Bicycles Deemed Best NYC Transit During Pandemic

Proper bike lane on NYC Chrystie Street between Canal Street and 2nd Street. Image: Gothamist, NYC DOT

Nearly a decade ago I wrote about the increase in bicycle sales after disasters.

I won’t go into why people moved away from these logical options for transportation and to the illogical gasoline automobile. Kunstler does a good job of that in The Geography of Nowhere. Instead, I want to point out here that the recent tsunami devastation in Japan is showing a sudden uptick in two-wheeled commuters.

At no point in that post or since have I thought about the use of bicycles during a pandemic. I suppose my assumption was breathing would be elevated, increasing risk of infection or spreading the virus faster somehow.

I’ve also more recently written about the ridiculous state of bicycling in NYC, according to the data, ranking them near the bottom of America.

The city has a pollution-loving history with a huge “we’re busy trying to get rich/famous, leave us alone” lobby that claims doing the right thing for “others” is economically unfeasible in their list of priorities.

Color me completely surprised, therefore, when I read that NYC in pandemic disaster mode is accelerating bike lanes and recommending people cycle.

In early March, de Blasio encouraged commuters to “bike or walk” to reduce the spread of COVID-19 if they had to travel, and New Yorkers listened: According to the city’s Department of Transportation, bike traffic over its bridges has dramatically increased this month compared to the same time last year. Citi Bike also saw demand surge 67 percent in early March.

Very few cars are on the road, streets are mostly empty. Thus the risk of being hit and killed has suddenly evaporated. On top of that the air is incredibly clean now. And if that wasn’t enough, studies show cycling boosts your immune system.

Since cyclists tend to use physical distancing measures anyway when they ride, now that I think about it, the pandemic shelter in place instructions (keep 6 feet separation) are natural and easy to abide.

With all that in mind, the Big Apple is really ramping up their bike infrastructure right now.

DOT spokesperson Brian Zumhagen says the agency is looking at “using cones or movable barriers” to create temporary bike paths with space from traffic lanes, and may designate new parking for bikes on sidewalks and in pedestrian plazas. DOT is also working with Citi Bike to add more docks in parts of Manhattan.

On March 20, de Blasio announced that the city is rolling out new, temporary bike lanes on Second Avenue in Manhattan between 34th and 42nd streets and on parts of Smith Street in Brooklyn that doesn’t already have a bike lane.

“We’ll be looking for other areas all over the city that need them,” de Blasio told reporters at a Friday press conference announcing the new lanes. “Certainly want to encourage people to use bikes as much as they can at this moment…

Amazing. In just a week, due to the shift from selfish to societal impact values, NYC has flipped from dangerously car-heavy bottom-ranked streets for cycling to a Mayor encouraging bikes as much as possible.

Add pandemics to the list of disasters that lead to increased bicycle sales.

And yes, bike stores in NYC are staying open as some make the wise claim that repair shops qualify as “essential” (given that automotive repair is listed).

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