In 1998, the Manhattan Bicycle Master Plan was issued. The plan suggested that the city complete Linear Trail, develop inter-city bicycle facilities, increase bicycle parking, and create policies for future growth. Unfortunately, the plan was more or less forgotten for nearly ten years. Now that we have rediscovered it – and as more and more people recognize the need to relieve traffic congestion, provide transportation alternatives, and make our community more liveable – it is time to revise it.
The goal of this new Master Plan must be to provide a complete unbroken grid of paths, lanes, and streets that are “B-biker” friendly. As noted in the original Master Plan, there are roughly 3 types of cyclists:
A-bikers: will ride in most conditions
B-bikers: prefer low-speed, low-volume, safe streets or paths
C-bikers: child riders who require comfortable areas.
As of now, less than 1% of people commute to work by bike, suggesting that our current infrastructure is only adequate for the most intrepid A-bikers. To increase ridership we will need to provide the infrastructure that will allow B-bikers to feel comfortable riding.
Unfortunately, the current Master Plan recommends that major bike routes share the road with major arterials which have been demonstrated to be too narrow and unsafe for bicycle traffic (Ehreth 2004, Bunger 2008, Belanger & Brody 2009).
Recognizing these problems, Chad Bunger published the “Manhattan Bicycle Master Plan Update” in 2008. Bunger’s plan identifies more suitable low-traffic, low-speed streets, and he provides several specific suggestions for crossing the most imposing barriers.
Unfortunately, due to the challenges of Manhattan’s terrain along with the high-speed impassable “beltway” of roads encircling the main city, Bunger’s plan stops short of providing a full unbroken grid. Even if this plan were fully implemented, it would still leave over 44% of the population off of the main grid with no bike-able access to schools, parks, and services.
What is missing from this conversation is the perspective of the committed B-biker. The committed B-biker cannot remake the system like an engineer, so the biker must simply find their way through or around the system, making it work for them even if it was not designed to. This perspective is what any committed “B-biker” must have in order to get from A to B in Manhattan, and it leads to some insights and ideas that are not present in previous reports. Without this perspective, previous reports ignore or undervalue the backroads, cut-throughs, unofficial paths, and “cattle trails” that us committed B-bikers use everyday.
A team of 180 landscape architecture students synthesized much of this knowledge at Design Days last year. Splitting into 20 groups and scouring the city to find these special paths, we created the Bike Manhattan Master Map, color-coded according to bike-ability.
After the map was completed, I went through the results to find the best routes available that connect Manhattan’s key destinations and neighborhoods. The result is the Bike Everywhere map, and it shows, quite optimistically, that things are *much better* than they might appear, and that we are closer than we think to our goals.
Now we just need to “make this map green” and then add a few additional routes to make some key connections. The first step is simply to mark and promote the current network. Following the example of Portland and other bike-friendly cities, the most effective and cheapest way to do this will be to simply create a network of Bicycle Boulevards.
Fortunately, many of our proposed bicycle boulevards already have round-a-bouts and other traffic calming features, so the expense is limited to signage and road markings.
Bicycle boulevards are cheap (as little as $3,500/mile), they work for B-bikers, and they create more liveable streets while removing bikes from the high-traffic arterials thereby improving traffic throughout the city.
If implemented, these boulevards would have a major impact on the overall bike-ability of the city, but they cannot solve all of our problems. We still need to complete several projects, including about 6 miles of bike paths, 6 crossings of “the beltway”, as well as a few other intersection and crossing improvements.
Many of these projects are not cheap, and so we need some way of prioritizing these projects. To this end, I started gathering formulas used by other cities to prioritize projects. After examining several of these, I came to the following basic formula for Manhattan:
# of key destinations served by route * # of people served by the route * 1,000s of feet saved over alternative routes available * level of improvement + “network score” which = 1,000s of people brought into network + centrality of the improvement + 1,000s of feet added to network. All of this divided by total cost = Impact per Dollar.
Here is a screenshot from the spreadsheet to give you a sense of how this looks:
In general, the formula leads to the following priorities:
While these specific results will need to be discussed and debated, the overall general picture for how we need to revise the current master plan is clear. We need to move away from a focus on arterials and “A-biker” solutions toward B-biker friendly solutions such as bicycle boulevards.
Please leave your comments below, and/or join us on Wednesday at 4:30 at city hall to discuss these ideas.