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Matthew Ides September 2008
Comments from study participants: “The worst part about biking is feeling like you're going to die (cars). I try to stay out of Manhattan, and a lot of other people I know do the same.” “I commute to work and school on a daily basis and I love it. Riding a bicycle in New York is risky but well worth it.... the city I know as New York is completely different from the one a train or car commuter knows...” “There have been remarkable improvements in NYC biking that brings a snowball effect to improving bike culture and awareness more and more, and the environmental and health benefits are of course wonderful; however, bottom line is that 24 people were killed last year biking in this city and who knows how many injured.” “There would be 50 bicyclists commuting at my job if they had a place to lock up. I can tell people are jealous of me for commuting by bike. If there were shower facilities for bike commuters, there'd be at least 100.” “I gave the city a "C" because I've lived in Germany, where biking is much, much more pleasant. The most difficult thing to deal with while riding are the drivers who think they're going to somehow get places radically faster if they just can pass this one bike... then I pass them as they wait at the next red light! But they often take risks in passing me that frankly endanger me a lot more than themselves.” “I feel there is a major gap between cars, pedestrians, and bicycle riders; there is no respect in either direction. I see a possibility for much improvement.” “Flatbush Avenue, in particular, as a key artery to get to south and east Brooklyn, is completely absurd yet I take it almost every time I need to get into or out of Manhattan because there is no alternative.” “There really should be bigger campaigns to educate drivers and not just cyclists. Especially to look before opening the car door as I have been doored 5 times and they all seem to think it's my fault after almost killing me…”
Introduction In a city that is dominated by automobiles (1.6 million people enter Manhattan by car daily and of those 1.2 million of them drive alone), I wanted to find out how its residents who use other modes of transportation actually view the built environment. Although all forms of transit modes can be studied, I find this small minority (0.5%) who commute by bicycles the most marginalized by the existing infrastructure of New York City. The sole purpose of this study is to record the subjective perspective (mental mapping) that New York City bicycle commuters have of the build environment, good or bad. While New York City has a vibrant and active bicycle commuter culture, there still exists a stigma attached to people who commute by bicycle. While a cultural shift is important to making bike commuting more acceptable in New York City and nationally, to achieve an equal and multi-modal approach to our street space New York City must prioritize the creation of a comprehensive bicycling network that supplements pedestrian, open/green space, and public transit improvements. Background In the last twenty years an explosion of scholarship and reporting has been done focusing on bicycling infrastructure. In this regard, my focus was on The New York City Bicycle Survey May 2007. This report was thorough and covered all cyclists; it was not specifically focused on commuters. It has been the base for many of the recommendations and overall cyclist statistics used in New York City. One point of interest is that while the Department of City Planning conducted the report, the Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over bicycle planning in New York City and is the author of the city’s bike master plan. Recently, graduate students Wallace Murray and Jason Nu for the transportation department of city planning did the New York City Bicycle Parking Survey. While this report did not exclusively focus on commuters, it managed to tackle one of the largest problems that keep people from commuting which was safe and secure bike parking. In this report I will refer to both these surveys since many of my results confirm and conflict with their findings. This is not to say that either study is flawed or not valid, but perhaps is an indication of the diverse viewpoints with in the bicycle community and over reliance on quantitative data. Methodology This study was conducted in two parts. The first part consisted of an online survey. The survey went live on March 7 and was taken down August 1, 2008.1 It was hosted at questionpro.com, which provides free services to graduate students. Through August 1 it has received 854 views, 505 starts, and 396 completed surveys. The survey was advertised on many forums,
The data period used for this report is March 7– August 1, 2008.
