. An international contest for a new cycle stand, was won by two Danish designers – presently 250 of their LOOP stands have been set up in New York city.

When parking meters are dismantled, the stands may be mounted with a cycle stand.

At present, 19 bike sheds with glass ceiling, have been placed around New York. They are based on a rebuild bus shelter, meaning that the roof does not cover the entire length of a bike. The map in the bus shelter is very popular and is used by many other than cyclists.

The ’Bikes in Buildings’ program, which has just recently been adopted, entitles employees a parking space for their bike, in the building in which they work – and there has to be a very good reason to turn down such a request. In addition, it is now a requirement that there is at least 1 parking space for a bike, for every 10 parking spaces for cars. In return, the owner of the parking space may decide on the price of parking, meaning that the prices at times appear quite steep, seemingly in order to avoid bikes.

Campaigns and information
Cycling has become trendier among the young. However, many citizens, who are perhaps hoping to once own a car, will defend the rights of the car owner – and this even though they themselves only drive a car once in a while.

Bike NYC promotes the bike as a fast and efficient means of transport, marketing cycling as something for everyone, among other things by the use of posters and billboards in the subway.

Throughout the years, ‘Bike Day’ has been expanded to ’Bike Week’ and more recently a ’Bike Month’.

’Summer Streets’ is three Saturdays in august, from 7 o clock until 13 o clock. 250.000 people participate every Saturday. 2.000 cycle helmets and drinking water is being handed out for free. Moreover, courses for cyclists are arranged, focusing on cycle training. 2, 3 million citizens, all on various mailing lists, receive an e-mail.

Various activities, such as the following, are arranged: Cycle drawing courses Cycles can receive a blessing in church Cycle film festival Cycle parade etc.

A campaign has been designed to make cyclists respect the pedestrians and refrain from cycling on the sidewalks. ”So don’t be a jerk …” is the motto. They work closely together with the police, who themselves hardly know the traffic rules that apply for cyclists.

’I Bike Smart’ is all about safe and decent behaviour in traffic, focusing on teaching the less experienced cyclist the basic traffic rules, and how the new cycle projects should to be used.

’Bike Bonanza’ is about cycle training, sale of used children’s bikes and free bicycle helmets.

DOT provides the bicycle lights, ring bells and assists in adjusting the bicycle helmets.

The ’Biking Rules’-campaign is designed to make traffic rules more fun; take a look at

Focus has remained on the minor retail businesses, as they often believe cycle paths will ruin their business. Cycle-friendly shops can get a sticker to place in the window display, for instance showing that they provide a discount for cyclists or that they support promotion of cycling.

Every year, a ’Bike to School Day’ is held. Ring bells and lights are handed out as part of special events.

The ‘Bicycle Catwalk’ website is similar to Cycle Chic, which we know from home, aiming at highlighting the cool urban cyclists.

New York’s cycle road maps are renewed every year and handed out for free. The map includes the traffic rules for cyclists, as many are unaware of the rules that apply. It has been printed in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Transportation Alternatives, a large NGO, uses lobbyism, cooperates with the city council and uses petitions to support new cycle lane projects.

New York has successfully promoted cycle traffic, raising the level from almost zero to a stage where cyclists and infrastructure, is now a part of everyday traffic. The growth in cycle traffic is truly impressive, however a variety of elements and measures still need to be implemented before one would speak of a combined offer for all cyclist, regardless of their sex and age – hence including the young as well as older cyclists.

Denmark should consider the following physical elements:

  • A cycle lane may achieve greater safety and security by implementing a barrier towards the passing cars. This might be relevant in wide roads of industrial areas, where cycle lanes are not a key priority.
  • As an alternative, physical elements such as bollards or bitts may enhance the segregation towards passing cars, similar to the curb stone, yet at a reduced cost.
  • Cycle streets should be tested and evaluated.
  • Painted blue lanes could be applied outside cross sections, as part of a special promotion of new cycle routes.
  • Advanced cycle stop lines, placed in front of the stop line for cars, should be tested and evaluated in four-legged signal controlled intersections. The advanced cycle stop line should only exceed the right traffic lane, seeking to avoid the occurrence of a “minor left hand turn” by cyclists.
  • More projects ought to be established as pilot projects, seeking to obtain a more permanent shape or form throughout time. In the mean time, the pilot project helps ”reserve the space” as well as adjusts the citizens to the alteration, before the actual full-scale solution is possible from a financial point of view.
  • Minimum requirements for cycle parking facilities at workplaces – number and quality – could be established.
  • Private sponsorship of cycle parking facilities should be attempted on public roads.

Denmark should consider the following campaign elements:

  • Viral marketing with a greater extend of e-mails and use of social media; primarily Facebook.
  • Shop owners may be involved in promotion of cycle traffic.
  • Extensive handing out of cycle route maps, revised annually.

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Category: Danish Cycling Know How

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