N.Y. - City’s Count Finds Rise in Cycling Commuters

Whenever New Yorkers move around, city planners attempt to measure the action with high-tech tools, from GPS-toting taxis to traffic-monitoring cameras. To size up the ongoing bicycle boom, transportation officials take a more time-tested approach: clipboard-bearing surveyors.

The results, published Monday in the annual Sustainable Streets Index, find a marked uptick in commuter cycling. After a 13% jump in 2010, rush-hour cycling expanded by 7% last year, according to Department of Transportation records.

The counts are compiled by agency staff who stand on the streets 10 times each year to count weekday bikers at the East River bridges, along the Hudson River greenway and on each Manhattan avenue at 50th Street.

The data feeds the DOT’s Commuter Cycling Indicator, and it undergirds a frequent talking point of Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan: The city is experiencing a cycling renaissance, which justifies taxpayer-funded efforts to make it easier and safer.

That hasn’t always been an easy argument to make. Just this weekend, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio branded Sadik-Khan a “radical” for her efforts to expand infrastructure for cyclists, according to a report in the New York Post. A columnist for the same newspaper last year accused the DOT of “lying through its teeth“ about the increase in bike commuting.

The numbers cited by cycling skeptics include a survey conducted by the Post in which real-estate firms reported the number of bikes stored in Manhattan office buildings, U.S. census data showing smaller levels of city biking and a New York University study that found 0.6% of citywide commuters go by bike.

But in an interview with the Journal last week, both Sadik-Khan and her deputy commissioner for traffic and planning were adamant about the strength of DOT’s bike data. Bruce Schaller, the deputy, said the city’s numbers as more accurate than those gleaned from U.S. Census data or office landlords.

“I deal with a lot of different data sources and a lot of different data, and it doesn’t get better than that,” he said. By contrast, the U.S. census survey relies on mailers sent out to individual households, without observations of cyclists by city workers.

On counting days, the DOT’s clipboard-bearing surveyors stand on street corners counting the number of passing cyclists, the gender breakdown and whether riders are wearing helmets.

New York’s 10 cycle counts are “more than every other city in the country does,” Sadik-Khan said. The survey goes beyond headcounts, with gender breakdown and helmet usage also noted in the count. See the fullSustainable Streets Index here.


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