The Best Bike Cities in North America: New York City, New York

You don’t have to give up the amenities of a large urban environment just because you prefer traveling on two wheels over four

Biking in Chelsea, New York.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

New York City has gotten a bad rap for being a car-congestion nightmare in popular culture. These days, however, the city’s transportation department, led by the to-some inspiring (and polarizing) commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, is going to great lengths to improve its image among the car-less.

Sadik-Khan was instrumental in the creation of the popular car-free zone along Broadway Avenue in Times Square, along with 20 sheltered bike parking areas and 3,100 bike racks. Cyclists have also been given routes and helpful signage to help them cross over on the East River bridges.

Over the past four years, the city has created an additional 250 miles of bikeways for a grand total of more than 500 miles. Over 15 miles of those are physically separated lanes, which place a buffer between cyclists and car traffic—often by way of medians, planters, or cones—on 8th, 9th, 1st and 2nd avenues and on Columbus Avenue and Prospect Park West.

Tourism is on the rise in part because of the city’s greener image. Locally, the Department of Transportation website notes a more than doubling of the number of commuter cyclists since 2005.

Businesses are capitalizing on the green streak. Henry’s is the first establishment in New York City to be given the distinction of a “bike-friendly business” by Transportation Alternatives, a local advocacy organization. Blue Ribbon Restaurants gave 160 staff members a bike, helmet, and bicycle safety information in September 2010. Citi Bike, a massive bike share project scheduled to launch in March 2013, will bring 7,000 bikes for hire at 420 stations across Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.

Educating the local population about the many changes to bicycling infrastructure in the city has been part of the program all along. Forty-five thousand copies of Bike Smart: The Official Guide to Cycling in New York City have been distributed so far.

Culturally, the City that Never Sleeps is also the city that never stops biking. The Five Boro Bike Tour is a massive group ride—the largest in America—of the five boroughs of New York City. The ride attracts around 32,000 cyclists each year for a 40-mile tour along traffic-free streets.

The Bicycle Film Festival got its start in New York under the direction of founder Brendt Barbur in 2001. The annual festival travel to between 20 and 30 cities around the world each year, typically for three to four days each. In New York City, the festival also includes art exhibits, bike rides, and a Bikes Rock! concert.

Summer Streets is something worth seeing if you're either from or visiting New York City. For three consecutive Saturdays in the summertime, seven miles of pavement is blocked off to traffic to allow for this community celebration of outdoor play to get underway.

Two large bike shows now take place in New yOrk City each year. The 2012 New Amsterdam Bike Show attracted around 6,000 guests who could browse through 70-plus booths featuring bikes, gear, and bike information. New this year was Bike Expo New York, a free trade show held by Bike New York that hosted 90 exhibitors from the bicycle industry.

Like almost everything New York City, the bicycling scene is bustling and vibrant.

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