Cycling in Manhattan

New York is a unique city. I had the chance to visit it last month and was impressed with the capacity of engineering that led them to create such a skyline, with many skyscrapers, on an island. The foundation is the main reason for it (the Manhattan shale rock) and it made possible a picture that is recognizable worldwide.

In terms of transport, the engineering of New York City seems to have been available only for the motorized vehicles until very recently. The needle is turning for a few years with some commendable pieces of infrastructure for cycling.

However, not everything is good news as outside those excellent infrastructure points there were some very poor and some downright dangerous to cyclists, which will be detailed later on in the article.

Another point of consideration is the increase of modal share for cycling in New York. The commuter, leisure and messenger levels using the bicycle are increasing and this should drive further improvements to protect people who cycle.

Excellent Infrastructure

The Broadway, pictured below, is among the best I have seen in New York. The space for one way cycle is large (it is used by many people for contra flow cycling). It has a wide buffer that protects better cycling from motorized traffic (parked or moving).

However, not everything is good and the junctions are disappointing, by not following Dutch standards. There’s no increased length of the cycle path to provide a head start for people cycling, which would also reduce the distance of crossing for pedestrians. If that is built, it can become infrastructure to recommend.

Central Park

The major park in Manhattan is a unique case. The New York bike maps show the cycle paths within it as protected cycle path with special hours, but in reality there is little protection in them as they are simple bicycle lanes separated by paint of car lanes and jogger lanes. So, and despite the very low motorized traffic within the park boundaries, Central Park does not provide a protected cycle path to cycling neither protection to people jogging and walking.

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Lane for Joggers at the left, cycling in the middle and cars on the right

Poor/Dangerous Infrastructure

There is also poor and dangerous infrastructure along Manhattan. Bike lanes are often positioned on the inside of parked cars within door zone creating useless conflict and danger towards people cycling.

Other bike routes have as little as a paint on the floor indicating that the road is a bike route. In practice, providing zero protection.

bikelane1

Behaviour

The cyclists behaviour is pretty normal, by obeying traffic lights and respecting mostly pedestrians at crossings.

However, the case changes when you enter Central Park. Traffic lights and lanes seem to be suggestible only, as most people ignores them.

Drivers behaviour towards people cycling is normal, with most of the interactions that I’ve observed to be respectful, specially in intersections.

Experience

I cycled twice in Manhattan. My wife offered me a bike tour, approximate route pictured below, and in the last day we cycled the entire 6 mi circuit of the Central Park.

biketour
Approximate route of the bicycle tour

Central Park is beautiful and a gem to cycle on within Manhattan. Allow yourselves an afternoon with a bicycle to visit all the small corners of it. The only issue found was the traffic lights that are time based only, which mean that you can get a red light without anyone wanting to cross the road (it happens more often than one would tought).

The Waterfront Greenway is a shared space not so wide as Central Park and very crowded. This resulted in similar issues as we can find in the Lagan Towpath. Conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists occur often, even if it doesn’t result in a collision.

The streets were the worst. Door zones within cycle lanes or no protection at all is common. I didn’t feel safe there and had to cycle them much more carefully. Pictured below is an example of how bad and inconsistent the cycling infrastructure can be in New York.

leftcyclelane.png
Left cycle lane – are we in Britain again?

Conclusion

New York provides some good notes on what to do and what not to do for cycling. Belfast can learn from what has been achieved in the Broadway and 8th and 9th avenues with a good protection for cycling along large part of them. This protection is infrastructure that is starting to appear in Belfast, namely the Alfred St cycle path, and hopefully this trend will continue.

 

Happy Cycling!

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