transportation websites, and blogs.2 The survey was done to collect demographic information and gather opinions about bike commuting in New York City. Although the Department of City Planning and other bike surveys had been completed in the past two years, none of these surveys specifically focused on this sub-set of bike riders: the commuter. The goal was not to replicate work that had previously been done, but rather to supplement and provide a new perspective. I will further discuss the survey in the next section of the report. It is my intention to focus on this specific group to find out why they choose to commute by bicycle rather than other more normalized modes of transit. The second part of this study was conducted in the month of May 2008. I conducted six one-onone interviews with respondents to the online survey. These individual meetings were done for several key reasons. First, I wanted to further investigate why people chose to commute by bicycle in New York City. Second, I wanted to have them visually illustrate on paper their current commute (one-way) in a free form. In addition, a Google pedometer map was done to have a record of the exact route the cyclist rode. I did an analysis of these two maps to understand how the person perceived their route, the drawn map, versus the actual pedometer route. It was also informative to ask people questions while they drew their illustrations and after. The drawing was a key departure point for a more in depth conversation. I undertook this study using two distinct methodologies. The first was to do a grounded theory approach to the study. As a daily bicycle commuter myself, I wanted to keep my subjective views out of the study and avoid influencing the respondents. Because of that, I started the study with no clear hypothesis other than to study bike commuters in New York City. With this in mind I created the online survey to gather some basic demographic information and to get a larger picture of the commuter community in the city. In addition, any perceived negative question had a counterpart question phrased in the positive. For example, two questions were: What do you like about bike commuting the most? What do you like about bike commuting the least? Because of this, I believe that I achieved a fair and balanced survey. The second methodology that I used for this study is from urban planner Kevin Lynch. In his book The Image of the City3 Lynch created and defined imageability. Imageability is used to understand how people perceive and view their built environment. For example, is the Brooklyn Bridge crossing a problem (getting over the bridge, barrier between two land masses, finding the bridge entrance), a positive experience (good view corridor of the city and waterways, separated bike path from traffic), or a symbol/landmark (historic significance of the bridge)? This methodology is utilized to examine the two sets of maps and during the interview process. Using the quantitative data from the survey and the qualitative data from the interviews, I wanted to understand the issues that bicycle commuters would have that the non-bike commuters never really think about as pedestrians, transit users, and car drivers. Not only did this analysis demonstrate a clear viewpoint based on this mode of transportation, it was also interesting to see how different people can see one intersection, bridge, and crossing in completely different terms. Although bike commuters have much in common as to overall
This is the full list of internet sites it was advertised on: Streetsblog.org, bikeforums.net, Bikeblogspot.com, New York Times City Room, fixed.gr/nyc, and Bikecommuters.com. 3 Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City.
safety problems of riding (e.g. on the street and parking), a consensus about the solution is not so clear. By deciding to conduct an online survey I realize that I limited my outreach capacity. I have excluded those individuals who either do not have access to the internet or who are not actively online. Although the survey was general in scope I do have to disclose that it did not reach a larger pool of bike commuters in New York City. I realize that because of this some of the data might not be as generalizable as it could be, but I believe enough data was collected from a large enough pool of random respondents to make the data statistically significant. Survey Results The Hub and Spokes: Imageability of the Daily Bicycle Commuter in New York City survey went live online in March 2008. The survey included 22 multiple-choice questions and 1 open ended question. Although the questions were multiple choice, I decided it was better to only allow the respondents to choose one answer. Where appropriate I did give another option that the respondent could fill in. While I found that many of the results were in line with other studies of bicycle commuters, I did have some geographically local and unique results. Here are a few highlights of the survey data: • • • • • • • 42.09% had indoor parking at their destination 64.66% would not ride because of bad weather A bike network was the most important desired improvement (39.02%) Cars and trucks were the least liked aspect of commuting (66.75%) 72.66% were commuting to work Over half of the respondents preferred the fastest route compared to the safest route 97% of respondents commuted by themselves
