August 23, 2009

Fox News ran a several segments yesterday touting New York City's newly unveiled bicycle lanes, created in response to the sharp increase in bike ridership in the Big Apple:

Despite the dangers, biking is New York City's "fastest growing mode of transportation," says City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who herself bikes to work in lower Manhattan, about a mile from her Greenwich Village home.

The number of cyclists has jumped by 80 percent in the past decade — to 185,000 among the more than 8 million city denizens.

City officials say they've worked to make the city more biker friendly. They note the hundreds of miles of marked bike paths created in recent years, safety awareness campaigns and handouts of free helmets to unprotected cyclists.

Over that time, bicycle accidents have fallen more than 40 percent.

"A lot of people consider it an act of bravery to get on a bike in New York City," Sadik-Khan says. "But we've created a biking network that affords more security for bicyclists — a safer and healthier way to get around."

... The city now has 420 miles of marked bike lanes and paths along the streets in all five boroughs — half of those created in the past three years. Another 200 miles are off the street, including Central Park and other green oases like the Hudson River path.

Three specially designed street lanes are separated from moving traffic by parked cars, which Sadik-Khan calls "a wall of steel." Two are on Manhattan's far West Side and the third snakes downtown through the city's Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown.

You'll notice from the video segment that more than a few NYC riders still have some safety fundamentals to work on -- particularly the lack of helmets.

Still, it's a great start for one of the nation's more difficult bicycling cities. In one of the Fox segments someone from the city bike program boasted that New York could now claim to be the nation's biking capital. That's pretty laughable -- everyone knows Portland is king, and a long ways in front of everyone else -- but hey, at least it's not in the same category as Dallas, which remains the nation's worst.

Regardless, it's encouraging to see so many people turning to bicycling as a viable transportation option. It's obviously not for everyone, but it is an option that makes great common sense from a variety of angles:

1. Bikes are non-polluting.

2. Parking and the space they occupy is so much less of a problem.

3. They're good for your health. (If you keep yourself safe.)

4. They consume far less energy.

Bikes, in fact, are considered by many mechanical engineers to be the most efficient machine ever devised by man. It's silly not to be using them as abundantly and efficiently as possible.

Still, as Matt Yglesias noted earlier this year, Republicans love to make fun of bicycling programs whenever they come up -- especially in the federal budgeting process, where they are regularly held up for ridicule as examples of federal waste.

No doubt because they make so much sense.

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