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NYC 4-Boro Protected Bike Lane Ride

I've been riding a bike in NYC for more than 25 years. When I started, there wasn't much in the way of good bike infrastructure, but in that time I've watched the bike network expand and slowly get safer.

With recent bike lane additions and enhancements on Jay Street, Chrystie Street, and First Avenue, NYC DOT has pointed out that you can now ride on protected bike lanes almost continuously from Brooklyn to the Bronx. Connecting to other segments of protected bike lanes, with just a few blocks exposed to traffic, you can do enjoyable, low-stress rides of 10, 20, 25 miles on city streets.

So I pitched the good folks at Transportation Alternatives about doing a small group ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan to the Bronx to Randall's Island to Queens and back to Brooklyn -- about 25 miles. After sketching it out, we estimated that 97 percent of the ride could be done on protected lanes, car-free bridge paths, and greenways.

Of course, New York still has a long way to go to make cycling safe for all ages and abilities throughout the city. But we are on our way. As recently as 10 years ago, I can remember the huge advocacy effort that went into gaining two meager strips of white paint for bike lanes here or there. Now we are building up to a useable network.

So come along for the ride, get a good look at the protected bikeways and bridge paths along our route, and meet some of the volunteers who've been working hard to make biking better in New York City. As the soundtrack (which the great Eric Bazilian and Mats Wester generously gave permission to use) goes, "That's a good thing!"

Also, if you want to see the details of all the turns in this journey, I compiled this map.

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

17 Comments
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  • HamTech87

    Great video, and thanks for pointing this out! I had no idea. Is that Hal from Bike Habitat at 8:35?
    Let's hope we can do something about those mixing zones so they are no longer "bullying zones" where the motorists physically threaten vulnerable users.

  • Elizabeth F

    Protected bike lanes, yes. But low stress? Not as long as 1st Ave is full of mixing zones every 2 blocks.

  • walks bikes drives

    Exactly. Taking a lane on 3rd Avenue is less stressful to me than 1st avenue's mixing zones.

  • http://facebook.com/FerdinandCesarano Ferdinand Cesarano

    We mustn't use the recent tragic death of a cyclist as an excuse to exaggerate. First Avenue is, on balance, a very comfortable place to ride.

    Yes, we need to exercise a great deal of care at the intersections. But, even bearing the recent horrible tragedy in mind, we should know that we can keep ourselves safe enough to use that lane as it was intended.

    Keep a sharp eye out for turning cars; make a lot of noise -- yell and blow your horn. (If you don't have a horn, get one immediately.) Wave your arms, and wear gloves if as close to white as possible. (When the weather warms up and there's no need for gloves for warmth, wear white skateboarding gloves or white baseball batting gloves.)

    The flaw in the design of the First Avenue bike lane should keep us vigilant when using that avenue, it should not keep us away from that avenue.

  • Elizabeth F

    Here's your horn... http://loudbicycle.com/

    > Wave your arms, and wear gloves if as close to white as possible.

  • http://facebook.com/FerdinandCesarano Ferdinand Cesarano

    Very nice.

    But the ordinary air horn with the squeezable bulb is entirely sufficient. I can tell you from long experience, confirmed daily, that that horn is heard by drivers.

    https://ae01.alicdn.com/kf/HTB10BIsQXXXXXXTXFXXq6xXFXXXF/Retro-font-b-Bike-b-font-Bell-font-b-Air-b-font-font-b-Horn-b.jpg

    Also, don't neglect the horn that nature gave you. As the Kiss song says: shout it out loud! A bicyclist riding amongst cars on a busy street should be very vocal, frequently emitting sharp cries of "Hey!" or "Yo yo yo yo!" (or whatever is the bleat of your choice).

  • HamTech87

    Allowing for danger with mixing zones leaves us far from a point where people would let their 14+ teens cycle in NYC.

  • HamTech87

    Not for me. Way too stressful, with cars and trucks following me closely while the drivers are looking down at their phones. I go out of my way to find a protected bike lane, even with the mixing zones.

  • http://facebook.com/FerdinandCesarano Ferdinand Cesarano

    Considering that the first time I rode in Manhattan (at age 15) was decades before the introduction of bike lanes, the current state of affairs in that borough seems like a wonderland by comparison. Perhaps one has to remember what it was like to ride in Manhattan in the 1980s to see how good it is now.

    This is not to deny the currently existing flaws, or to dismiss the risks caused by the left-turning cars on First Avenue. But let's realise that right-turning cars present the same danger on most ordinary streets. The real answer is enforcement; but the our City's police are too busy breaking black and brown heads and also playing soldier against (mostly imaginary) "terrorists"; they cannot be bothered with the mundane duty of policing drivers' lawbreaking.

    So it's up to us to protect ourselves by the means that I mentioned in the previous comment.

  • Joe R.