This section is a combination of demographic information about the respondents to my survey. They include sex, age, race/ethnicity, and income. The respondents to my survey tend to be male, young, white, and earning $75,001 plus. Respondents are 80% male and 20% female, 80% white, 54.08% are between the age of 25-34, and 27.51% (largest group) made over $75,001. Although this demographic information does not represent the larger New York City area, it is telling nonetheless. While my outreach methods did not go beyond the internet, I still find the results relevant and significant. This is a summary of findings when I did cross tabulation with the demographic data: • • • • Older riders commuted for exercise while younger riders commuted for enjoyment Men spend significantly more money on bikes than women Women ride more for school and errands than for work Commuters with lower incomes’ main destination was school
Below is an analysis on a selection of questions. Where appropriate I clustered the questions together to demonstrate larger themes and ideas. 4
The first question I asked: why do you commute by bike? ANSWER Enjoyment/It is fun Other Exercise/Physical Activity Environmental Reasons Financial/Cost TOTALS COUNT 149 123 95 27 19 413 % 36.08 29.78 23 6.54 4.60 100
With the current oil crisis and gas prices I found it interesting that less than 5% of the respondents’ main reason for commuting by bicycle was for financial reasons4. Also of significance is that 36.08% of respondents’ main reason was for enjoyment and fun. I believe this is extremely telling as the perception of bike riders in New York City is not that they are having fun, but rather that what they are doing is dangerous. The “other” category reinforces this notion as well. Of the numerous combinations in the “other” category, 72 respondents indicated all the above as their answer. The last question I asked: If you had to give the New York City cycling environment a letter grade, it would be? ANSWER A (highest grade) B C D F (lowest grade) TOTAL COUNT 5 85 205 76 20 391 % 1.28 21.74 52.43 19.44 5.12 100
To gather an overall impression of the built environment and cycling infrastructure I posed this letter grade question. The results demonstrate that while cyclists are willing to commute they clearly are not satisfied with the current environment. While the city received 5.12% F’s and 19.44% D’s, what was surprising is that slightly over half gave it a letter grade of C. Although the city did receive 1.28% A’s and 21.74% B’s, it is pretty clear that current commuters do not perceive the current environment and infrastructure as supporting daily bike commuters.
Part of this can be explained by the low cost and availability of public transportation in New York City, but the low number is very surprising considering the amount of attention bike commuting is receiving with these higher energy costs.
Given that the city received such a poor letter grade, this next question is vital in what these commuters see as the most important changes. The question asked: what is the most important cycling improvement that you would like to see implemented? ANSWER Bike Network On Street Safety Secure Parking Building Access Other TOTAL COUNT 159 146 44 36 16 400 % 39.75 36.25 11.00 9.00 4.00 100
The answer to this question was quite a surprise. NYC DOT and DCP have made installing more bike racks a major priority, but according to my survey the top two top issues are bike network and on street safety. The 2007 New York City Bike Survey showed that 95% of the respondents wanted on street bike racks. I found it interesting that secure parking and building access both received fewer responses than expected in the current survey. The respondents to my survey are clearly more interested in improving safety for cyclists. A bike network (which means designated paths, bike lanes, and greenways that all connect) was the first choice answer with almost 40%. Coming in a close second with 36.25% was on street safety. When combined, 76% of respondents are concerned with improving the bike environment through the implementation of secure (on and off road) space for cyclists to travel in. The next question might shed more light on why bike parking was not the top priority of the respondents. Although bike parking is a key component to any successful cycling environment, it might not be so critical to daily commuters who are locking up once for a large time period: Where do you park your bike when you reach your destination? ANSWER Indoor (building/garage) Outside (not city rack) Secure outdoor parking City bike rack Other TOTAL COUNT 173 148 36 33 15 405 % 42.72 36.54 8.89 8.15 3.70 100
Again, the results to this question do not match current data from the city. My results demonstrate that 8.15% of the respondents use city bike racks. The majority of commuters have 6
indoor parking or park their bikes outside but do not use city provided racks. According to the New York City Bicycle Survey, only 16.5% park their bikes indoors while 64% use city racks. A recent report on bike parking in New York City, NYC Bicycle Parking Survey, found that the two top priorities are secure and indoor parking. My survey results do not support either of these conclusions. I believe that this is an area that needs to be further studied, since the current data and reports conflict with each other about what cyclists want in regards to bike parking. This in no way means more bike parking is not needed, but instead that it may not be the top priority for many cyclists. A critical component to the survey was to get an understanding from respondents about the most and least liked aspects of commuting. I posed these questions: What do you like the most about bike commuting? ANSWER Being Outside Simplicity/Ease Flexibility No traffic/transit delay Shorter commute time TOTAL COUNT 174 63 58 58 45 398 % 43.72 15.83 14.57 14.57 11.31 100
