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You Want Scientific?

December 8, 2010

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Critics who dismissed New York City council member Brad Lander’s survey on the Prospect Park bike lane as unscientific just can’t catch a break.  On the heels of that overwhelmingly positive–if you consider bike lanes positive–survey, comes highly scientific report from the New York City DOT.  It confirms what previous studies have already discovered: the redesign of Prospect Park West has made the boulevard safer for everyone.

Some highlights, courtesy of Transportation Nation (TN) and my own reading.

  • Weekday cycling has just about tripled.
  • Weekend cycling has more than doubled.
  • The number of people riding on the sidewalk has fallen from 20 percent to 4 percent. (TN puts this as a drop from 46% to 3%, the DOT report has the 20% to 4% figures.)

This is really amazing.  Weekday cycling tripling means that it’s commuters, not recreational cyclists, who are using this bike lane in big numbers, since people riding for fun and exercise would simply go into the park and do laps.  Also, anyone who complains that cyclists don’t follow the rules should be shown this report.  You want to stop the threat of “scofflaw” cyclists terrorizing helpless pedestrians?  Install a bike lane and more cyclists will fall in line.

About that last stat.  Of the 4% of people who are still riding on the sidewalk, almost half are children twelve and under who are legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk anyway.  If you are against this bike lane, you are against kids and you probably murder puppies on your brownstone’s front stoop.

Here’s another nugget from TN:

What’s especially interesting—and a little unexpected—is the impact on total usage. Commuter volume on the street has increased in both morning and afternoon rush hours. In the morning, there are both more cyclist commuters and more car commuters, though in the afternoon car commuting has dropped while bike commuting has spiked.

That’s big.  Very big.  Although it’s fairly obvious to ascribe causality to the presence of a bike lane and the observed result of increased bike commuting, it’s hard to say if the bike lane has caused more car commuters to take to the streets in the morning.  That could simply be caused by the price of gas, the result of less frequent transit service or bus line cuts, or any other such unrelated factor.  However, if it can be proved that the bike lane has caused more people to drive in the morning, that deserves to be addressed.

But here’s the thing I found the most interesting.  Lost in this entire debate, hidden under hysterical claims that PPW is now a parking lot or that residents of the area are subjected to horrendous traffic jams and honking, are the stats shown in the graphic at the top of this post:

  • Before the redesign, weekday travel on PPW from Union Street to 15th Street took an average 2 minutes, 54 seconds.  After, it took an average of 2 minutes, 47 seconds.  That’s seven seconds less than before.
  • On 8th Avenue, average weekday travel times are now eighteen seconds less.  On 6th avenue, four seconds have been shaved from travel times.
  • Only on the busy and commercial 7th Avenue have times increased.  Southbound travel now takes 28 seconds longer than it did before.

As Alex Goldmark at TN writes, “Overall though, the DOT data show motor vehicle traffic has not been negatively affected while biking has increased dramatically.”

Remember, overall traffic speeds have decreased along the park, yet it now takes less time to travel the length of Prospect Park West than it did before.  So, the small majority of drivers along PPW have actually benefited from getting an extra seven seconds a day returned to their lives!  (Pity the poor 7th Avenue drivers who lose THIRTY WHOLE SECONDS in traffic.)

How many more benefits need to be proven and how much more scientific do we need studies to get before we write off bike lane critics as selfish practitioners of NIMBYism at its worst?

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