    I rode all over the place at that age, including Northern Boulevard, Union Turnpike, Hillside Avenue, etc. The only bike lanes in my area were those on 73rd Avenue and the one on Jewel Avenue from Main Street to 137th Street.

    I think the problem is we're both looking at this from the filter of another time when parents let children grow up earlier. I was riding the subways by myself at 13. A lot of my friends had been doing that from the time they were 9 or 10. As a result of this more permissive parenting (which I happen to think was/is a great thing) we were a lot more adapt at problem solving and a lot more adaptable. End result is that navigating the city's streets by bicycle, despite the lack of bike lanes, wasn't as big an ordeal as it might be for today's 15 years with bike lanes which have mixing zones. This isn't a knock on today's children. It's just an acknowledgement that today's overprotective parenting means kids in general have a harder time developing the skills you or I take for granted. This even includes young adults.

    The tide is slowly turning back to more permissive parenting but the effect won't be felt for a generation. In the meantime cyclists are getting hurt or killed who otherwise might not if we had better infrastructure. Also as you acknowledge, such infrastructure makes cycling more comfortable even for us "old-timers" who can handle dicey situations. That just adds more reason to build it.

    I'd love to see my idea of bollarding off minor streets on the left side of the avenues implemented. That would turn the protected lanes into true bike boulevards. You might still need overpasses at the major cross streets to turn it into true 8 to 80 infrastructure but I can see eventual political support for that. After all, we want to increase bike mode share but it'll stubbornly stay in the single digits unless we build bike infrastructure which even a novice feels comfortable using.

  • Joe R.

    Nice!. As a rail buff, I'd love to get a bike horn which mimics a K5LA horn. That would get attention for sure!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGi2LIPm6pU

  • Joe R.

    I don't ride in Manhattan but that's probably what I would do as well. Traffic often doesn't go much over 25 mph for much of the day, so my MO would be to take a lane, draft a truck or bus and cruise at 25 to 30 mph. I have already done this on Union Turnpike during peak times. It's a little stressful but probably less stressful than dealing with mixing zones. You're also cruising at the speed of the green wave on the avenues when you're in the 25 to 30 mph band, which is another huge plus.

    Of course, that's hardly a recipe for 8 to 80 infrastructure but neither are the mixing zones.

  • http://facebook.com/FerdinandCesarano Ferdinand Cesarano

    Navigating the City by bike with no bike lanes was no problem in Queens. It was a huge problem in Manhattan. Bike lanes tamed Manhattan. As we push for improvements, we should never forget the fundamental transformation that bike lanes have brought to Manhattan (above all other places).

    Talk about about bollarding off cross-streets is pure fantasy. Fantasising is just great (as my imaginary co-wives Charlene Tilton and Iris Chacon would no doubt agree); but there is no way to get support for such a plan. The legislator who would ever sponsor such a thing hasn't been born. If we had a political landscape in which bollarding off Manhattan cross-streets would even be considered, we'd be well on our way to many other great policies, such as congestion pricing or even the outright banning of private autos in much of Manhattan.

    Alas, that's not the world we have. The world we have is one in which we have yet to figure out a way to make the police enforce the existing laws on drivers, with the result that every driver knows that the chance of getting caught breaking the law is near zero, and that the punishment if caught is trivial. If we could get some statements on this problems by Council Members (the mayor has proven to be hopeless), then we'd be making some progress.

  • Joe R.

    Well, I do recall from my brief stint as a bike messenger in 1981 that Manhattan left a lot to be desired in terms of riding even compared to Queens at the time. I had to have my head on a swivel lest a taxi came cutting across four lanes, then stopped dead in front of me, to pick up a passenger. I quit my nascent summer job as a messenger before the summer was out. I figured with what I had to deal with daily, it was only a matter of time before I ended up as a hood ornament. The money wasn't that great, either.

    I don't doubt the bike lanes make riding in Manhattan transformative despite the obvious flaws. It's just a pity there's not the political will to do more.

    The legislator who would ever sponsor such a thing hasn't been born.

    I think we need a seminal event like some very important person's kid getting killed on the streets to turn the tide. For decades we've just accepted traffic violence as the cost of doing business. That's gradually changing but not fast enough. If not for needing to take care of my mother I might run for mayor if I thought I even had a chance of getting in, but obviously I wouldn't have a shot. That said, there are doubtless legislators who would support some or all of the things you mentioned, but won't do so publicly until they're sure a majority of their constituents favor them. So in the end it's about winning the hearts and minds of the general public. We need a lot more events where we close off streets to cars to show the public how nice NYC could be if we took the next logical steps.

  • walks bikes drives

    I travel at 20-25 mph up and down the avenues, so I feel pretty comfortable taking the lane. A PBL, to me, is better suited to someone riding 10mph, based on the mixing zone design.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    It is the man, the legend!

  • vnm

    OMG, this is a video on a ride that has become my usual exercise routine! I've done this ride a zillion times and it is awesome. Close the loop via Flushing Avenue to make it a full loop.