What do you like the least about bike commuting? ANSWER Cars and trucks Weather Mechanical issues Pedestrians Other TOTAL COUNT 265 47 30 29 27 398 % 66.58 11.81 7.54 7.29 7.01 100
Discussing what bike commuters like and dislike in combination sheds light on some of the priorities. It is clear that the most liked and disliked are in complete agreement to each other. 43.72% of respondents liked being outside as they commuted and 66.58% disliked cars and trucks. Although this has to do with safety to some degree, as I have already discussed, I believe that air, noise, and visual pollution that cars and trucks create on the streets that cyclists have to share with them affects the enjoyment they have with being outside.
It is interesting that 11.81% of respondents chose weather as a dislike. When I posed the question of what keeps you from commuting, weather was the highest response with 64%. So while weather falls lower on the scale of things that are disliked by commuters, it is the main reason why these commuters do not commute by bike. Although these two questions are different, what do you dislike versus what keeps you from commuting, I still find this an important difference. My survey results demonstrate that the perception of weather as the worst part of commuting is true (since it keeps commuters off of their bikes), but yet the most disliked aspect of commuting was not weather, but rather, cars and trucks. Although safety is a key issue for all commuters, it is interesting to see the breakdown between male and female respondents: which of the following determines your daily route more? ANSWER Fastest route Safest route TOTAL What is your sex? ANSWER Male Female TOTAL COUNT 319 77 396 % 80.56 19.44 100 COUNT 223 187 410 % 54.39 45.61 100
Although bike network and on street safety were the two top improvements desired, by a small margin commuters chose the fastest route instead of the safest route. While the men prefer the faster route a bit more than the safer route, for women there is a 40% difference for those that prefer the safest route over the fastest route. Clearly safety is a more important issue for female commuters than males. This is an interesting aspect that will be further analyzed in the second section of this report. Summary This survey data illustrates a larger picture of the bicycle commuter in New York City. Clear priorities are a safe bike network, taking the fastest route, and less car and truck traffic. In addition, this data demonstrates that bike commuters are not clear on priorities of bike parking, weather, and by age and sex category. As a community and within the age and sex designation, these priorities do differ greatly. What can be concluded is that overall commuters are not satisfied with the current bike environment. With over 75% of the respondents giving the city a letter grade of C or less, it is clear that the perception of these commuters of the built environment is not good.
This is not an in-depth statistical analysis; instead, I wanted to paint a picture of the bicycle commuter in New York City. The survey clearly demonstrates many of the positive and negative aspects of bicycle commuting. With this foundation established the next section is going to provide commuter profiles and analyze the commuters’ perspective of the build environment.
Commuter Profiles The second part of this study was one-on-one interviews with commuters. The interviewees indicated that they would be willing to be interviewed at a later date via the survey. All the interviewees were contacted via the internet to arrange a time and location. These interviews took place during the month of May 2008 at a location determined by the interviewee. They lasted anywhere from 10-30 minutes. They included a set of preliminary questions, the interviewee illustrating their route, doing a Google pedometer map5, and more in depth questioning based on their daily routes. In total I interviewed 6 people: 3 women and 3 men. While I tried to get a cross section of respondents, due to the lack of response these candidates were chosen by convenience. Logistics of the interview I first instructed interviewees to draw their route and supplied them with paper and color pencils. I intended this directive to be as open ended as possible since I did not want to influence their illustration. As they drew their route I asked basic questions to get the conversation started. Although I already had this information from the survey I felt it necessary to keep the interview going. When the person was done with their route I had them do the Google pedometer map. Based on the illustrations they had completed, I asked them what they liked and disliked about their commute. After seeing their routes I was also able to ask more detailed questions regarding safety and pleasure of the ride based on the existing conditions of the route. For example, a few commuters all took the Williamsburg Bridge to cross the East River. I used the current cycling infrastructure to find out how they perceived the bridge crossing. Following are the 6 commuter profiles with a brief analysis and summary of each.
