DC Laws: Comparison with other cities (NYC)

15 Jul

With a tip of the hat to commenter Ray and to celebrate the NY Mets hosting this year’s All-Star Game on Tuesday, let’s visit the Big Apple and its bike laws. Since I lived there, for a number of years on Staten Island and later for a few years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and still visit there often, I have more than a passing acquaintance with both walking and cycling there. And I can tell you Ray is right–Manhattan, and, I should add, the other boroughs, do a great job of keeping bicyclists off the sidewalk.

How does NYC do it? And still be a great city for bike and walking? They banned bicycling on the sidewalks many years ago for persons over 13. And the penalties for riding on the sidewalks there are typically NYC, direct and to the point. They don’t rely on tickets alone. The police can confiscate the offending bike! Yet, when I last went up in June, on Amtrak I read a great article in their Arrive magazine, entitled Bicycling NYC, which opened “Move over Amsterdam, Beijing and Copenhagen! New York City has gone bicycle-crazy. Thanks to new lanes and city-sponsored programs exploring Manhattan on two wheels is more pleasurable than ever.” And this spring bike-sharing (CitiBike) came to NYC, and despite some concerns about further limiting already precious sidewalk space, it seems off to a good start, with over 6,000 customers the first week.

But to me, NYC has always been a great place to bike, and walk. It certainly is no place you’d want to drive. Only when I lived on Staten Island did I have a car. Yet Staten Island was also where I bought my first adult bike with multi-speeds and hand brakes. And I rode it often. When I moved to the Upper West Side in the 80’s I had the added advantage the city had just closed Central Park streets on weekends to auto traffic. So, if you wanted fun alone, you could ride the six miles of Central Park roads, provided you followed the rules, such as riding in a counter-clockwise direction and watching out for runners who also had use of the roads.

But I also often rode down Broadway to friends who lived in Chelsea and around NYU in Greenwich Village. Sometimes I rode all the way to Battery Park. And there are, and always have been, many food deliverymen, mostly from Chinese restaurants and pizza places, who do make many trips a day, all by bike–on the streets of Manhattan. Those of you who watched Seinfeld may remember seeing a bike mounted in his apartment. In the ’80s NYC bike messengers gave a bad name to cyclists by weaving in and out of traffic and running red lights. And some bikers still do, or ride at excessive speeds in Central Park. But people who obeyed the laws were always welcome. And even the bike messengers didn’t even THINK of riding on the sidewalks. New York’s finest would have been waiting to take their bikes.

When I was visiting a friend who lives on the East Side last month, on the way to her apartment, I stopped by the neighborhood bike shop. (like Chinese restaurants and pizza places, there seems to be a bike shop on every corner). I wanted to see if they had a good summary of NYC bike laws. Of course they did. But what surprised me was they gave me the NYC 2013 Bike Map. On the top back side of the folded map, where no one could miss them (unlike DC’s bike map, which hides laws and tips on an inside fold) were the key bike laws, in three languages, English, Spanish and Chinese, and in direct and simple language, along with a picture description of each law and a reference to website of NYC’s bikesmart site and a note that the official guide to cycling in NYC could be requested merely by calling 311. How’s that for efficiency? Here are those key rules:

Yield to Pedestrians
/Ride in the direction of traffic
Use a white headlight and red taillight at night
Stop at all red lights and stop signs
Stay off the sidewalk unless you’re under 13

You can go far and safely with those rules alone provided you stay alert and watch where you’re going. And on the first inside fold there are the tips for the ride, which include that reminder to watch the road and to use a bell to signal your presence, which is also required by law.

For a more detailed look at NYC bike laws, with commentary, by the NYC bicycle defense fund, look at this link, which I posted earlier but repeat here for convenience:


NYC knows what sidewalks are for but also loves bikes. it can be done.


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