This story is part of our series on
the emerging public-health issue of Access to Exercise..
* * * *
Alberto Bruno sees the same streets every day as he rides his bike from 167th Street in the Bronx into Manhattan. The blurry bike lanes of the Grand Concourse are something he’s all too familiar with. Every so often he makes a sharp turn to avoid construction trucks and reckless drivers. But sometimes he doesn’t avoid misfortune: He’s haunted by the many accidents he’s had on the Concourse.
“It gets worse in the summer. For some reason they’re always doing construction,” says the 27-year-old. Alberto, who’s been riding Bronx streets since the early 2000’s. “The people who drive cars on the Concourse have no consideration for us bikers.”
Prompted by crowded subway trains, concern about the carbon output of cars and a desire to get healthier, many New Yorkers have taken to commuting or exercising via bike—but not many of them live in the Bronx. A 2013 city health survey found that only 3.7 percent of Bronxites had used a bike in the past week, compared to 10.2 percent in Manhattan and 8.5 percent in Brooklyn. While most New Yorkers are not bikers, the survey found that the percentage who hadn’t been on two wheels in the past year was highest in the Bronx, at 83 percent. And Census data on commuting indicates that some 1,670 Bronxites bike to work, compared to 14,657 in Brooklyn.
People interviewed by City Limits about the relative lack of biking in the Bronx cited a number of possible explanations, like its distance from Manhattan—making for a longer and sweatier ride to work if Bronxites pedaled their way there—and its hilliness. But concerns about safety were a constant refrain.
“It is scary,” says Chris Hickok, an avid rider in the Bronx, who bikes from Eastchester Road to Hostos Community College on the Concourse and 149th Street. “I am always extra careful here.”
Bicycle crash data from the city’s Department of Transportation indicates that the Bronx saw only 316 crashes in 2013—the latest year for which statistics are available—about a fifth as many as Brooklyn’s 1,574 bike accidents. Given that far more Brooklynites bike, however, those crash statistics suggest that Bronx bikers face a higher risk for accidents.
Some advocates suggest that the bike-lane network in the Bronx is part of the problem. While more than 83 miles of bike lanes were added to the borough from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2014, that’s the fourth-smallest expansion among the boroughs.
What’s more, not all bike lanes are equal: There’s a big difference between biking between traffic and parked cars via a painted bike lane—which DOT dubs a “standard” bike path—and wheeling along a “protected path” totally separated from traffic. A higher percentage of Bronx bike lanes installed in roadways are of the minimally protective “standard” design—80 percent—than the other boroughs Queens (75 percent), Manhattan (67 percent), Brooklyn (62 percent) and State Island (53 percent).
“It is a widely known fact that the Grand Concourse’s bike lanes are in need of a paint job and there are many people that don’t respect the lanes,” says Laura Solis, the Bronx organizer for Transportation Alternatives.”When you ride along 1st Ave downtown there is a protected bike path,” Solis adds. “Here there are only three protected bike paths in all of the Bronx.”
The bike network in the Bronx also offers fewer connections to riders, making it less practical to use, Solis says.
On the DOT’s website list of current bike-lane projects, there are no Bronx initiatives. But there is a major planning project underway that includes a look at improving safety and connectivity for bikers along East 165th Street. Other studies are exploring bike safety improvements along Bruckner Boulevard and in High Bridge.
Mayor de Blasio’s recently released OneNYC strategy acknowledges that “many neighborhoods outside Manhattan and inner Brooklyn and Queens still lack significant bike infrastructure” and pledges 200 miles of new lanes in the next four years.
Difficulties aside, biking in the Bronx has its adherents, including the hundreds of cyclists who participate in the annual Tour de Bronx bike ride. Among Bronx biking enthusiasts are the owners of a growing number of bike stores in the borough.
“I think bike usage is at the best it has ever been,” said store owner Ian Jacobs of United Spokes Bicycle, “it is a cheap way of getting around, once you get over the daunting hills.”
Pete Padilla, owner of Boogie Down Bikes on Gun Hill Road, opened his store last May and has sold only 15 bikes since then—not as many as he would have liked, “The Bronx is a great place to bike,” he said, “the only problem with the roads of the Bronx is that it needs more bikers.”
There is also talk of a bike sharing program coming to the Bronx, which would make it easier for people to borrow bikes and find groups to ride with. “I met a woman the other day,” says Solis, “she had just bought a bike but had no one to ride with.”
(With reporting by Jarrett Murphy)
Biking and the Boroughs
NYC DOT’s list of bike lanes in roadways tells us what level of protection each offers. Some roadways offer different types of protection in different areas; the chart below counts streets according to the highest level of protection they offer.
|Curbside||Protected path||Standard||Lane||Pedestrian Plaza||Totals|