More Brooklynites are getting on the bike.
Last week, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that cycling by commuters into Manhattan increased 35 percent this year from its 2007 levels, with the greatest traffic increases seen on the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges.
Hailed by cycling and environmental groups alike, the announcement was an affirmation of the measures in Mayor Michale Bloomberg’s PlaNYC designed to make the city more bike-friendly.
An average of approximately 12,500 cyclists per weekday were counted crossing the DOT checkpoints into Manhattan’s Central Business District this year, up from 9,300 last year. In the last six years, commuter cycling in the city has doubled, according to the study.
This increase in commuters who bike to work owes largely to the dramatic expansion of the city’s bike lane network in recent years. The expansion is part of a plan by the Bloomberg administration launched in 2006 to install 200 additional miles of bike lanes by June of 2009, which would give the city 420 miles of bike lanes. Currently, 140 of those 200 lanes have been installed.
The administration hopes these bike lanes will enable it to double the number of bike commuters from a period between 2007 and 2015.
“This unprecedented increase shows we are well on the way toward our goal,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.
Wiley Norvell, communications director for the cycling and advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives, said that the DOT’s announcement confirmed that “the city’s investment in bike lanes is bearing dividends. Wall Street didn’t pay off in 2008, but bike lanes paid off big. You’re seeing a huge return on this investment – if you built it, they will come.”
The biggest increase in commuter traffic was seen on the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges, both of which had new bike paths built on them in 2002.
Since then, commuter bike traffic over the Manhattan Bridge has jumped up from 546 to 2,232 riders per day. On the Williamsburg Bridge, that figure has jumped from 1,117 to 3,001.
The Brooklyn Bridge – which has a narrow path shared by both cyclists and pedestrians, which dampens ridership – has seen a relatively constant number of cyclists for the past two decades.
Norvell said that although the increase in commuter cycling is impressive, there are measures the DOT is either taking or can take that would further increase bike traffic on the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.
For bikers getting off and on the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn, the DOT recently began construction on a long-delayed bike lane on Sands Street that will be physically set apart from traffic.
And although there are currently painted lanes on Jay and Adams Streets, these lanes are beset by parked cars and are therefore “not usable,” according to Norvell. Norvell said that straightening out parking regulations in downtown Brooklyn, particularly with regard to government issued placards, would go a long way toward improving the usability of these lanes.
As for the Williamsburg Bridge, Norvell and Transportation Alternatives are pushing for a physically separated lane on Manhattan’s Delancey Street. Advocates believe such a lane would ameliorate the dangerous condition of riders crossing the four-lane street when they get off the Williamsburg Bridge, which has bike lanes in the middle of the road.
“As impressive as the [recently released DOT] numbers were, we can double the traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge if we could just get Delancey Street in shape,” Norvell said.
Norvell also looked forward to the imminent temporary Brooklyn Greenway on Kent Avenue, which he said should increase bike traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge.
In the coming days, Transportation Alternatives plans to release a citywide count of cyclists. Norvell said he expects this count will increase from the approximately 130,000 in 2007 to more than 150,000 this year.
“The city’s counts don’t take into account intra-borough cycling, especially in an area like west Brooklyn, which has become the center of gravity in terms of New York City cycling,” Norvell said.
Councilman David Yassky, who represents communities with heavy concentrations of cyclists like Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Boerum Hill, said the rise in cyclists who commute to work makes it imperative to pass legislation he introduced mandating commercial buildings provide bike parking.
“New Yorkers are increasingly making use of greener transportation options, and we have a duty to support them,” he said.
“Now more than ever, the City Council should pass my Bikes in Buildings legislation to ensure that bike commuters have a safe place to keep their bikes during the workday. When we do, I predict the number of bike commuters will rise even further, making our city greener, healthier, and less congested.”