I, like most other American kids, grew up learning to ride a bike. Bikes were used as a form of transportation for a population of people who are otherwise unable to move from place to place: middle school kids. My friends and I would bike around our small town and bike to each other’s houses. It was a form of freedom before anyone learned how to drive.
Then, after a while, everyone simply stopped biking. More people took cars and then everyone started to drive and no one biked anymore. I stopped biking regularly probably when I was in middle school and I had no intention of starting again. When people brought their bikes to college I didn’t. At the start of college, I didn’t even have a bike. But then I studied abroad in Denmark.
For those who don’t know, the Danes are known for revolutionizing their transportation with the bicycle. Although the Netherlands is probably better known for it, the infrastructure for biking as a mode for transportation in Denmark is unlike anything I have seen in any other country. Specialized bike-lanes run throughout the city and through the countryside to help bikers get from city to city. Only small, one-lane roads in the city exist without bike lanes, but drivers are extremely cautious and give bikers a wide berth that bikers in New York City would never see.
According to Lord Mayor Frank Jensen, as interviewed by CNBC, 62% of Copenhageners use bikes as their primary form of daily transportation on the 375 kilometers of separated bike paths.
Using bikes as a form of transportation for work or school has the effect of not only improving the environmental impact of commutes but also in improving the happiness of the commuters. By exercising and spending time outside of a small car in congested traffic, bikers tend to be much happier. In Denmark’s case, this is also due to a great world-renowned work-life balance and other factors, but the impact that biking has cannot be understated.
Biking in New York City
In New York City, bike lanes are an afterthought. A thorough subway system allows citizens to traverse the city quickly and cheaply, but the individual subway cars are typically crowded and can be unreliable. The alternative is to take a car which is prohibitively expensive to store in the city and even more of a hassle to drive and park within the city. Biking is a tempting but dangerous alternative.
Bike lanes in New York City are random, small, and often blocked. Congested streets with aggressive drivers make biking through the streets daunting more than relaxing. Although a relatively short subway commute can be cut down or equaled by a bicycle-powered trip, longer commutes will almost always be faster on the train. On the other hand, strange routes like those between and through the outer boroughs of New York will take ages on the train but will take hardly any time on a bike. These routes prove to be better on a bike, given that they are in less populated areas. But, again, bikers have to be wary of the neighborhood that they find themselves in as well as the probability that they will find themselves intertwined between large trucks that can’t traverse the even tighter streets of Manhattan.
Even though the Big Apple has a long way to go with regards to its biking infrastructure, the dense city-center provides the perfect opportunity for residents to ditch their metro cards and their cars in favor of a more enjoyable, eco-friendly solution. Concerns with the weather — although valid — can be solved with inspiration taken from the Danes and the Dutch in their ever-gloomy winters. Steps towards a more bike-friendly future have to start with the city of New York stepping up its game to ensure the safety of cyclists. From there, the active residents of New York City can take their fervor surrounding their SoulCycle classes to the next level: to the streets of Manhattan.