Even before the coronavirus made its way around the globe, cycling was a primary method of transportation through the busy streets of New York City.
Now, with health officials recommending to stay away from large gatherings, cycling is not only an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation, but it's also a safer alternative than taking the subway or walking through tight streets. The New York Times shares that, “A growing wave of New Yorkers are embracing cycling to get to work and around the city as their regular subway and bus commuters have suddenly become fraught with potential perils, from possibly virus-tainted surfaces to strangers sneezing and coughing on fellow passengers.”1
Cycling is a great way to travel around the city— it's efficient, affordable, equitable, and healthy. If you're looking to take up cycling as your primary mode of transportation, here are a few tips to safely commute throughout the city on your bicycle:
Be Aware of Surroundings
NYC is a bustling city, full of distractions. Staying aware of your surroundings while riding is essential to safe cycling. Even though it's tempting, consider wearing no earbuds, or just one earbud, so you can hear what is going on around you.
Of course, keep your eyes on the road. But, also make sure to keep an eye out for opening car doors that may obstruct your path, as people are dropping off or picking up people or packages.
To avoid getting doored, Thrillist recommends keeping the following top of mind:
Avoid riding in the "door zone" whenever possible
Taxis, car services, Ubers, etc. are the biggest dooring hazards
Notwithstanding the above, consider any stationary car a coiled cobra waiting to strike
Always ride on the left side of a one-way street, as you're less likely to encounter an open door2
Yield to Pedestrians
New York City will always be considered a pedestrian-first city. In fact, at one point, New York Times reported that on Fifth Avenue, between 54th and 55th Streets, 26,831 pedestrians passed by in three hours on a weekday back in May 2015.3 And that number has only gone up since then.
For cyclists, even though they're not in a car, they're subject to all of the duties and regulations applicable to drivers of motor vehicles. That includes yielding to walking pedestrians. And people walking may or may not see you coming, so be vigilant and keep your eyes open for busy pedestrians. If you have the light, call out or use your bell or horn to alert pedestrians of your presence when necessary.
In the bustling streets of New York, it’s important to stand out among the crowd when cycling. The NYC Department of Transportation recommends wearing brightly colored clothing for daytime riding. And at night, use reflective materials and lights.4
Bicycling.com recommends wearing fluorescent orange because it's commonly used on highway safety and construction signs (ie. drivers associate it with caution), and orange is rare in the natural environment. In a 2012 study by Dr. Tyrrell and other researchers, they found that drivers correctly identified a rider wearing a reflective vest 67 percent of the time; the rate jumped to 94 percent when ankle and knee reflectors were added. 5
In addition to wearing noticeable clothes, you can decorate your bike with brightly-colored decals and install a horn or bell. Use your bell or horn so drivers and pedestrians know when you’re approaching.
Over Communicate with Other Drivers and Cyclists
According to Citi Bike NYC, bicyclists are required to use hand signals to communicate with drivers and other cyclists where they're going. Common signals include sticking your left arm straight out to indicate a left turn, extending your right arm straight out to indicate a right turn. To stop, hold your left hand by your side pointing toward the ground.6
Most times, simply seeing a driver is often not enough to safely turn on a busy street or intersection. Make eye contact and ensure drivers see you before executing a turn or riding in front of a turning car.
Whether you're a long-time cyclist, or wiping the dust off of your bike for the first time in forever, New York City has plenty of resources to help you bike safely throughout the city.
For more cycling education, consider checking out the following local organizations:
- Bike New York: For beginners and for experts, Bike New York is your source for everything bicycles.
- Streetfilms: Streetfilms creates short films encouraging people-friendly forms of urban transportation.
- Transportation Alternatives: Transportation Alternatives promotes walking, bicycling, and public transportation in New York City
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