Pedal Push

Biking is on the rise, but is there room on the road for everyone?

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Illustration by Peter Arkle for TIME

Biking is on the rise, but is there room on the road for everyone?

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One way to relieve some of that congestion--while improving public health and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions--is to take people out of cars and put them onto bikes. So over the past several years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's department of transportation has set about trying to make New York into a bike-friendly city. It hasn't been easy. For years, only semi-psychotic bike messengers and minimum-wage-earning deliverymen would brave the asphalt jungle on two wheels. But what Mayor Mike wants, Mayor Mike usually gets. More than 290 miles of bike paths have appeared under Bloomberg's administration (for a total of 700 miles), including segregated, protected lanes on major streets like Manhattan's Ninth Avenue. The new Citi Bike system, with 600 stations around town, is modeled after successful programs like the Capital Bikeshare in Washington and the Velib in Paris, which have significantly boosted cycling rates. A recent survey estimated that the D.C. program reduced driving miles per year by nearly 5 million. As full-time cyclist and part-time musician David Byrne wrote recently, "This system is not geared for leisurely rides ... This is for getting around."

A 'Crazed Campaign'

Bloomberg's policies--implemented by his high-profile transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik Khan--have produced results. More than twice as many New Yorkers commuted to work by bike in 2011 as in 2006 (rising to nearly 19,000 from 8,300). But drivers have pushed back against the bike lanes, which take away precious road space in a city where parking can be an exercise in frustration. And many pedestrians have complained about a plague of cyclists whizzing over sidewalks and through stop signs. The reliably right-wing New York Post labeled the bike-lane expansion as a "crazed campaign," while a 2011 study found that more than 500 New York pedestrians a year make hospital trips after being hit by bikes. "The rush to place 10,000 bicycles on our streets risks significantly exacerbating the number of injuries and fatalities of both bikers and pedestrians," said New York City comptroller John Liu in a press conference at the end of June.

A deeper drill into the numbers, however, reveals that cyclists are far more threatened than threatening. A study by Monash University in Australia that looked at driver-cyclist collisions found that nearly 90% of cyclists had been traveling in a safe and legal manner just before crashes, while vehicle drivers were at fault for more than 80% of the collisions. A 2011 study of Barcelona's bike-sharing program found a tiny increase in the risk of death from traffic accidents, but one that was more than balanced out by deaths that were prevented as a result of the health benefits of regular cycling.

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