Bicycle Boom Raises Race, Class and Access Questions
The dramatic growth of the much-debated bike lanes may enjoy enthusiastic support in trendy Lower Manhattan and Northwest Brooklyn, but the presence, or lack of them, in some neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Manhattan, is fueling resentment, reports The Brooklyn Bureau. The story is excerpted below.
Cycling in New York City has come an incredibly long way over the past couple decades — and has progressed significantly in recent years. The city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that there are now 540 miles of on-street bike lanes throughout the five boroughs, with 285 of them installed in the past five years. And those lanes are increasing bike traffic: the DOT’s annual “Sustainable Streets Index” in 2010 found that nine different lanes completed since 2007 increased their traffic by rates from 46 to 268 percent each over the previous year. Overall, commuter cycling increased four-fold between 2001 and 2011.
According to an impromptu count of bike traffic conducted by City Limits in the Williamsburg Bridge, 72 percent of 300 cyclists who crossed the bridge in a span of 25 minutes were white, in a city where two-thirds of the population is non-white.
Some critics say the class and race characteristics of the city’s bikers reflect the fact that bike lanes have been located in areas where many people already have bikes. At the same time, bike lanes passing through some lower-income areas have been found to stir resentment. Meanwhile, there are practical barriers to biking that poor New Yorkers face, which bike lanes alone cannot overcome.
A 2010 New York City Department of Health study found little difference in the cyclists’ economic background – 11.8 percent of top earners and 7.7 percent of low-income groups reported regular use of bicycle.
When it comes to the geography of biking to work — which only about 0.8 percent New Yorkers do — there’s a more noticeable skew. Census data that tracked commuter cyclists in New York from 2006 through 2008 confirmed that the largest rate of biking was in Lower Manhattan and Northwest Brooklyn (representing close to 2 percent of commutes in those areas). East, South and even Central Brooklyn were found to have noticeably lower rates (generally between 0 and 1 percent).
Looking at the current cycling map of the city, it is evident that high commuter cycling rates mesh with the best facilities, with lower Manhattan, particularly south of 23rd Street, being extensively covered by bike lanes, and the network expanding out to Brooklyn along the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Park Slope and even Bedford-Stuyvesant enjoy strong bike facility coverage, but the network thins beyond those areas. The more eastern and southern parts of Brooklyn, such as Brownsville, East New York, Sunset Park and Bensonhurst are underdeveloped by comparison.
Professor John Pucher of Rutgers University, who has studied the city’s bicycling system, believes that the bike lanes in the farther regions of Brooklyn are not as extensive nor have the same high quality, as the paths in the parts of the borough closer to Manhattan.
“I don’t think DOT is deliberately discriminating against low-income people or people of color,” he says. “I think that what they’re doing is they’re putting in facilities where they think there is the most potential for them to be used, which makes sense. But, the result is that in those lower income communities that are further out in Brooklyn or Queens or up in the Bronx or Staten Island, there’s almost nothing there.”
“There’s no question, what they’re doing seems logical. I’m just saying it’s also inequitable,” Pucher adds.
But DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera disagrees with Putcher’s assessment.
“The bike network extends across a broad and diverse range of New York City neighborhoods,” he says, “including Hunts Point and the South Bronx, Harlem, Astoria, Bedford Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Crown Heights … to name just a handful.”