We took the family to New York City this past week to get a first hand look at all of the new infrastructure projects taking place throughout the city. First off, I’d like to note that it is amazing how much has changed in so short a time. We bicycled and walked throughout Manhattan for four days straight and it was so encouraging to see what all has taken place.
For starters, we headed over to the Madison Square park area to check out the new pavement to plaza and bicycle lanes. Immediately as we turned the corner and saw the pedestrian space carved out into a space that used to belong to cars, the feel and look of the area changed to a very casual and friendly environment. It was 9AM on a Monday, but people were out relaxing with coffee and reading newspapers. The bike lanes are fairly new and did an amazing job of thinning the streets, making it much safer to cross as a pedestrian, and had the double effect of slowing vehicles that used to take precedence here. It was a night and day difference from our last visit almost a year to the date prior.
One thing that was also incredibly encouraging from our last visit was not only the number of added bike lanes, but the sheer amount of children and seniors who were riding now. Our 9 year old immediately felt comfortable riding on major streets from Park Avenue to Grand Street. He didn’t have to worry about going fast, but simply relaxed and enjoyed a casual bike ride through the city. Something that really hit home with the bike infrastructure was noting bike speeds…when bike lanes were present people averaged around 8 mph, which is what is seen in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. This slowing of speeds allows much more time to analyze obstacles and view intersections…this coupled with the slower speeds of cars due to the thinning of the streets heightened our comfort and safety notably. Pedestrians would come in and out of the bike lanes to cross traffic, but speeds were so manageable that it made no difference…and even in instances when a cab would pull into a bike lane to drop someone off, we were already travelling slow enough to stop and allow them out, or comfortably exit and re-enter the lane. I’ve heard several fears, or concerns from those opposed to infrastructure related to this, and actually experiencing it first hand showed what a non-issue this really was…no different than driving a car and stopping for a few seconds while school bus stops to let children off.
The Brooklyn bridge is an amazing site on its own, regardless of its bike/ped path, but the separation from cars and the ability to stop and look out over the water comfortably, made a world of difference in comparison to crossing bridges into Dallas. It really highlighted for me the lack of foresight in having our newest Caltrava bridge built without any bike/ped amenities. Sadly, that was a lost opportunity for generations.
The last thing I’ll note was one of the major highlights…the cycle track. We’ve talked about these quite a bit in the past, but actually riding on them and seeing others along with the separation from cars was far and away greater than I anticipated. You slow down, have a conversation, see a fruit vendor to the side, and comfortably stop and take a break. The pedestrian islands created that additional barrier that was a godsend when walking with a stroller and kids. Plus, they were signaled! Bikes and cars all stopped and movement was far more manageable than I had anticipated.
All in all, it was an amazing trip, and seeing/riding in this new infrastructure first hand along with children did more to motivate me than I had originally planned. Also, the fear that drivers would be upset if you left the bike lane turned out to be completely unfounded, as we (along with thousands of others) did this on a regular basis…and not a single honk…that even shocked me. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but fortunately, enough cities nationwide have presented models for us to review and develop so that we can adopt the best the world has to offer.