Writing in City & State New York, Dr. Eric Goldwyn makes the case that making streets safe and accessible for pedestrians, cyclists, and others is well within New York City's grasp. He encourages the city and its residents to identify budget lines, develop specific policy interventions, and define and advocate for a clear vision.
New York City is in the midst of a battle for its roads. There are over 6,000 miles of roads and highways in the city, and pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and bus riders all want enough space to travel quickly and safely on them. The problem is that road space is finite and it cannot be divided in a way that will make everyone happy. This summer, the conflict between cyclists and drivers has taken an unfortunate turn as a spike in cyclist deaths has reminded us that this fight for space is deadly and urgent. The issue will remain unresolved and the deaths will continue until the city rebuilds its streets around pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit users – rather than drivers.
By some metrics, New York City has made meaningful strides toward finding a greater balance between bicycles and automobiles over the past decade. There are now 1,200 miles of bike lanes crisscrossing the five boroughs, and nearly 500 of those miles are physically separated from general traffic. Physical separation is critical to keeping cars at bay as pedestrians, cyclists, and bus passengers take advantage of these small pockets of space that enable them to move safely around the city. Unfortunately, painted lanes are woefully inadequate when it comes to keeping cars at bay.
Despite year-over-year growth in cycling, just over 1% of all commuters rely on bicycles to get to work, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. All of this could lead one to conclude that enough space has already been given over to bicycles based on the current number of daily commuters, but that misses the point. As New York has deployed bicycle infrastructure, it has seen outsized gains in ridership. From 2012 to 2017, the overall number of people commuting to work in New York City grew 8.6% while the number of bicycle commuters increased 41.7%. Bicycle infrastructure begets more bicycle commuters.
This is exactly what cities across Europe have concluded. Cities in the Netherlands have seen dramatic shifts from automobiles to bicycles, transit and walking by following a formula of reducing the amount of road space given to cars and increasing investments in infrastructure for nonmotorized travel. By building the Dafne Schippers Bicycle Bridge in Utrecht and the Nigtevecht Bicycle Bridge outside of Amsterdam, the Dutch have committed to rebuilding their cities around alternatives to the automobile – something that no American city has been bold enough to try. Even in New York City, where we brag about our subways and laud Citi Bike’s record-breaking ridership feats, the city’s transportation priorities are refracted through the windshield of an automobile rather than through the eyes of pedestrians.