Google pedometer map gave me their exact route as opposed to the subjective route they drew. I felt this was necessary as a basis for comparison with the route they drew for me.
Commuter 1 Age: 37 Residence: Brooklyn Car: No Years commuting: 2 Sex: Male
Commuter 1 moved to Brooklyn about 2 years ago with his wife and three children. Although he used to commute in his previous city of Austin, TX, he said it was quite dangerous commuting there by bike. When he arrived in New York City he said that he and his wife realized that they would no longer need their cars. So they sold their cars and now use zip car instead. He originally started commuting to get more exercise while in Austin. Commuter 1 has been commuting from the Kensington neighborhood in Brooklyn to Greenwich Village in Manhattan for the past two years. His commute generally takes him about 40-45 minutes. When he arrives at work he takes his bike into the office and keeps it in his cubicle. From the interview, Commuter 1 clearly demonstrated frustration with his current route. He especially was not happy about “the process” it has become just to get out of Brooklyn. We discussed that it was difficult to find a safe and direct route because of the street grid in Brooklyn. People who live south of Prospect Park have a different grid pattern than those that live north of the park. This can make for a difficult route planning. Also, although Prospect Park should be a safe haven for cyclists, cars are allowed during rush hour so it is multi-functional depending on the time of day that you use it. Commuter 1 made it clear that is was much easier, and felt safer, for him once he got into Manhattan. Based on Commuter 1’s illustration he clearly is more prone to existing landmarks rather than street names. Although he first started to draw the route, he then stopped and listed the streets. The list he provided seems to be some of the higher traffic streets and less traveled bike routes. For instance, he takes Union Street coming out of Prospect Park. While Union Street is the most direct of routes, it is not used by cyclists often because of lack of riding space between moving traffic and parked cars. Also, speeds on Union Street tend to be higher than the speed limit because it approaches Grand Army Plaza. While some parallel streets (3rd Street and 9th Street) 11
with bike lanes exist near Union, either Commuter 1 is not aware of them or they may put him out of his way.
Commuter 2 Age: 25 Residence: Brooklyn Car: No Years commuting: 3 Sex: Female
Commuter 2 came to New York City to get a bachelors degree from New York University. She is not married and has no children. She stated that she started commuting 3 years ago because of crowding on the subway and she finds biking the best mode of transportation. She does not have a car. While Commuter 2 had just started a new commute, it was just a bit farther from her previous commute. Her illustration was very revealing. In her mapping she made the things that she liked and disliked the larger in comparison to the rest of her route. For instance, she stated that the Williamsburg Bridge was the favorite part of her route (as you can see illustrated above) and that the intersection approaching the bridge was one of the worst parts of her commute. She also felt that getting off the bridge on the Manhattan side onto Delancey Street (which is one of the most dangerous merging points for cyclists in the city) was rather safe because it was predictable to her. Commuter 2 had not changed her route at all in the past three years because she felt that the more predictable the route was the safer she felt. She also made a point of marking where on her route existing bike lanes exist. I again believe this has to do with the importance of safety in her route. In her old commute she parked her bike outside, but now at her new job she has indoor parking available to her. She said that the worst part of her route was on 6th Avenue from 14-26th Street, the last leg of her route going to work. Although 6th Avenue does have a bike lane on the west side of the street, lax enforcement of the traffic laws make it a dangerous street to ride on because you have to merge in and out of traffic to get around double parked trucks, cars, and pedestrians in the bike lane. Also worth noting is that in addition to labeling the street names she also provided landmarks. In her illustration she clearly designates the statue at the plaza and the bakery.
