By Winnie Hu
Updated 11:20 a.m. ET
More New Yorkers are turning to cycling to minimize their coronavirus exposure. Citi Bike trips surged to more than half a million this month.
Halimah Marcus’s bike had been collecting dust for five years.
But as coronavirus fears exploded in New York, she pumped air into the tires and replaced the batteries in the light mounted on the handle bar.
By Monday, she was biking daily to work instead of taking the R subway train.
“It reduced my anxiety,” said Ms. Marcus, 34, the executive director of a nonprofit digital publisher in Downtown Brooklyn. “For me, riding is manageable, and I felt it would be beneficial to my mental health.”
She has not been back on the subway. And she has a lot of company in the bike lanes.
A growing wave of New Yorkers are embracing cycling to get to work and around the city as their regular subway and bus commutes have suddenly become fraught with potential perils, from possibly virus-tainted surfaces to strangers sneezing and coughing on fellow passengers.
Citi Bike, the city’s bike share program, has seen demand surge 67 percent this month: Between March 1 and March 11, there were a total of 517,768 trips compared with 310,132 trips during the same period the year before.
Cycling has also soared over four East River bridges that connect Manhattan with Brooklyn and Queens, and are popular bike commuting routes. There were as many as 21,300 bike crossings on a single day this month (March 9), up 52 percent from a peak of 14,032 bike crossings for the same period a year ago.
At the same time, ridership on the subway as well as on the commuter rails that carry workers into New York from the suburbs has seen a precipitous drop as people try to avoid crowded spaces and more and more businesses are asking their employees to work from home.
Chicago also had a big jump in bike ridership, with its bikeshare program more than doubling to 82,112 trips from March 1 to March 11, from 40,078 trips for the same period last year.
But the surge in bicycle use has not been seen in other cities affected by coronavirus concerns. In Seattle, average weekday bike ridership on three routes into the downtown fell about 10 percent to 4,500 trips this month from 5,000 trips in February. Bike share programs in San Francisco have also seen fewer trips this month.
New York’s increase in cycling comes after a spate of deadly crashes last year that drew outrage from cyclists and transportation advocates, and spurred city officials to step up efforts to make the streets safer, including a $58.4 million bike safety plan unveiled by the mayor. A total of 28 cyclists were killed in 2019 on the streets of New York, the highest number in two decades.
This year, there has been one cyclist death, compared with five deaths for the same period last year.
Polly Trottenberg, the city transportation commissioner, said her agency was reviewing additional measures to accommodate the increased number of cyclists taking to the streets to avoid the subways and buses as a result of the coronavirus.
“We’re looking at everything we can do quickly to make cycling even safer, and easier, and more accessible.” Ms. Trottenberg said.
The transportation agency is considering carving out temporary bike lanes and taking away traffic lanes from cars by using orange cones or movable barriers. More parking areas for bikes may be designated on sidewalks and in pedestrian plazas.
City officials are already expanding Citi Bike in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, and now they are also looking to accelerate plans to add more docking stations in Manhattan’s busiest areas. Currently, there are more than 14,000 Citi Bikes based at about 850 stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
City officials are also working with advocacy groups to organize group bike rides that would help new cyclists become acquainted with routes and traffic rules. There is safety in numbers, Ms. Trottenberg added, because cyclists are more visible to drivers.
New York has a network of about 1,300 miles of bikes lanes, the largest urban network in the nation. Of that, about 500 miles are protected, with barriers that physically separate cyclists from vehicles. In the last three years, protected bike lanes have been added at an average rate of 20 miles per year, knitting together continuous routes across the city.
A new bike lane planned this year for Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan will not only connect Herald Square to Central Park, one of the city’s most congested corridors, but also bring back a bike lane that was famously installed and then ripped out in 1980 by then Mayor Edward I. Koch after filling up with trash, pedestrians and pushcarts instead of cyclists.
But some transportation advocates say that while the city has made a good start, it needs to do far more to protect cyclists and make the streets safer, especially with the surge in cycling as a result of the coronavirus scare.
Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, said the city has for too long prioritized drivers over cyclists and pedestrians. His group has called for some of the measures that city transportation officials are now considering, such as setting up temporary bike lanes and creating more bike parking.
Mr. Harris also urged to city to have a “zero-tolerance” policy for vehicles, including those owned by city agencies, that block bike lanes.
“A crisis just exacerbates all the broken elements of our transportation system,” he said. “Everything that advocates are asking for now we’ve been asking for decades.”
Some cyclists said they have noticed that bike lanes have become more crowded this week.
Josh Baron, 47, a freelance television editor, said he typically passes about 50 cyclists on his 4.7-mile commute from the Upper West Side to a postproduction studio in SoHo. But on the way home Monday, he rode alongside hundreds of cyclists.
Mr. Baron said he was glad to see more people biking because that meant they were not getting into cars and adding to the city’s congestion and pollution. “We’re a big city and we have to share the spaces we’ve got,” he said.
In Midtown Manhattan, Giuseppe de Peppo, 38, a medical researcher, snagged one of only four Citi Bikes left in a station that holds 35. He had gone to two other Citi Bike stations already that morning, only to find them cleaned out.
“Thank God, I can go to work,” he said. “I cannot find bikes.”
Another Citi Bike rider, Elaine Beth Cohen, 47, said she normally biked 20 minutes to work and then rode the subway back home to the West Village. But since the coronavirus outbreak, she has been biking both ways. “I’m limiting my exposure to large crowds,” she said.
Still, Ms. Cohen said that while she is making moderate adjustments to her lifestyle, she cannot avoid crowds entirely. Not when her office is in Times Square and her job is facilitating team building for a social media company.
“It’s a little arbitrary to be honest,” she said.
A Surge in Biking to Avoid Crowded Trains in N.Y.C. – The New York Times
By Winnie Hu Updated 11:20 a.m. ET More New Yorkers are turning to cycling to minimize their coronavirus exposure. Citi Bike trips surged to more than half a million this month. Halimah Marcus’s bike had been collecting dust for five years. But as coronavirus fears exploded in New York, she pumped air into the tires… [Read More]