In New York City, where the majority of residents typically travel by subway or bus, the outbreak of COVID-19 has been met with a surge in cycling. On bridges over the East River, the number of people on bikes is up by 50 percent. On the Brooklyn Greenway, cyclist counts are more than double what they were last year.
This makes sense. Riding a bike allows you to avoid crowded buses and subways, touch fewer public surfaces, and stay out in the fresh air. It is also notable that cycling is a low-effort stress relieving exercise, which is good for your immunity, a welcome relief from being shut in, and helpful for coping with the high stress unknowns of a developing pandemic.
Bicycling is also critical to urban resilience in times of crisis. In New York City, during the 2005 transit strike and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, surges in cycling helped transport goods, provide mutual aid, and help many people cope when roads were blocked or public transit shut down.
But for the uninitiated, riding a bike in a big city can be scary. The number one remedy for that fear is infrastructure for cycling, like protected bike lanes. In New York City, protected bike lanes have been shown to slow speeding drivers, and dramatically reduce all types of traffic crashes and injuries. While Transportation Alternatives is pushing New York City officials to start rapid implementation of permanent and interim infrastructure for cycling, with few tips, you can get started riding today.
Here’s what you need to know to safely start riding a bike, in New York, or your city:
You’ll need access to a bike of your own or a bike share system, like Citi Bike. Your local bike shop can help you make sure that your bike fits and your tires are filled — both of which will make pedalling easier, especially if you are a bit out of practice. As a rule of thumb, when seated on your bike, you want your knee to be just slightly bent when your pedal is closest to the ground. For safety, you will want a helmet (not required in New York City, but a good idea), as well as lights and a bell (required in New York City). Roll up your right pant leg to avoid a grease spot.
Find Your Route
Google Maps will suggest a cycling route in any city. In New York City, the Department of Transportation publishes a bike map that is updated each year. In general, plan your route on dedicated bike lanes where possible, and where impossible, choose one-way residential streets where traffic will be slower. There is no shame in hopping off your bike and walking a few blocks if you need.
Follow the Rules
Bicyclists are required to follow the same rules of the road as cars. That includes stopping at red lights and always yielding to pedestrians, no matter what. You need to ride with traffic, not against it, and stay off the sidewalk. Most importantly, remember that you have a right to the road.
Be Seen and Be Cautious
People on bikes are relatively small on the street, so make an effort to be seen, be heard, and be cautious. That means assuming that passing drivers and crossing pedestrians cannot see you. Ring your bell. Yell. Sing. Intersections are especially dangerous, so be sure to take up extra space, be wary of turning drivers, and make eye contact wherever you can. When passing parked cars, bike at a pace where you could stop short if someone opened their door.
Riding a bike is an inherently social act, and if New York City is any example, you will not be alone out there. From health care workers on their way to the job in the most germ-free way possible, to delivery workers feeding people through quarantine, there are a lot of connections to be made on the road. Smile, wave, and share a little bit of humanity with other people getting by on bike in this trying time. While you’re out there, snap a photo and send it our way. Tag @TransAlt and #bikenyc to share your cycling story.