New report urges New York City to immediately begin building citywide network of protected bicycle lanes as part of COVID-19 recovery, and offers blueprint to implement bicycle lanes faster with fewer delays
NEW YORK, NY – New York City should immediately commit to build a 425-mile network of protected, continuous, priority bike lanes across all five boroughs, argues a new Regional Plan Association report, which also offers recommendations to improve the City’s bicycle lane construction process, and a map that demonstrates how a citywide network can better connect communities. The first phase of the Five Borough Bikeway could be implemented quickly through temporary measures like bollards and paint, and ultimately, permanently over time with investments from recovery dollars to produce a new, resilient form of infrastructure.
The vision and report were guided by a Bikeway Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Jon Orcutt of Bike New York and Marco Conner of Transportation Alternatives. The committee also includes long-time advocates who have spent years working to improve NYC’s streets: Paul Gertner, Harbor Ring; Danny Harris, Transportation Alternatives; Mike Lydon, Street Plans Collaborative; Terri Carta, Brooklyn Greenway Initiative; and Rachel Weinberger, Regional Plan Association.
The report, The Five Borough Bikeway: Critical infrastructure connecting New York City, comes during the COVID-19 pandemic when both bike ridership and the demand for private and for-hire vehicles are increasing and as NYC begins to rethink how street use should be equitable and safe for all. Prior to the pandemic, fewer than one in ten trips in NYC were made by bike, nearly two-thirds of those who did not bike cited safety as their main reason, and nearly 90 percent of cycling fatalities happened on streets without bike lanes. As NYC begins lifting work and travel restrictions, a network of bike lanes that safely, effectively, and inclusively moves cyclists across all five boroughs is critical to get the City moving again quickly and with peace of mind.
Building upon the NYC Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Green Wave plan and NYC Council’s Streets Master Plan, the Five Borough Bikeway would increase bike ridership; reduce crashes and fatalities; reduce air pollution; make streets safer for everyone; and serve as the central spine for all bike lanes in NYC. To safely move the growing number of cyclists, cargo bikes, and micro-mobility devices like e-scooters, the Bikeway would be physically separated from traffic, as just 40% of NYC bike lanes are today. The report also calls on the City to immediately implement segments of the Bikeway, and in the longer term, create a task force that develops a citywide vision for a connected bikeway and streamlines the public outreach and construction process, and considering greater authority over construction and enforcement for NYC DOT.
A key value of the Five Borough Bikeway is that NYC streets should be safe and accessible for people of all races and backgrounds. Implementing the Five Borough Bikeway and all future street redesigns must address the structural racism and inequalities in how people use streets and recognize that historically, open streets were not necessarily “open” or safe for Black communities and other communities of color. Additionally, to build a citywide cycling network that truly connects all New Yorkers, the public outreach process should be amended to complete projects faster while better incorporating and prioritizing input from communities of color. Until this larger context is addressed, improvements like the Bikeway could disproportionately benefit certain segments of our population.
“Bike lanes save lives,” said Tom Wright, Regional Plan Association President and CEO. “At a time when climate change threatens our communities, congestion and air pollution choke streets and residents, and cyclist deaths are high, the Five Borough Bikeway is the right solution to these multifaceted challenges. Securing a carbon-free future requires that we change our infrastructure so that biking can become as accessible and common tomorrow as driving is today. To become a world-class biking city, New York must take a leap beyond the status quo and develop a comprehensive and inclusive, citywide approach to cycling infrastructure.”
“Amidst this horrible pandemic New York City has a rare opportunity to rethink its street space,” said Sam Schwartz, Sam Schwartz Engineering Founder and CEO. “Over 100 years ago we ceded so much space to the car corralling pedestrians into narrow sidewalks and treating cyclists as intruders (when it is they who led the hard roads movement at the turn of last century). RPA’s Five Borough Bikeway report is the blueprint for correcting that while ensuring that a new street system serves all of us regardless of gender, race, income or age. Carpe Diem!”
“The Bikeway will connect all parts of our city and implementation should be fast tracked,” said Paul Gertner, Harbor Ring Committee Chair. “We urge the City to start immediately with temporary materials and then move towards the longer term construction needed for curb separated bike lanes that provide the biggest safety benefits. As a new RPA board member, I look forward to working with relevant stakeholders to bring more cycling benefits to all five boroughs.”
“A complete and contiguous bike network that connects all boroughs and further intersects with regional trails is long overdue in NYC,” said Terri Carta, Executive Director of Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI). “The current piecemeal approach to building bike infrastructure in NYC is insufficient and fundamentally flawed; we need a new system that can respond more rapidly to the ever-changing needs of the urban landscape and increase safety for people and neighborhoods previously left out of this planning. BGI is thrilled to continue our decades-long partnership with RPA to advance the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway and broader greenways network as the backbone of NYC’s bike transportation system to better serve New Yorkers of all backgrounds, ages and abilities for commuting and recreational use.”
“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to wait decades more for a complete, safe bikeway network, said Mike Lydon, Principal, Street Plans. “Embracing this plan’s low-cost, high-impact quick-build recommendations will bring benefits in the short-term while longer-term capital improvements are advanced. Kudos to RPA for taking leadership on this crucial and timely plan to deliver cycling access citywide.”
“From increasing bike ridership to e-mobility, how people and goods move through the city continues to change rapidly,” said Dr. Rachel Weinberger, Region Plan Association Senior Fellow for Transportation. “We know that without the right infrastructure, cycling is suppressed and, worse, growing competition for street space can be deadly for cyclists and other vulnerable users. With this plan, New York City has an opportunity to join the ranks of other world-class cities in creating safe, carbon free, and equitable access. The call for 425 continuous miles of bike lanes is at once bold and modest affecting a small proportion of our streets while improving options for everyone. Historically we have designed our streets promoting the safety of some users at the expense of others. When implemented, the Bikeway proposed here lets us hit the reset button on our approach to safe streets.”
Key takeaways depicted on the map include:
- Connections to the Empire State Trail, including proposed Long Island extension — from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, to the Battery, to Kissena Park and the Queens Border
- Bike paths on both the Verrazzano and Whitestone Bridges
- Access to LGA from Grand Central Parkway, and to JFK via the AirTrain at Howard Beach and Jamaica Center
- New Greenways in Eastern Queens from Flushing Meadows Corona Park to Alley Pond Park, and western Staten Island along the West Shore Expressway
This report also seeks to address the underinvestment in cycling infrastructure and the disproportionate enforcement of safety programs in communities of color. Fewer than 20 percent of Black and Latinx cyclists and non-cyclists feel comfortable in conventional bike lanes. Case studies within the report from cities including Copenhagen, Denmark and Oakland, California demonstrate how better bicycle infrastructure makes streets safer for all residents, and how centering equity in the community engagement process can ensure that cycling infrastructure serves all residents, while also advancing its construction.
About Regional Plan Association
Regional Plan Association is an independent, not-for-profit civic organization that develops and promotes ideas to improve the economic health, environmental resiliency and quality of life of the New York metropolitan area. We conduct research on transportation, land use, housing, good governance and the environment. We advise cities, communities and public agencies. And we advocate for change that will contribute to the prosperity of all residents of the region. Since the 1920s, RPA has produced four landmark plans for the region, the most recent was released in November 2017. For more information, please visit www.rpa.org or fourthplan.org.