Nothing quite compares to the feeling of cresting the top of the Williamsburg Bridge bike lane, surveying our badass city before you shift into high gear (or not, you fixie kids) and coast the well-deserved downhill slope to the finish line on the other side. I doubt I’m the first to say it: New York is one of the world’s best cities for cycling — Bicycling Magazine named it as such in 2014— and this year we’re getting more than 15 miles of new lanes laid down.
But some of you, and you know who you are, remain terrified of riding a bike in the big city. You claim to “prefer the G.” You think that getting on a bicycle here is tantamount to joining the War Boys on their next raid for Immortan Joe.
The fact is, most of the people who worry it’s too dangerous to bike in NYC haven’t actually tried biking around the city. At least not recently. Compared to other transportation options here, biking is actually one of the safest (sorry, buses). Don’t believe it? Let us offer up a few stone cold facts about biking that might just get you two-wheeling, after all.
There’s safety in numbers (of cyclists)
Biking in NYC has grown a LOT in the last decade and a half, with ridership up 262 percent from 2000-2010 and growing, according to the DOT. Around 500,000 New Yorkers are biking each month. In kind, the City’s “cycling risk indicator” shows that the danger of serious injury has fallen 73 percent from 2000-2011. In other words, you’ve got correlative evidence that as more people have begun to ride in the city, motor vehicle drivers & pedestrians have become more aware of how to interact with those cyclists in the streets, and not hit them with their cars.
Bike lanes are your friend (mostly)
The first New York bike lane opened in Brooklyn (!) in 1894. Since 2006 alone, the city has laid out 250 miles of lanes. This year, we got our long-promised dedicated path on the Pulaski Bridge and plenty miles of bike paths elsewhere in BK. This is truly great news, because biking up a nice lane next to the sidewalk is definitely better than getting doored by tourists getting out of their cabs shouting “Where is the real Brooklyn??” into the streets, as you try to squeeze between them and a Fresh Direct truck. Those things still happen, unfortunately, but at least bike lanes give you a wider margin to work with. Transportation Alternatives notes that in some places in the city (such as along Prospect Park in BK & Ninth Ave in Manhattan) bike lanes have contributed to an 80 percent reduction in cycling accidents. So long as you don’t fall into epic potholes from hell or roll through literal horse shit, 2016 is looking pretty sweet for us bikers.
No one is driving that fast, anyway
Mayor de Blasio’s ‘Vision Zero’ program lowered the default speed for motor vehicles from 30mph to 25mph across NYC & this makes a BIG difference for cyclists. Everyone is going slower in the city, meaning they can stop faster, turn slower and keep you safer. On top of that, we’ve got STOPLIGHTS FOR DAYS! If you’ve ever had the (dis)pleasure of trying to drive a car or truck around NYC, you know that you can’t go more than a few blocks without having to stop. As of June 2011, the DOT reports 12,460 stoplight intersections in New York City. That’s a whole lotta red lights (and a whole lotta cash you’ll have to shell out if you get caught running one). Going slower + stopping more = crashing less. Take that, StreetEasy.
Boy, it sure beats biking in the countryside
Have you ever tried biking along country roads? It’s a lot scarier than the city. Drivers are more likely to take speed limits as mere guidelines. There are often no bike lanes or lame shallow shoulders. Plus, you have to worry about wild dogs attacking your legs (seriously), semi-trucks screaming past you, little-to-no light if you’re biking at night, and potentially unwieldy road conditions (read: gravel for days). In the city, a road under construction just means you’ll have to ride down the next street. Google Maps has a biking option when mapping directions in the city that chooses exclusively bike-laned routes around town, and warns you if it didn’t. Your path is almost always lighted here vs. the pitch black, ankle biting dog-riddled countryside.
You eventurally turn into a badass superhero who owns the road.
Everyone’s journey on a bike in New York is different, but one thing’s for sure — once you get back in the bike saddle and spin your wheels for a while, something magic happens. You become hyper aware of your surroundings, and you and your bike start to merge. Your survival instincts and street savvy kick in whether you like it or not, and you start riding defensively by default. The more confident you are (within reason, don’t be that asshole) the safer you ride.
Plus, welcome to the League of Awesome New Yorkers Who Bike! We meet never. But we’re a cool crew for sure. There are always those assholes who give cyclists a bad name, but most of us are just enjoying getting from Fort Greene to Bushwick in only 20 minutes.
Finally ready to ride now? Great. Before you strap on your helmet (yeah, you need one), here are some quick tips every biker should follow:
– Stay alert & distraction free. If you want to use earbuds for tunes, always keep one ear free.
– Think of yourself traveling through the city as a car would, and put your defensive driving techniques to work: watch the drivers around you and anticipate their actions.
– Make sure your bike actually works before you ride it. Are the brakes in good shape? Are your shifters shifting properly? Are your tires “true,” meaning they don’t wobble when they spin? It’s important to get a tune-up every season and they don’t cost that much relative to how much you’re riding/saving on Metrocards.
– Always give pedestrians the right of way, but then remember YOU get the right of way with motor vehicles. If they don’t give it to you, don’t race them for it. Just curse and move on. They do have the bigger Tonka truck, after all.
– Invest in a bike bell, whistle, bull horn, megaphone or whatever works for you. Being able to honk is important when you’re traveling in busy parts of the city and need to alert jay-walking pedestrians, and sometimes circumstances prevent you from just yelling loudly.
Okay, that’s it. You’re ready, we promise. Do us proud by never becoming the kind of cyclist who rides the wrong way up the one-way streets.
For more information about The League of Awesome New Yorkers Who Bike, follow Crystal on Twitter: @crystalarnette
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