Cycling Advocates Say Not So Fast with the Cycling Stats

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Recent reports stating that bike ridership has reached 200,000-plus daily cyclists in New York City (more than any other U.S. city) have now come under fire. Cycling advocates are protesting that biking is not nearly as popular as all that -- yet.

"There has definitely been a significant increase in cycling in New York," said John Pucher, a professor of planning at Rutgers University and the author of a wide-ranging report on cycling released Monday, reports the New York Times. "But it's not clear how big the increase has been, because there has not been a good measure of it. The numbers released by the Transportation Department are totally unrepresentative of New York City as a whole."

Critics argue that the numbers focused on "popular" biking spots, like the East River Bridges, Hudson River bike path, and the Manhattan terminal of the Staten Island Ferry, leading to a possible overestimation of as much as 100 percent.

But, really, what's the problem with overestimating riders in the city, except of course for accuracy, which we are totally sticklers for?

Janette Sadik-Khan, the city's transportation commissioner, noted in an interview with the Times earlier this month that a bicycling network must be built in advance of demand, in order to encourage cycling. The department has pointed to a decrease in cyclist fatalities and an overall decrease in accidents as positive results of the city's expanded biking network.

So, we wondered, are advocates perhaps worried that an overestimation in numbers lessens the chance of that network being further expanded?

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives (the advocacy group that estimated 236,000 New Yorkers ride bikes every day), doesn't think so:

"I think it is a question of accuracy, and trying to get to the bottom of things with the limited tools that we're working with," he told us. "The estimates that we furnished are based on the way that household data underrepresents cyclists. If you drive to work but ride your bike to pick up your dry cleaning, or ride your bike to the subway, you're not included in those numbers, so there's a lot of undercounting. That's the obstacle we're looking to compensate for."

Regardless of how you count the numbers (and Norvell and his team are considering new methodology for greater accuracy), he says, "The rate of increase is very quantifiable when we invest in the bike network -- that is not under siege, and that's what validates future projects."

Good, because we'd like some Lower East Side lane love, please.


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