by Dave Zornow
Although thousands of cyclists ride to Nyack and other destinations in Rockland County each summer weekend, a new study suggests that bikers are visiting the Lower Hudson Valley for our views and not for our Share The Road hospitality. New York is the 43rd ranked state for being bike friendly, according to an analysis by the League of American Bicyclists.
The report by the 133 year old cycling advocacy group ranked each state for road safety policies, education and encouragement programs and funding for bicycle infrastructure. “New York’s low ranking reflects that important steps to encourage bicycling are being taken more aggressively in other states, which have embraced the economic and health benefits of bicycling,” says Nicole Wynands, Program Manager for the Bicycle Friendly Community and State programs at the League of American Bicyclists. “New York needs to make non-motorized transportation a priority – fiscally and politically – to catch up.”
Rochester and New York City broke the mold for the rest of the Empire State. Despite the fact that the City is a crowded place where pedestrians, cars and cyclists elbow each other for space 24/7, New York’s efforts to add bike lanes and a recently implemented bike share program earned the city a Silver Award for being bike friendly.
It doesn’t quite make sense: the city which never sleeps that made a “New York minute” part of the American lexicon has been certified as bike friendly, but suburban counties filled with SUV driving soccer moms of bike riding aged children are too rushed to slow down to allow three feet of of safe distance between cars and cyclists as required by law?
“It’s disappointing to see New York in 43rd place with such low scores,” says Robin Dropkin, Executive Director of Parks & Trails NY. “A greater share of our federal transportation dollars should be dedicated to making bicycling and walking safer. NYSDOT must establish clearly defined performance measures so we can actually track the investment in bicycling and walking that the state and local governments should be making,” says Dropkin.
Regional transportation advocacy groups say this ranking should serve as a wake up call to make roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. “Currently, 29% of road fatalities are pedestrians and bicyclists, yet only two percent of our state and federal dollars go to improve the safety of these vulnerable users,” says Nadine Lemmon, Albany Legislative Advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign . Lemmon says that unlike other states, New York does not set aside any of its own money to improve bike safety. Although New York enacted Complete Streets legislation in 2012 to require consideration of elements like sidewalks, bicycle lanes, signage, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, raised crosswalks and other traffic calming measures in future street designs, the TSTC says the NYS Department of Transportation hasn’t given it any serious attention, witnessed by the fact it uses a 16 years old outdated bicycle implementation plan. “NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald and Governor Cuomo must put resources in place to help implement the Complete Streets law,” says Lemmon. “NYSDOT should provide dedicated funding and technical and planning assistance to help make New York a bike-friendly state.”
“For more than a decade I flew all over the world for work, usually with a folding travel bike along with me. With very few exceptions, the riding in New York State is some of the worst, least cycling friendly and difficult anywhere,” says David Schloss, cycling enthusiast and owner of Gypsy Donut in Nyack. “New York State doesn’t promote safe cycling through the development of roadway transit systems for cyclists. New road projects are supposed to have bike lanes by law, but often a major roadway renovation will be labeled a resurfacing, which can skirt the multi-modal cycling use laws.” The co-founder of the Rockland Bicycling Club says New York says the lack of understanding about the rules of the road from public officials and law enforcement, too. “The state doesn’t teach motorists about bicyclist rights, nor does it teach its public safety officials,” he says. “The police often don’t know the laws pertaining to cyclists. I’ve known several cyclists who were ticketed for not riding on the far edge right edge of the road, something that the law specifically says is NOT required.”
The state advocacy group for cycling agrees with that assessment. “Considering that bicycle-related fatalities increased last year even as overall traffic deaths declined, New York should be spending a higher percentage of federal and state funding to improve safety for bicyclists and include bicycle safety as a priority in the Strategic Highway Safety Plan,” says Josh Wilson, Executive Director of the New York Bicycling Coalition. “Changes are needed within the DOT that would give bicycling the resources and recognition it deserves as an increasingly important mode in our statewide transportation system.”
Nyack Bicycle Outfitters owner Jim Skelly says, generally speaking, fewer people make for a better biking environment. “The best places to bike are the ones with the least amount of people,” he notes, making an exception for college campuses and bike friendly cities like Amsterdam and London, Boston, Portland and Rochester, NY that have implemented policies like Complete Streets to insure the safety of everyone who shares the road. “New York State can be really bike friendly,” he says. “It just depends on where you are.”
See also: Nyack Sketch Log: It’s Bike Season, Be Safe, 6/4/2013