One would think that in a state with such busy streets, New York would prioritize efforts that are considered bicycle friendly. However, data collected by the League of American Bicyclists paints a different picture.
The league ranks each of the 50 states on overall bicycle friendliness every year. Within that ranking, the league breaks down each state based on five categories: Infrastructure & Funding, Education & Encouragement, Legislation & Enforcement, Policies & Programs and Evaluation & Planning.
In 2017, New York came in at No. 23 in the nation. In the Eastern region, New York was No. 9 out of 11 states. Why is New York ranked so low?
Inadequate bicycle laws
The biggest issue in the state is the enforcement of existing bike laws and the league’s opinion that better laws could exist. While New York ranks in the Top 20 in the nation for all other categories - and in the Top 10 for Infrastructure & Funding and Policies & Programs - the state is No. 39 for Legislation & Enforcement.
Among New York’s gaps is the absence of a safe passing law, which has been adopted by many other states to define a “safe distance" on the road. The league recommends a minimum distance of three feet, and these laws have made a significant difference in the states that have implemented them.
The league also said the state has a de facto ban on electrically-assisted bicycles, which, rather than targeting problematic types of these bikes, treats all electronically-assisted bicycles the same and limits mobility options for New Yorkers.
There is hope that the state could improve, as the league said efforts are being made to address both of these issues. Assuming those efforts succeed, New York’s ranking could improve dramatically.
The league also suggested that the New York Department of Transportation consider updating its statewide bicycle plan, which has not been revamped since 1997. While the DOT has made some bold initiatives, such as the Empire State Trail spanning 750 miles from New York City to Canada, there have been many changes to bicycle planning, design and implementation in the past two decades. Updating state DOT processes could make accomplishing these initiatives easier and help enforce new or existing laws.
In a state with so many commuters utilizing a variety of vehicles at the same time, bicycle safety should be a top priority to reduce the possibility of bicycle and motor vehicle accidents. Hopefully New York will make necessary improvements to its bicycle laws and their enforcement to make the state safer for cyclists.