Commuter 3 Age: 51 Residence: Manhattan Car: Yes Years commuting: 7 Sex: Male
Commuter 3 has lived in New York City since 1980. He is married and has a car, but explains that the car is primarily because he is a musician and uses it to haul equipment. He got started commuting in New York City after he took a bike on a tour with him. This gave him the opportunity to ride in many different cities and he felt it was only right to keep commuting when he returned to New York City. He told me that he thinks NYC is the best place to commute on bike. Commuter 3 likes commuting by bike because he stated that you see the city differently. One issue that came up were the entrance/exit of the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Commuter 3 said this was the worst part of his commute and that the traffic, traffic lights, and traffic cops do not making getting off and onto the bridge any better. Another main concern of his was other cyclists riding in the wrong direction. He found this completely unacceptable as it put the cyclist who is obeying the traffic laws in a situation of either stopping or swerving out into traffic. This was not one of the things that was evident in the survey but for this commuter this was a clear issue. Like Commuter 1, instead of drawing or including some visual representation, Commuter 3 instead listed the street names that he rides on. It’s interesting that both of these commuters, who happen to be men, just listed the street names from memory. What I can gather from this is a certain mindset and approach to commuting that is very systematic. Instead of seeing their route and city laid out in a 2D visual representation, they instead decided to create a list of the streets they take. What this lacks is any indication of landmarks and over or under emphasis of any issues represented visually. I also find it interesting that Commuter 3 clearly knows this route so well it has been committed to some form of memory where he doesn’t even have to think about it. While he was listing the streets it was obvious that he was trying to remember the names of the streets. Not because he had forgotten them, but rather because he is so used to his commute that it is more about muscle and visual memory. 14
Commuter 4 Age: 22 Residence: Brooklyn Car: No Years commuting: 6 Sex: Female
Commuter 4 is a life long resident of New York City. She is not married, has no children, and does not have a car. Commuter 4 indicated to me she started commuting by bike because it was fast, cheap, and she wanted to quit smoking. Like Many of the survey respondents, Commuter 4 stated that she liked being outside as the best aspect of commuting by bike. She also enjoys the stretch of 1st Avenue from Houston to 14th Street. What she likes the least about commuting is aggressive drivers and getting on/off the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. What is interesting about Commuter 4’s drawn route, as compared to the Google pedometer map, is that the stretch of Bedford Avenue is extremely exaggerated. While it is a pretty good stretch of the route it seems out of place as it is drawn on the map. My sense is that this area is exaggerated because it is not the best part of her commute. As others have demonstrated those areas that need the most attention tend to be larger or exaggerated on the commuter’s illustration. Although I didn’t ask this in the interview, I wonder if she also feels the same as Commuter 1 in regards to getting out of Brooklyn. When comparing the two maps she has clearly illustrated Bedford Avenue as a bigger part of her commute than it really is. In addition, I find that while the actual route is more or less on angles, the illustration has nothing but right angles. This might indicate the need to have some control over ones environment. With that in mind it makes sense that aggressive drivers and leaving the bridge are the two major points of contention for this commuter; those are things she has the least amount of control over and that are the most threatening to her safety.
