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Pandemic stokes upsurge in city bicycling, DOT data reveals

May 28, 2020 Raanan Geberer
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There seems to be little doubt that the coronavirus pandemic, and the fears it has created, have created a big interest in bike riding in Brooklyn and the city as a whole.

This trend, reported on as early as mid-March, has given rise to other concerns, such as the potential for accidents, crowding in bike lanes — and the fact that it’s very difficult to buy a new bike nowadays.

According to data provided to the Brooklyn Eagle by the city Department of Transportation, the number of rides across the East River bridges and on important Brooklyn streets such as Prospect Park West has been increasing on and off since early March, although the gradual changes and fluctuations in the weather are certainly responsible for part of that change.

“While all trips by all modes decreased by almost 50 percent during PAUSE … there was an initial spike in cycling of more than 20 percent in the run-up to PAUSE,” a DOT spokesperson said in a statement.

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“And while those numbers were down once many New Yorkers began staying home, the numbers fell less than other modes and were down just over 40 percent at most on the East River Bridges, and down only between 20 percent, and at Brooklyn locations by 30 percent for most of the PAUSE period. These figures point to a potential rise in biking as PAUSE is lifted,” the spokesperson said.

For example, the number of trips across the Brooklyn Bridge was 1,907 on March 10 and 974 on March 15. By contrast, on March 10, 2017, the count was 378, and on March 15 it was only 101.

In April of this year, it was 1,087 on April 6, then 1,928 on April 28. The count was 1,823 on May 7, although it decreased to 1,346 on May 18 and rebounded to 1,820 on May 21.

It should be noted that more cyclists take the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges than the more crowded Brooklyn Bridge bike/walking path. On May 25, according to the DOT, 6,060 cyclists crossed the Manhattan Bridge, and an astounding 8,074 bicyclists crossed the Williamsburg Bridge.

On Prospect Park West, the daily number of trips was 1,850 on April 6, 1,478 on April 20, then 1,377 on April 29. However, on May 4 there were 2,004 trips, and on May 7 that number had increased to 2,892.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in October rode the 100th mile of protected bike lanes installed under the de Blasio administration. Photo: Noah Goldberg/Brooklyn Eagle

The development of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Open Streets” program, which most recently opened up sections of streets in Flatbush, Bushwick, Carroll Gardens, Kensington, Cobble Hill and Bay Ridge to bikers and walkers, has certainly increased the number of cyclists.

The initial increase in bike ridership spurred by the coronavirus was reported by The New York Times in mid-March.

“Hamilah Marcus’ bike had been collecting dust for five years,” the Times reported. “But as coronavirus fears exploded in New York, she pumped air into the tires and replaced the batteries in the light mounted on the handle bar. By Monday, she was biking daily to work instead of taking the R subway train.”

Marcus is a publishing executive in Downtown Brooklyn.

Around the same time, on March 19, Streetsblog reported that cyclist injuries were up 43 percent between March 9 and March 15. Most of the crashes were due to driver error. However, many occurred in known problem locations that were still not repaired by the city.

Transportation Alternatives has been a major force in advocating for bicyclists and pedestrians. Dulcie Canton, a representative of the organization, told the Brooklyn Eagle that every bicyclist should check their ride route on Google maps and with other cyclists, take their time riding, and check their bike’s vitals, air pressure, brakes, etc.

“Bike shops are considered ‘essential’ and some are open, please call ahead to schedule a tune up,” Conton said in an email. Canton also praised Mayor Bill de Blasio for his “Open Streets” program and said, “It’s nice to see some in Bed-Stuy and Brownsville, we hope to see more in communities of color that are underserved.”

People can be seen waiting outside those bike repair and sales shops that are still open. Of course, repairs are essential. But if you want to buy an inexpensive new bike, you may be out of luck.

“Bike inventory is low,” said Matt McCorkle, manager of Bicycle Habitat in Chelsea, Manhattan (the store also has branches in Prospect Heights and Park Slope). “When I tell people the cheapest bikes I have for sale are $850, they look at me like it’s highway robbery. But the less expensive models are all sold out.”

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