If you have the opportunity to spend time in Amsterdam, Chicago, Copenhagen, Portland, or Bogota, you will witness the possibilities of the bicycle as a main source of transportation. A transportation system in Amsterdam where almost 40 percent of all trips are made by bicycle evolves through a combination of economic necessity, bike friendly policies, a strong integrated public transportation system and a vocal community of cycling advocates. Recently, the New York City Council took a step toward making the city more bike friendly. They passed two pieces of bike friendly legislation that will greatly reduce the biggest deterrent to bike commuting: bike theft.
- Intro. 0780-A (Koppell) – bicycle parking in garages and parking lots. This bill will require the operator of every garage and parking lot with a capacity of one-hundred or more cars to provide and maintain parking spaces for bikes. The law mandates one bike spot for every 10 motor vehicle spots. Prices for the new bike parking will be left up to the garage owners to decide. According to DOT Commissioner Janet Sadik-Khan’s estimates, the law will eventually create more than 20,000 new bike parking spaces in nearly 1,700 locations, mostly in Manhattan.
- Intro. 0871-A (Yassky) – bicycle access in commercial buildings. This bill will give cyclists a new legal framework to petition for bicycle access at their places of work. According to the new law, if you work in an office building that has a freight elevator, and the property managers won’t let you bring your bike inside, you will soon be able to request a change in policy.
These bills address the problem of where to park your bike when you get to work by improving bicycle access in commercial buildings and creating thousands of bicycle parking spaces in city garages and parking lots. The Department of Transportation, DOT, estimates that these new bills will increase bike commuting by 50 percent in the next year. These bills, combined with a piece of legislation passed in April that approved zoning changes mandating secure bike parking in new building construction, will help cyclists avoid the risks of securing their bikes on the street. The April legislation requires new apartment buildings and offices to provide secure spaces for bike parking.
These new policies adopted by the City Council are a testament to the two years of hard work by Hazon’s advocacy partner, Transportation Alternatives. In addition to TA’s persistence, there are a number of facts on the ground that are developing a new cycling culture in New York. The rising MTA fares combined with the economic recession have lead to a substantial increase in commuting by bike in New York City. The progressive policies of the NYC DOT are beginning to reflect on the fact that car drivers make up only 16.9 percent of the commuter population of Manhattan. Furthermore, the changes they made in the Times Square area has only begun to level the playing field between pedestrians and cars in an area where there are 7 times more pedestrians than cars.
There is also a growing awareness about the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate change crisis. In 2004, 38% of the energy consumed in the United States was in the transportation sector.The high cost of transportation on our planet is one of the reasons that Hazon’s CSA program promotes local food. Mass transit is an excellent form of transportation, but an integrated biking/mass transit system is the best choice, making the connivance of a car-irrelevant. Getting people out of cars is in our national interest, but can only be done by making the alternatives more attractive. Currently in the United States, less than 1 percent of all trips are made by bicycle. According to the Cal-Berkley Transportation Center, 40 percent of all trips taken by car in the United States are less than 5 miles- a distance easily covered by a bike. For those living and working in urban areas, their travel distances are even shorter.
These previous factors, combined with strong cycling advocacy and the political desire to make cities “environmental-friendly,” is helping increase bike commuting and make cycling a natural choice for transportation. The more bike friendly a city becomes, the more people will choose to cycle. The more cyclists on the road, the safer all cyclists will be. While New York City has some unique features that make it a natural place to develop cycling as a transportation alternative, other cities all over the United States can develop systems that make cycling a safe and realistic mode of transportation.
Traveling by bike as a carbon-free mode of travel is not the only benefit to cycling.,Regular biking improves our health and promotes weight loss. A healthy life-style is an important part of Hazon’s mission, which is why our main programming and teaching focuses are cycling and food. Hazon also advocates cycling because biking can change people’s consciousness and connects us in an immediate way. We have always felt that cycling together is a form of community building and it may be a way to cure the “bowling alone” culture that has developed in the last 25 years. Biking is surprising social, much more than the subway or bus.
There are many benefits to cycling and it is easy to begin if you haven’t already. Now is the time to pull out that bike sitting in your garage or basement and give it a spin. Cycling may not be a cure to global climate crisis, but it is a step you can take to experience your neighborhood and city in a different way. No matter where you live in the United States, there are bike advocacy and education groups that can help you get started cycling and involved in making biking safer for everyone. Currently, Hazon is working on the Upper West Side of New York City to create Livable Streets that will make the community safer for both cyclists and pedestrians. In the next year, we see community members and local politicians continuing to work together in making New York City one of the most bike-friendly, and consequently environmentally friendly, cities in the country.