Commuter 5 Age: 36 Residence: Brooklyn Car: Yes Years Commuting: 1 Sex: Male
Commuter 5 has been a resident of the New York City area since birth. As an adult he has lived in the city for the most part. While he does own a car, again this is for the main purpose of moving musical equipment. He started commuting about 4-5 years ago because it was faster than the subway and he wanted to get some exercise. Commuter 5 stated that the best part about commuting was that it is relaxing. Given commuter 5's route it seems quite plausible that it is very relaxing. Out of all the commuters I interviewed, his route is the closest to a bike network. He uses bike lanes, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the West Side bike path (which is separated from vehicle traffic). Overall I would say about half of his route is off street, so he has to deal with less car and truck traffic. Although it is relaxing, Commuter 5 also made it clear that it is the convenience and freedom that he likes about bike commuting. He is not bogged down by a bus or subway schedule. His least favorite part of the commute was going down 3rd Avenue near 17th Street and under the Prospect Expressway in Brooklyn. He complained about all the debris and glass that is on the road. My understanding from our conversation is that this creates two potential problems for him. The first is that he must maneuver to go around the debris, which is then putting the commuter in traffic. The second is because of this debris in the road, the chance of getting more flats increases. Unlike the other two male respondents, Commuter 5 actually drew his map and did not just list the street names. However, he has clearly labeled every street on the illustration he provided. Unlike the other commuters, his illustrated map is extremely accurate in size when compared to the Google map.
Commuter 6 Age: 32 Residence: Brooklyn Car: No s Years Commuting: 1 Sex: Female
Commuter 6 has been a resident of New York City for about 6 years. She is married and has no car. When she moved to New York City she sold her car within 6 months. Commuter 6 started commuting over a year ago because she was encouraged to try it by her husband. Since she moved a few years ago she has had a long and crowded subway commute. Because of this she would commute a few days per week in fair weather by bike. While Commuter 6 is not a daily commuter she stated that the best part of her commute was going over the Manhattan bridge and arriving at home. Out of all the commuters interviewed, she has the longest commute: from Central Brooklyn to Times Square. The thing she liked the least about her commute was drivers, cabs, and car service vehicles. It was clear that high traffic areas were her biggest concern. The illustration of her daily route was interesting in that she used three pages and identified landmarks, rather than labeling the street names. For instance, in Times Square she labeled it "Herald Square Chaos." It seems the last leg of her route would be the busiest with traffic as she takes 6th Avenue to 41st Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.
Summary The interview process was an interesting experience. While the interviews and illustrations did not come out the way I had originally planned, it was still an informative and unique opportunity. Through these one-on-one interviews I got a good sense of the commuter beyond why they just commute by bike. Each commuter has their own unique experience and had their own distinct views on commuting and the cycling environment in New York City. Although statistically there were differences between men and women in the survey answers, this was not the case with the interviews. I did not find any common ideas and/or themes that were specific to just one sex. Also, while the age group was slightly older than the overall respondents, I found that many of the general issues were still the same. Overall there were some commonalities between the commuters. They all were very passionate about the best and worst parts of their commutes. Also, these commuters seemed overall to be happy to be commuting by bicycle even though the built environment was not conducive for bikers. Also, with the exception of one, they all encaged me in conversation about the current bike they have or what they might be planning to get in the near future.
Conclusion I undertook this study with the notion that I would try and get a better understanding of how daily bike commuters view the built environment in New York City. While this study has given me a clearer understanding of what this small minority of commuters face, what I can conclude is that there is no clear issue or concern that all these commuters see as the most important. Although New York City and colleges and universities have done numerous studies, where these studies fall short is that they are based on quantitative data. My survey results demonstrate to me that there are sub-groups within the cycling community that have different priorities. While the New York City Department of Transportation has been pursuing the installation of more bike racks and stripped bike lanes, I am not confident that this is the best use of funds, time, and talent. I believe that the city needs to take a more active approach to getting feedback and data from cyclists by using a more qualitative approach. The current surveys are issue driven and don't really give cyclists the opportunities to discuss at length