Tag Archives: New York City

A city with real problems worth fighting for

Now compare that last post with a city with real problems like New York City. Here’s a great video by of an intersection in the Big Apple showing very clearly that what cyclists do (or should) fear in NYC is definitely not other cyclists, but everything else on the street.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/24572222]

How to make biking for all, not just the rich or poor?

Why is it that cycling seems to be primarily for poor people in developing countries like India, rich people in developed countries with low cycling rates like the US and a middle class phenomenon in developed countries with high cycling rates like Denmark and Holland?

Most cyclists in developing countries are what is known as “captive users”. They are riding not because they want to so much as because they cannot afford other options such as busses, let alone cars.

When I was in India this summer, I learned that many of the people who are cycling are men who are delivering things, like milk or vegetables. What was really shocking was that many of these people earned so little money that they could not even afford to buy their own bicycles, even though they only cost about $50. Instead, they were renting them for about 10 cents/hour from local bicycle shops. To my knowledge, there is no one with a rent-to-own system, but it would be great to set one up if anyone is looking for a social entrepreneurship project.

Milk delivery man in Pune, India

Most anyone with any money in India will immediately start riding the bus or (in the case of delivery men) buy themselves a motor scooter. If they have a bit more money, they will buy a car and if they have even more money, they will buy a fancier car. If they really have some money, they will hire a private driver to get them around. Basically, the more money people have, the more likely they are to drive a motorized vehicle and the less likely they are to consider anything non-motorized (including walking).

There are a few crazy people in India who are wealthy but still ride bicycles. I think I spoke with all four of them while I was there. Personally, I feel that these are the people who will be able to make a push for cycling in India since they have the political and economic capital to make it happen. But this is the topic of another article to come.

I just recently came back from my home country, the USA. There are many exciting developments going on in the past few years and I truly applaud the efforts there. But one thing really struck me from my visit to DC and New York (see links for cycling maps): most of the cycling infrastructure being developed is in neighborhoods inhabited by mainly wealthy, well-educated people like Park Slope and Dupont Circle and not in poorer neighborhoods like the Bronx or Anacostia.

Innovative cycling infrastructure near Dupont Circle in DC

One could be cynical and argue that this because planners are themselves living in these neighborhoods. While there is perhaps a degree of truth in that (and I believe there are some race and class issues in the planning field that need to be discussed more), I think there is more going on.

In speaking with planners, they said that they had tried to make inroads in some of these communities, but that they had received lower adoption rates. For instance, the DC bikeshare scheme Capital Bikes has a station in Anacostia but it is not used as much as in other neighborhoods. They said that this use of the bikeshare system mirrored the cycling demographics in general.


Anacostia waterfront neighborhood in DC cycling infrastructure

I went over there and investigated that area. There was a big fancy new development near the station, but much of the rest of the neighborhood seemed a bit more lower class and black. Most people seemed to be driving around in big SUVs. I met a young white man on the train who said he liked my bike and that he had just moved to the neighborhood and wanted to get a bike but complained that there was no infrastructure.

My guess is that the neighborhood is gentrifying and that the people who are using the bikeshare there are the young, largely white and educated, professionals moving in- not the poorer, uneducated black population.

In Copenhagen, by contrast, cycling is a decisively middle class phenomenon. However, what constitutes “middle class” here would be considered quite upper class in the US or India: most people have a college degree (which the government will pay you to get), being able to afford a fur coat is practically considered a human (though not animal) right, everyone has free health care, and there are virtually no homeless people.

Middle class Danish SUV

In Copenhagen you will see ambassadors, politicians and rock stars riding bicycles next to the average Dane. What you won’t see, however, is many muslim immigrants on bikes, despite the world class cycling infrastructure. Is this a skills and training issue, or is it more about integration and culture? Is bike riding just a particularly nationalistic endeavor? Is it still something for rich, white, educated people here too and it’s just that Denmark is a more homogeneous society of rich, white, educated people?

I don’t know the answer to that question though I clearly have my suspicions. What we really need is more research, discussion and action on issues related to race, class, religion, culture and cycling. Otherwise, we run the risk of creating increasing inequities in cites under the auspices of creating a more equitable transportation infrastructure.

Some bike lanes removed in New York City

After the recent influx of bike lanes in New York City in the past few years, some protesters have sadly manage to get a few kilometers of bike lanes removed. There are still, however, some still going in but they are meeting more resistance. Each km is a fight.

This is truly a sad set of circumstances for a city that was making some real progress. It is critical that not only the conditions for bicycling improve, but also that the conditions for car driving are made less convenient in order to truly have a bicycle revolution. However, this is extremely difficult to accomplish in the US where the car is practically a part of people’s individuality.

This will be a major challenge for the US- not just improving conditions for bikes, but actively making driving more difficult. In Copenhagen, this was done very slowly and patiently over 100 years. Perhaps it was too much, too fast?


Cargo bikes taking off in USA

About 25 years behind Europe as usual, but custom cargo bicycles are starting to hit the streets in New York  (www.hudsonurbanbicycles.com) and Portland, Oregon (www.metrofiets.com). Hip moms as well as service professionals like carpenters and plumbers have started to use the SUV of bicycles.

US versions are typically significantly more expensive (USD$3000 and up instead of $1500 and up) as they are currently only available in customized versions  or imported from Europe.  They also tend to be lighter and longer than their continental counterparts.

Here’s a recent NYTimes article and super cute video of some girls who helped design their own pink and silver bicycle in New York: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/spokes-hauling-cargo-no-car-necessary/

George Bliss of Hudson Urban Bicycles claims he started building “around the time cargo bikes started gettting popular in Holland, 3-4 years ago”.  But even the Dutch are quick to point out that they (www.bakfiets.nl) copied the Danish (www.christianiabikes.dk), who started the trend way back in 1984.  Sorry, New York, sometimes you are way behind the times! But it’s nice to see you catching up finally.

Getting better on Broadway

NYC getting better

New York has been getting very ambitious about changing its cycling strategy and starting to treat cyclists like real road users. Danish architecture firm Gehl Architects provided the first analysis and strategic plan. This is a shot from 34th and Broadway just outside of Macy’s during Christmas 2009. It looked like there were some encroachment issues especially with pedestrians when they had no sidewalk alternative. Cars also cut in when they could. It will take some learning. I’d love to hear more from those on the ground about how this is going now. I’ve been to NYC a handfull of times in the past two years and the infrastructure changes there have been quite dramatic. Not sure with what results though.

Cycle rickshaw in NYC

A cycle rickshaw plying the streets of New York in December around Christmas time. Anyone know more about this service? Notice the design is much tighter between the front and back wheels and the covering is warmer for the cold weather compared with Indian designs.