Video: Giving NYC’s bikeways the crosstown test

It’s one thing for a city to have a marquee bike project here or there — but it’s another thing entirely to get people across town by bike on a connected network that is legible and safe.

During my recent trip to New York City, I had to get to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a story. I was staying in the Flatiron/Chelsea area (W 24th and 6th). I figured this would be a good crosstown test, so I filmed the entire thing. The video above shows the highlights. It gives you a sense of what it’s like to bike about 5 miles through Manhattan, over a bridge, and then into a borough.

My route.

You’ll see a very wide variety of bikeways. I rode through: pedestrianized streets with world-class bikeways; old-school, door-zone bike lanes; shared, low-volume streets; dedicated paths, and more. Overall, I was impressed with NYC’s bike network, despite its chaos and rough edges.

In my opinion (which might be different than yours, given my experience and love of urban riding), NYC passed the test.

Watch the video to see if you agree. And then ask yourself… Does your city stand up to the crosstown test?

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 maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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eawriste
eawriste
3 months ago

A few notes on some of the areas Jonathan went through. I think it might give some people in Portland a little perspective vis a vis the actions of the current person in charge of PBOT.

  1. Midtown 6th ave I think was the first to get a bike lane in ’81? It was subsequently torn out by Koch.
  2. Broadway has a long history of being pedestrianized piecemeal. De Blasio proposed to remove the Times Sq plaza.
  3. A lot of Broadway south of Midtown has been a part of the “Broadway Vision” idea, aka to pedestrianize it. That’s also stalled under Adams.
  4. The entrance to the Wburg bridge used to be worse. It’s still bad, but the resistance to change it is related to slowing cyclists at the transition.
  5. The biggest impediment to safety is actually the Police in NYC. It’s odd, and Portlanders think the PD here sucks. You will find a new definition of power when you ask a NYPD cop about a car parked in the bike lane (particularly if it’s their own).
  6. It’s too bad Jonathan didn’t head over to McGuinness Blvd where Mapps-ahem-Adams reneged on a couple years of public input when a very wealthy broadway stage owner made McGuiness less safe.

Point is: don’t get discouraged. The Adams’s and Mapps’s (is that right?) come and go. Adams promised 150 miles of PBL. Here’s where he’s at. When they sell out, it’s important to keep that in the spotlight. NYC just happens to have a more robust spotlight with TA and Streetsblog.

rick
rick
3 months ago

An active transportation bridge is needed between Staten Island and Brooklyn. The westernmost bridge between Staten Island and New Jersey has more car lanes than the previous bridge and it obviously has more traffic.

eawriste
eawriste
3 months ago
Reply to  rick

A lot of people would agree with you. The Verrazzano has 13? lanes, none of which are for walking or biking.

David Raboin
David Raboin
3 months ago

I moved to Portland six years ago without knowing this city’s geography. Likewise, I recently bought a Brompton folding bike and started taking it along on some of my travels for work. A few years ago, I knew nothing about NYC beyond the tourist stops. I’ve now ridden in NYC close to a dozen times, logging around 200 miles of NYC biking. Here are some thoughts on being a new biker in Portland vs being a new biker in New York City…

New York City is more legible to an unfamiliar biker than Portland. I can get around NYC with very few stops to reference Google Maps, whereas when I started biking in Portland, I was constantly stopping to figure out connections. Portland’s bike infrastructure tends to dump you in bike-unfriendly spots, especially downtown, and Portland’s bike infrastructure is difficult to follow. Portland’s bike routes require local knowledge, it appears that many of our bike routes are just tricks to get around the city that someone figured out in the 70s that the city made official in the early 2000s. In NYC, the bike infrastructure is purpose-built, clearly marked, and almost always connected. In NYC, you can jump in a bike lane up in the Bronx and follow the infrastructure south across the entire city to the financial district without stopping to check a map. It’s easy. Also, there are so many other bikers in NYC that you can jump into the stream of riders and know that you’re probably headed in the right direction. For example, if you’re in Manhattan and want to find a bridge to Brooklyn, just jump into an eastbound stream of bikers and keep following it.

Traffic is very different in the two cities. NYC is much busier than Portland, but the vehicles are mostly traveling slowly because car traffic is always backed up. Riding a bike in NYC traffic feels like walking through a cow pasture — the cars are slow and docile but they might crush you if their mood changes. The left turn across bike traffic is by far the biggest problem I see when riding in NYC. However, it’s such a predictable move that you anticipate it and adjust for it. In contrast, Portland has much less traffic but the traffic in Portland is faster. I worry more about a speeding driver missing a stop sign and running me down as I bomb Clinton than I worry about getting run over in Manhattan. A Manhattan collision would most likely result in bruises. A Portland collision might kill me. And another word on NYC traffic: when riding a bike in NYC be prepared to slow it down. In NYC you are always stopping. If you’re a fitness rider, it might be hard to change your habits and just take it easy. In NYC you might be stuck behind slow riders for many blocks, even miles. That’s life in the big city.

Final thought… Biking in Portland is way more pleasant than biking in NYC. New York is loud with constant car horns and sirens. You can’t go more than a few blocks in NYC without stopping or getting cut off or having a wrong-way delivery bike push you into the curb. Portland is prettier, the people are nicer, and our biking terrain is more varied. If you ever want to feel grateful for living in Portland, go to the George Washington Bridge on a Saturday morning and watch all the Spadex-clad riders headed to Palisades Park (the only quiet place to ride in the NYC area). Those guys would think they’ve died and gone to heaven if they saw our West Hills, or our Council Crest Ride, or a Portland to the Coast ride.

A Grant
A Grant
3 months ago

I honestly can’t get over all the free curbside parking in the vid