the main issues. I recommend that New York City take a different approach to gathering data the next time they do a bike study. Instead of a survey, they should pursue focus groups, telephone, and in person interviews with cyclists. This can easily be organized around bike month when cycling in the city is on the minds of more than your daily commuters. The city needs to understand why people choose to ride their bikes. Even more important, the city needs to investigate why people do not ride their bikes as a viable form of transit. As my survey has shown, by collecting data from current cyclists we are gaining valuable information on existing conditions. The city, while it should continue focusing on improving the built environment for existing commuters, should also explore how to get people to try bike commuting for the first time. I have a few immediate recommendations to improve the current environment based on my survey and interviews. They are: • • • • • Pursue the creation of a bike network with logical connections that provides for safe routes Focus on location and quality of bike parking facilities, rather than quantity Provide more outreach for driver awareness and enforcement of the 30 MPH law and double parking Complete an in-depth study and apply best practices to the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge Create a buddy system so new cyclists can ride with more experienced commuters
In regards to planning for the long term changes that need to take place New York City needs to establish a clear tier system to label all streets in regards to bicycle use. These should include four distinct categories: greenway/off road, shared roadways, bike boulevards, and bike lanes. Within these four there should be sub-categories, but these four provide a general way to label all the paths for cyclists in New York City. For the physical planning I believe that New York City needs to accomplish a few key design and infrastructure issues. They should:
• • • •
Connect the greenway around Manhattan Island so there are no interruptions and should be off street which gives cyclists and pedestrians the right-of-way and safe lead ways, entrances, and exists to all bridges Create counter-flow bus and bike lanes on all major north-south Avenues in Manhattan. This will create a designated area for buses and cyclists free from traffic congestion Implement changes in the other four boroughs in areas of high numbers of bike commuters and continue to expand from that area (i.e. Williamsburg in Brooklyn) Approach bike infrastructure and network planning from a holistic multi-modal approach where all current and future users are given equal weight (don’t design bike infrastructure to the exclusion of pedestrians and vice versa)
In conclusion, New York City has to decide if it wants to build an infrastructure that will entice current residents to hop on their bikes and commute to work, run errands, and go to the local restaurants. Although a cultural shift needs to take place, it would behoove the city to take the lead and build the infrastructure that will then create, and reinforce, an environment that is welcoming to cyclists of all kinds. The cycling environment should be so welcoming that when a new commuter rides their bike for the first time, they realize what a great thing bike commuting is.
Acknowledgements This study would have not been possible without the commuters who took the time fill out the survey and talked to me for the interviews. I would also like to thank Professor John Chin at Hunter College for all his guidance, advice, and questions. The meetings with him were critical to formalizing and preparing the survey and interview materials. I would also like to thank the Urban Affairs and Planning department at Hunter College. Resources Barnes, Gary and Kevin Krizek and Kristin Thompson. “A Longitudinal Analysis of the Effect of Bicycle Facilities on Commute Mode Share.” University of Minnesota, July 2005. Buehler, Ralph and John Pucher. “Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. Transport Reviews, Vol. 28, 2008 Carlsson, Chris. “Outlaw Bicycling.” Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture and Action, Vol. 1 No. 1, Winter 2007 pp. 86-106. City of New York Department of City Planning Transportation Division. “The New York City Bicycle Survey.” May 2007. Dill, Jennifer and Theresa Carr. “Bicycle Commuting and Facilities in Major U.S. Cities: If You Build Them, Commuters Will Use Them – Another Look.” Portland State University, 2003. Krizek, Kevin J. and Pamela Jo Johnson. “Proximity to Trails and Retail: Effects on Urban Cycling and Walking.” University of Minnesota, 2006. L. C. de Cerreño, Allison and My Linh H. Nguyen-Novotny. “Pedestrian and Bicyclist Standards and Innovations in Large Central Cities.” Rudin Center New York University, January 2006. Lynch, Kevin. The Image of The City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960. Moritz, William E. “Survey of North American Bicycle Commuters Design and Aggregate Results.” Transportation Research Record, pp. 91-101 Murray, Wallace and Jason Nu. "NYC Bicycle Parking Survey." Hunter College at the City University of New York, 2008 New York Bicycling Coalition. “Improving Bicycling and Pedestrian Safety.” 2002. Peterson, Jen. “Pedaling Power.” New York University. Shafizadeh, Kevin and Debbie Bieneimeier. “Bicycle Journey-to-Work Travel Behavior 21
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