As climate change remains a growing concern and global temperatures continue to rise, socially conscious U.S. citizens are on the lookout for solutions. One industry in particular is an intrinsic part of daily life that lends itself to environmental mindfulness: Transportation. Various forms of transit are collectively responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and are major contributors to poor air quality.
Fortunately, numerous solutions exist, and the modern transportation landscape is evolving to become more diverse and environmentally sound. For instance, public transportation options such as buses and subway systems have been shown to improve air quality and facilitate compact development, especially in major metropolitan areas including New York City. And increasingly, bicycles are another attractive option for those looking to reduce their environmental impact.
The unfortunate reality for those riding on two wheels is that biking is inherently risky, and bike-friendly cities and towns in the U.S. are few and far between. Urban bicyclists are subject to myriad hazards, from inattentive drivers to slick roads, poorly marked bicycle lanes, and more.
And while it may seem logical that the nation’s biggest cities are the most hazardous when it comes to bicycling, the data seems to indicate otherwise. For example, New Yorkers made more than 164 million trips via bicycle in 2018, yet only 10 bicycle fatalities were recorded. Ten deaths is of course too many, but that low number, when compared to the massive amount of cyclists on NYC roads in a given year, points to a city that has seamlessly integrated bike commutes with traditional traffic.
Of course, the relatively safe biking environment of New York doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Seasoned and novice cyclists alike must follow city and state laws, and there’s a few localized tips that may keep you safe as well.
Urban Cycling Rules and Responsibilities
Depending on the city and state where you ride a bike, you’re subject to localized laws and customs. Before you set off on a bicycle adventure in NYC, you should have a grasp of the basics, such as lane usage and safety considerations. First, always wear a helmet and stay as visible as possible, especially in inclement weather. Legally speaking, helmets are only required for bikers under the age of 14, but they also protect your head in the event of a bicycle accident.
You should also understand the difference between the city’s three distinct types of bicycle lanes, which may seem confusing at first. The good news is that New York City bicycle road rules are similar to traditional vehicle rules, especially when it comes to flow of traffic. When in doubt, always ride with traffic, make sure to signal when making a turn, and obey all traffic lights and roadway signs.
Health, Wellness, and Bicycle Riding
Travel via bicycle in lieu of a gas-guzzling vehicle directly reduces your carbon footprint and reduces traffic, but the rewards of a bicycle commute don’t stop there. Riding a bike, whether you’re commuting to work or blazing a trail on your day off, can also improve your health.
A 2017 study of bicyclists in the U.K. determined that those who commuted by bike on a regular basis demonstrated a lower risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Biking has also been shown to elevate cognitive function, thereby improving mood.
And after dealing with rush hour traffic, many a New Yorker could do with a no-cost mood booster.
But what about the other end of the spectrum: Bicycle accidents? When a bicyclist is struck by a motorist, a quick response is vital, and hospital emergency rooms have become increasingly strained in recent years. Regis College reports that visits to emergency departments (EDs) increased by 14.8% between 2006 and 2014. By 2016, those numbers helped to elevate average ER wait times to as high as 53 minutes.
In areas with high traffic densities that may delay emergency transport, alternative medical centers may help save lives. Medical professionals believe that the availability of ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) may reduce ER visits, fueling improved urgent care and greater provider efficiency. Bicyclists may want to keep a map of neighborhood ASCs on hand in case of emergency.
Types of Vehicles on NYC Roads
While NYC’s hectic roads aren’t exactly favorable to emergency vehicles, they perhaps don’t deserve their widespread notoriety either. In a way, the steady movement of people, cars, subway trains, and bikes that provide the backbone of New York is nothing short of miraculous. And the relative safety of millions of daily commuters is even more astonishing: New York ranks in the top three of the safest driving states in the U.S.
As for the city itself, roadways in the Five Boroughs see a dynamic hodgepodge of vehicles on a daily basis. Those ubiquitous NYC taxi cabs share the streets with personal vehicles, food delivery trucks, city buses, scooters, and of course bicycles. In the near future, autonomous vehicles (AVs) may enter the fray, in New York and across the country.
Once regaled to the ranks of science fiction, AVs may soon provide commuters with an innovative option that, like bicycles, may help reduce vehicle ownership. And more vehicles off the roads equates to less air pollution and improved safety for all commuters, from taxi drivers to pedestrians.
With all the forms of transportation at your disposal in NYC, biking may not seem like the most logical choice where time management and inclement weather are concerned. You may also have concerns about your safety as you navigate a seemingly endless array of bodies and vehicles. However, riding a bicycle in New York City is eco-conscious, gives you a great workout, and may even put you in a better mood.
Author: Sam Bowman