The art of riding in New York City

Flushing St protected bike lane-1

Art infuses the bicycling experience
in New York City.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As you might have noticed, there were many things I liked about riding through the streets of New York.

While their bike-specific infrastructure is nothing to ignore, one aspect of the New York City bicycling experience that might get easily overlooked by engineers and planners is its interestingness. Maybe it was just because I love public art. Or perhaps it was simply because I was a tourist with fresh eyes. Either way, I couldn’t help but notice all the paintings, murals and other interesting art as I rode around.

Some of what makes New York City street art so abundant is graffiti, but even the NYC DOT appreciates it enough that they actually have an official urban art program. The benefits of urban art — especially for bicycling — are obvious. For relatively little money, painted walls and infrastructure can create a more vibrant and welcoming space. When you’re trying to encourage people to use that space, it makes sense to make it as inviting as possible.

And it seems to me that public art has even more impact for people transporting themselves with human power. From the seat of a bicycle or from the vantage point of a sidewalk, people who are biking or walking are going slower and they have much better vision of their surroundings — both of which make it easier to appreciate public art.

For example, the barricades that create the protected bike lanes on Flushing Avenue were painted by artists Cara Lynch and Deanna Lee. They were funded through the NYC DOT’s Barrier Beautification program, which rotates exhibits every 11 months and pays artists up to $2,500…

Flushing St protected bike lane-4

Flushing St protected bike lane-7

Another project commissioned by the NYC DOT that caught my eye was a mural on the bicycle ramp approach of the Manhattan Bridge. The artist was Abby Goldstein…

People on Bikes - Manhattan Bridge-11

The NYC DOT also gets into the act of art with their public plazas. Here’s one adjacent to the bikeway on Broadway…

Broadway protected bike lane and plazas-37

And check out the art painted onto the ground at this public plaza on Pearl St. in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn…

Pearl St. Plaza in Dumbo-1

When the NYC DOT opened up their Greenpoint East River Ferry Terminal last year, they realized the road leading to it, India Street, was rundown and unwelcoming. A simple lane re-striping and the addition of a series of bold wall paintings changed all that…

Greenpoint Ferry-1

Greenpoint Ferry access

The DOT is far from the only source of public street art. 5Pointz is a legendary “graffiti mecca” in Long Island City. It’s a huge industrial building whose owner allows artists to paint sections of the exterior walls…

5 Points graffiti -1

5 Points graffiti -2

And the sidewalk next to 5Pointz is colorful too…

5 Points graffiti -6

And there were other, random murals and graffiti that caught my eye.

Mural in Dumbo, Brooklyn

Mural on Navy St, Brooklyn

Near the Brooklyn Navy Yards.
Kent Ave-4

Kent Ave.
Pulaski Bridge art

At the northern end of the Pulaski Bridge in Long Island City.

I didn’t have look hard to find great public art on New York City’s bikeways. And there were also signs of bike everywhere I turned. Both of these phenomenon are signs of a healthy bike culture.

Brooklyn Bridge Park-2

— This story comes from my recently completed trip to New York City, which was made possible by Planet Bike, Lancaster Engineering, and by readers like you. Thank you! You can find all my New York City coverage here.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Kiel Johnson / Go By Bike
11 years ago

the point of bikes is not more bikes it is a better city! art is an important part of a better city and bikes sure allow you to enjoy it!

Hart Noecker
11 years ago

Portland is seriously lacking in public art. Great to see NYC pushing the boundaries of what streets can be look like.

11 years ago

what about poetry…

Hidden Places

I want to go to the hidden places
that my bicycle takes me.

To the hidden stream,
where rushing water flows
over the waterfall.

Bubbles, caught under its sheet,
flare into existence,
then fade,
only to flare again.

The trail has sights, sounds, smells
that are only reached by bicycle.
For they are too far to walk to,
and a car only rushes by.

11 years ago

public art is illegal.

11 years ago

These are beautiful! I wish we had more places like these along our bikeways in Portland. Is there any chance part of our new city art tax could fund projects like these? $2,500 for a mural is a steal.

R. Mark Desjardins
R. Mark Desjardins
11 years ago

I’ve been documenting public street art up and down the west coast of the U.S. and Vancouver, B.C. since the mid 80’s. It doesn’t have to be “vandalism,” when promoted by civic leaders with vision. As shown in these photographs, the bright visuals can really enhance the urban bike riding experience. Vancouver bike lanes can benefit from this!

11 years ago

Jonathan…….. that’s the big time, of taste and money. We live in a city that doesn’t even paint the undersides of their bridges. It’s not a matter of money, but of art itself.

Alan 1.0
Alan 1.0
11 years ago

Love the black-and-white one at Greenpoint Ferry access; reminds me of Salish works.

Jeremy Cohen
Jeremy Cohen
11 years ago

Hey now….why all the PDX slamming. There is public art here. Perhaps Jonathan, you need to put on your “fresh eyes” and check out all the bikey art in this town. Maybe we should all take pictures of the public art we see (or even private art that serves the same function). There is a cool mural on Hawthorne (at 49th), new art going up at the East end of the Hawthorne Bridge (eastbound side), a nice mural on N. Williams. There is a cool bike wheel “balcony” on SE Salmon (around 14th?) Come on PDX, lets find it!

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Reply to  Jeremy Cohen

Thanks Jeremy, but I’m aware of a ton of public art here too. I have not ill words for Portland in this regard! (Although I think an urban art program within PBOT would be really cool).

I actually have a long list of all the murals in the city that include a bicycle. I’m just waiting to go out and photograph them for a special documentary project. I love bike art!