More New Yorkers are commuting by bicycle than ever, and if you've been considering joining their ranks, the lovely spring weather beckons! Cycling in this hectic town can be daunting at first, but don't be dissuaded: the DOT has made great improvements to make biking a less harrowing experience. Take it slow, and consider making your first ride to a park on a weekend to get some practice. Once again, here are some basic tips for those getting behind the handlebars for the first time in NYC:
- Beware the Door Zone: The door zone is that dangerous space spanning about four feet from the sides of parallel parked cars. Stay toward the outer edge of this zone, and always be aware that these doors could pop at any moment. There have been too many heartbreaking deaths and injuries to cyclists who swerve to avoid an opening door and get run over, so if a car door is suddenly flung open in your path and it's too late to stop, you're usually better off just running into it, rather than trying to pull around it. And don't bike between a cab and the curb; there's probably someone about to get out.
- Get a Helmet: As unfashionable as helmets can be, do you know what's even more unfashionable? Skull fractures. And look, here are some "cool" varieties!
- Be Seen and Heard: One of the most appealing aspects of cycling is that it's such a quiet activity, but that's also a problem when you're trying to alert a pedestrian to your presence. Bells are required by law in NYC, and the NYPD has issued tickets to cyclists without them, so just get a bell. Lights are also required, and if you're biking at night, you need one for the front and back of your bike. The best thing you can do to stay safe on a bike is make yourself highly visible. Hell, maybe even get one of those reflective vests. We won't judge.
- Beware Intersections: Most cycling accidents occur at intersections, so approach them with an abundance of caution. One big thing to watch out for is the "right hook," which is when a motorist passing on your left obliviously turns right into an intersection as you're pedaling through. Be aware of cars zooming up behind you whenever you're reaching an intersection, and make eye contact with drivers in the oncoming lane waiting to make a turn.
- Avoid the Brooklyn Bridge: Just forget it. Unless you're prepared to bike very slowly, it's not even worth the aggravation. The bike path on the northern side of the Manhattan bridge is now reopened, but take it slow, because there are seven construction sheds on the bridge path which make for a very tight squeeze.
- Yield to Pedestrians: Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way, even if they're jaywalking or drunkenly staggering into a bike lane singing "Tubthumping." Respect them, for inside each inconsiderate pedestrian there's a beautiful cyclist trying to emerge.
- Stay off the Sidewalk: Do we even have to mention this? With all the improvements to the city's bike infrastructure, there's simply no reason to bike on the sidewalk. What if you scare some poor old woman and she falls and breaks her hip and dies in the hospital? Do you really want to be that guy? You're better than Robin Williams.
- Stop At Red Light: We know, we know. It's a real drag to interrupt your momentum to stop at red light—especially when the intersection it totally empty. We've long advocated a "rolling stop" policy when it comes to red lights and stop signs: as long as the intersection is clear, it seems sensible to bike through it at a reduced speed. However, the NYPD doesn't see it that way, and the department is still actively ticketing cyclists who blow red lights, and even stop signs. The fine for running a red light on a bike is the same as it is for a motorist: $270. So if you want to protect yourself from a costly summons, be very careful how you proceed through intersections against the light, no matter how deserted they appear.
This list is not absolutely complete! For more on cycling safety, Transportation Alternatives has a thorough guide. And this website covers "how not to get hit by cars" in great detail. Also, did you know that Google Maps has a "bicycle" layer that shows all the bike lanes in town? At Gothamist, we're here to help!