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Anatomy of a Bicycle Network Part I: Bike Lanes
by 02mfn, Nov 18, 2011

Bike lanes are the bedrock (otherwise known as Manhattan Schist) of NYC’s bicycle network, but many don’t know much about them.  These pathways raise visibility, rider safety/confidence, general awareness of cycling and lead us through some of New York’s most fascinating sites.  Before discussing the details, first, a brief history:  This bike lane blitz may have only captivated our pedaling hearts in the last five or so years, but bike lanes aren’t new!   During a transit strike in April of 1980, a group from American Youth Hostels used cones to separate portions of 6th Avenue, 5th Avenue and Broadway to automobile traffic.  Later that year the Koch administration installed the city’s first protected lanes (with concrete islands as buffers) in a loop from Washington Square, up to Central Park and back downtown to Washington Square.  Between negative public opinion, low ridership and political pressure, the lanes were removed several months later.

This downtown bike path on Broadway takes you past Madison Square and the Flatiron building, one of NYC's most recognizable icons.

Fast forward to 1994:  The New York City Departments of Transportation and City Planning joined together to create the bicycle development network (BDN).  At the time only 119 miles had been laid throughout the city.   These two organizations created a bicycle master plan with an additional 790 miles of new lanes.   The Department of Parks and Recreation joined the coalition in 1996 and the first bike map was printed the following year (over 1 million copies have been printed and distributed since then, with new updates every year).  Fast forward again to 2007: The Bloomberg Administration launches PlaNYC 2030, a portion of which (initiative 9 of transportation) aims to facilitate cycling.  Specifically it mandates 1,800 total miles of bike lanes in the city by 2030 and at least 400 racks per year.

There are three types of bicycle infrastructure.  First is the protected “bike path,” indicated with green lines on the bike map.  These routes encompass the city’s system of greenways from Pelham Park to the Ocean Parkway… maybe they’ll all be connected some day!!!  In 2007, the city unveiled plans for a protected path on 9th Avenue.   Because the lane was so popular they expanded it and added another heading uptown on 8th.  Now you can find these protected on-street paths all over!

This bike lane runs all the way up Central Park West to the recently renovated Frederick Douglas Circle at 110th Street.

These on-street paths require 10 ft of additional road space including the lane and painted division between riders and off-set on-street parking.

Indicated in red on the bike map, “bike lanes” are the most abundant of infrastructure improvements.  The lanes are typically four to four and a half feet wide and accompanied by route signage.  In order to increase visibility, some lanes have been painted solid green.  Some lanes also have bike boxes for added safety during turns at red lights.

This shared lane out in Rockaway Queens takes you straight past the Boardwalk and is a great example of on-street markings and accompanied signage.

The bike map’s orange lines are easy to over look when you’re out riding.  “Shared lanes” are reserved for areas where a full bike lane is difficult to integrate and to maintain connections between other cycling routes.  You will usually find Share the Road signage and the classic bike symbol with directional chevrons painted on the road.  Once you ride around Columbus Circle, for example, the bike lane disappears for a few blocks as you continue up Central Park West and then reappears about three blocks later.  The space in between is a bike route.  Remember to be cautious and visible on these paths.

Having this infrastructure is wonderful, but improving safety and ridership quality is up to us cyclists!  How and where we ride ultimately determines the strength of the bicycle network.  Check out advice on our website for more information about bike lanes and other tips.  If you’ve always been wary of on-street riding, maybe it’s time to think about our Savvy Cyclist class.  We can always come to your workplace and dish out the dos and don’ts of on street riding.

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