New York traffic speeds up – despite bike lanes

September 10, 2013
Traffic cop in NYC

“Beware of conflating correlation with causation!” From James Russo.

In New York City’s most traffic-burdened hub, the past is picking up, according to a recent Department of Transportation study and GPS-obtained taxi data, which states that average taxi speeds in Manhattan’s central business district have jumped from 8.9 mph in 2011 to 9.3 mph in 2012.

There’s also been a nearly 7% increase in New York traffic’s speed since 2008.

This tidbit from the 2012 Sustainable Streets Index report might surprise those who claimed the Bloomberg administration’s commitment to bike lanes and increased pedestrian-only plazas would impact traffic flow negatively. (Dorothy Rabinowitz, a Wall Street Journal journalist who has termed the city’s bikeshare program a “dreadful” product of “totalitarian” government, comes to mind.)

Streets haven’t necessarily become less crowded with cars; in fact, reports the Times, the volume of New York traffic has remained about the same in recent years, though bike commuting and transit ridership have grown.

Case in point: Approximately 756,000 cars entered Manhattan south of 60th Street each day in 2008; while in 2011, that figure stood at 764,000.

In fact, bike lanes can have a counterintuitive effect on traffic, reaping such benefits as “reduc[ing] traffic congestion and the need for increased parking facilities,” according to the Sustainable Cities Institute. The bike lanes so hotly contested by Rabinowitz and other anti-bike advocates are, according to the transportation department’s deputy commissioner for traffic and planning Bruce Schaller, not necessarily impediments to drivers.

Said Schaller to the Times, “When we put in a bike lane, you think, ‘Oh, you’re taking a lane.’ But that left curb was always taken by the left-turning cars anyway. And the through traffic has the same number of lanes that it did before.”

Yet there has been some criticism of the report — namely among frustrated drivers and their representatives. Reports the Times, Christopher McBride, an AAA New York transportation specialist, told the newspaper that though traffic volumes had been relatively consistent in recent years, they had decreased significantly compared with 10 to 15 years prior – which hints that certain commuters stopped driving in Midtown during the Bloomberg administration.

Bikers and pedestrians in NYC

Courtesy the NYCDOT.

“It is more of a hassle now than ever to drive into the central business district,” he said. “Some of these changes that have occurred, they’re more intimidating for drivers. And a lot of parking has been eliminated.” Additionally, an improved traffic signal system balances what McBride calls the “negative traffic speed impacts of pedestrian plazas and bike lanes,” which helps speeds to remain consistent, if not faster than in the past.

Some additional compelling figures and facts:

– 58%: Percentage increase in year-round biking since 2008.

– 1.8%: Percentage decrease in city-wide weekday traffic volume in 2011

– 2,545,867: Number of trips taken by Citi Bike users during the bikeshare program’s first three months

– 5,550,424 miles: Number of miles clocked by Citi Bike users during the same timeframe

– 52%: Percentage increase in “in-season” biking since 2008

– January, February, March and August: The fastest months for traffic

– May, June, July and December: The slowest months for traffic

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Category: Bicycles, Traffic law, Trends

About the Author ()

Katy is a writer, reporter and editor who, in addition to writing for RoadTrafficSigns, has worked with the United Nations Development Programme, Hamptons magazine, Hearst Corporation, The Daily Mail, People Magazine, and a variety of other publications and nonprofits. After graduating with honors from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and distinctions on her thesis and in the consumer journalism seminar, she moved to Milan, Italy. In Italy, she worked as a writer and consultant for an international magazine, editing and translating text and reporting on such events as the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the annual design fair. A born and raised New Yorker, she has lived in three of five boroughs, relying quite a bit on public transport until getting her driver's license at the admittedly belated age of 21.

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