Starting in 2021, New York City’s Department of Transportation will release a streets master plan every five years. The goal of the plan is to ensure that New York is a great city to walk, cycle, and ride the bus. Written into the legislation, the New York City Council and Mayor required that over the five years of the first plan, the city must install 250-miles of protected bicycle lanes. The legislation doesn’t, however, specify which streets should be redesigned.
The New York City Department of Transportation has been installing new bicycle lanes routinely since 2006. These lanes, for the most part, have been green painted lanes that provide no physical protection to cyclists. Recent research from London shows that painted lanes have no impact on reducing the likelihood of cyclist injury. Protected lanes, however, have been shown to limit the likelihood of injury by 40%. The safer cycling becomes, the more likely more New Yorkers will give it a chance.

While New York has experienced a dramatic increase in cycling, the number of daily cyclists increased by 35% between 2013 and 2018, the number of crashes involving cyclists and drivers has increased by 11% during the same period. One should expect crashes to increase, all else being equal, as more cyclists take to the streets; however, why should all else be equal when cycling is clearly on the rise and we know how to mitigate these conflicts effectively?
This debate has become more urgent over the last year as CoVid-19 has seen New Yorkers lockdown, abandon transit, and embrace cycling. One might imagine, that this combination of factors would transform New York into a Dutch cycling Utopia. In reality, the competition for scarce road space has yielded another gruesome year for cycling deaths. With smart, targeted interventions by the City of New York, it can reverse these troubling trends.

Using Replica’s travel behavior data, which estimates cycling trip origins by census tract and neighborhood tabulation area, we developed a method for evaluating and selecting where future protected bicycle lanes should be installed. First, we apply some basic principles from the literature: First, extending existing infrastructure and focusing on connectivity yield a greater boost in ridership and safety than building world class infrastructure that is separated from the extant network. Second, we overlay crash data to identify the most dangerous streets for cyclists. Third, we compared travel behavior from April 2019 through October 2019 and April 2020 and October 2020 to see how travel patterns have shifted during the pandemic. Even now, bus and subway ridership is down more than 50% from 2019. Even though, the evidence suggests that transit usage can be managed safely, it is reasonable to assume that New Yorkers will continue to seek out alternatives to mass transit, especially for short, local trips.

With these three overarching ideas governing our analysis, we selected four specific interventions spanning Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx. While we didn’t forget Staten Island, the data in Staten Island is ambiguous relative to the first four recommendations.

Map 1: Increase in % of Bike Trips per Neighborhood Tabulation Area
Hover over each tract to see more detail.

Map 2: Increase in % of Bike Trips per Census Tract

Map 3: Bike Lanes, Crashes and Increase in % of Bike Trips

Maps 4: Census tracts where: (1) Increase in cycling from 2019 to 2020 is above the median, (2) There are no protected bike lanes and (3) There has been at least one crash where a cyclist was injured or killed between 04-01-2020 and 10-18-2020

First, we suggest that the Department of Transportation extend the Queen’s Boulevard bicycle lane to Hillside Avenue or Jamaica Avenue. By extending the lane eastward, it will provide much needed new infrastructure in Southeast Queens, which has virtually no protected bicycle lanes despite a 35% gain in cycling in Jamaica year over year. From April 2020 to October 2020, there were 8 cyclist injuries along Hillside Avenue and 10 along Jamaica Avenue. Since the two Avenues parallel one another, this is a great opportunity to create a single lane that will serve as a main east-west spine through Jamaica, Queens and provide connectivity all the way to the Queensboro Bridge and neighborhoods, like Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Woodside, and Long Island City.

Second, Brooklyn’s primary protected bicycle lane infrastructure is restricted to Eastern and Ocean Parkways. These spines provide good north-south and east-west coverage, but provide no connectivity to those cycling north of Prospect Park or connecting to East River bridges, which is a key connection to Manhattan. When we examined the neighborhoods in Brooklyn undergoing the fastest increases in cycling ridership, we saw clearly that neighborhoods flanking Broadway, such as Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, have seen year-over-year increases ranging from 25% to 55%, which amounts of hundreds of thousands of more cycling trips between April and October 2020. Broadway, in particular, strikes us the perfect location for a protected bicycle lane because it connects to the Williamsburg Bridge, the Kent Avenue bicycle lane, and subway stops along the corridor. A protected lane along Broadway will also mitigate the severity and reduce the frequency of the nearly 40 cyclist injuries that have occurred along the avenue in 2020.

Third, sometimes it’s worth revisiting an existing painted bicycle lane and upgrading it to a fully-protected one. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Manhattan is the perfect place to reassess an existing lane’s utility. Adam Clayton Powell’s connection to Central Park and its network of cycling infrastructure makes this area a strong node in the existing cycling network. Between April and October of 2020, there have been nearly 20 cyclist injuries in the span of two miles. If we add in cyclist injuries on parallel north-south streets, Frederick Douglas Boulevard and Malcolm X Boulevard, there were an additional 50 cyclist injuries. Harlem has seen the greatest uptick in cycling, on a percentage basis, of any neighborhood in New York City year over year amounting to more than one hundred thousand cycling trips since April. In the southern portion of the neighborhood, where Adam Clayton Powell extends north from Central Park, cycling is up more than 75%.

Fourth, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx presents an interesting case that requires us to think more broadly about network design before making a decision. On its own merits, it clearly needs a protected bicycle lane just based on the number of cyclist injuries, more than 20, and one death since April, as well as the number of injuries on the parallel Jerome Avenue, but what should this new protected lane connect to? A protected lane on its own is not as useful as a protected lane that connects to another protected lane. The southern terminus of the Grand Concourse is East 138th Street, where two cyclists have already been killed this year. This provides an excellent opportunity to create a protected north-south lane along the Grand Concourse that folds into an east-west lane across East 138th Street and connects to Manhattan and links up with the proposed protected bicycle lane on Adam Clayton Powell.

Map 5: Suggested Routes
Hover over each tract to see more detail.

By taking a close look at the cycling data, we can begin to make informed decisions about where to site new infrastructure that supports the goals of the new streets master plan legislation that kicks off in 2021. By combining Replica’s travel behavior data with crash data and data on the existing bicycle network, we have shown where cycling is growing and where it still remains relatively dangerous. The goal of this analysis is to help New York City’s Department of Transportation select projects that provide the greatest safety benefits to existing cyclists and assure New Yorkers who are thinking about hopping on a bicycle that the City is doing everything it can to make cycling as safe as possible during this period of uncertainty and diminished interest in public transit.