New York City Bike Advocacy
A Preliminary Timeline (1960–2007)
NYC bicycle advocacy emerges from the environmental movement. Car-free weekends piloted in Central Park during summer, later expanded to Prospect and Forest Parks. Urban Underground, a group of dissident city planners, forms as part of larger Movement for a Democratic Society, a kind of post-graduate Students for a Democratic Society.
November 4: Demonstration by Action Against Automobiles (AAA), environmental/cycling group founded by Urban Underground; demands banning private cars in Manhattan, among other things; about 150 people attend.
NY State Department of Transportation (DoT) proposes Westway, a $2 billion sunken roadway in Lower Manhattan.
AAA leaders form Transportation Alternatives (T.A.), with Kaplan Fund grant. AAA disbanded.
April 7: T.A.’s first action, “Ride and Rally for a New York bicycle lane network.” Pete Seeger performs; crowd numbers 400, according to The New York Times.
Congressman Edward Koch (D, NY 1969–77) obtains funding bikeway demonstration project—the first time gas tax money could be used for nonautomotive projects.
May: In T.A.–sponsored “bike-in,” 3,000 cyclists ride from Central Park to Battery Park, calling for “safe and separate bike lanes” on NYC streets.
1975–77: T.A. works with the City Council to force the New York City Dept. of Transportation (NYC DOT) to develop a citywide bike lane plan. DOT reluctantly agrees to develop a plan in exchange for the Council’s agreement to not push legislation proposed by Councilmember Stern. Resulting DOT plans are undramatic.
1975–82: Advocates launch fight for what becomes the Hudson River Greenway. City kills Westway project in 1982.
North Bronx Bikeway created from Pelham Bay Park to Jerome Ave. via Pelham Pkwy., Bronx Park, and Mosholu Pkwy., using federal funds obtained by Koch. Bikeway linked or expanded paths in and around parks with a new path on northern median of Pelham Pkwy. Bike lockers and parking installed at three subway stations, including Port Authority, to showcase intermodal transit.
Partial repair of Bay Shore Discovery Trail along Plum Beach in Brooklyn, and of Belt Highway path from 69th St. to Coney Island (partly fallen into bay).
Alliance spearheaded by T.A. urges mayoral candidates to support cycling facilities. Thousands of petitions gathered.
NYC DOT paints city’s first bike lanes on Sixth Ave. (8th St.–59th St.), Broadway (23rd St.–59th St.), and Fifth Ave. (8th St. to 23rd St.) Stretches on Broadway unfinished as Barnes & Noble spearheads business opposition.
June: American Youth Hostels launches first Five Boro Challenge. Later becomes annual Five Boro Bike Tour, largest one-day ride in US.
Transition team of Mayor Edward Koch (1978–89) meets with T.A. Bicycle Advisory Council begins meeting monthly. NYC DOT consistently hires T.A. advocates to fill Bicycle Coordinator position. Council disbands after several years due to lack of results.
T.A. activists take to streets to connect bike lanes; DOT agrees to finish job.
City closes Queensboro Bridge bike path during reconstruction; path not permanently reopened for 21 years.
April 1–11: New York Transit Worker’s Union strike shuts down buses and subways. Bike commuters rise significantly (to 200,000, according to T.A.; to 60,000, according to the Times.) After strike ends, Times estimates daily bike commuters at 30,000+.
July: In five weeks, three pedestrians killed in bike crashes. Bicycle Commuters of New York, a biking organization, proposes licensing riders with state DMV to “promote responsible cycling.” Koch considers plan, but declines after study finds it costly and ineffective; favors stepped-up traffic enforcement instead.
Muggings rise on Brooklyn Bridge (30 in May) as traffic grows to an est. 300 cyclists and 500 peds per day, Times reports. Stairs increase danger for cyclists. In response to complaint, NYPD tells T.A. president John Benfatti to form a civilian patrol.
Inspired by Beijing trip early in year, Mayor Koch orders buffered bike lanes on Broadway and Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Avenues between Greenwich Village and Central Park. Taxi, trucking interests protest; garages and other businesses sue to stop construction; suit dismissed in September.
October: Bike lanes fully open. Built without educating public or consulting bike community, lanes are chronically blocked by pedestrians, food vendors, and trash, and shunned by some cyclists; T.A. says lanes are not properly policed. NYC DOT reports cycling traffic up 50% without increase in crashes.
November: Due to business opposition and public controversy, including charge by Governor Hugh Carey that Koch has a bicycle “fetish,” Mayor orders removal of bike lane barriers. Cyclists argue trial period too short. Remnant survives on Sixth Ave. at 34th/35th Streets.
After T.A. organizes community and files lawsuits to force City to ramp the Brooklyn Bridge’s 83 steps (six flights), City agrees to build ramped access from downtown Brooklyn (in addition to the stairs from DUMBO).
Time’s Up! Environmental Education and Direct Action Group formed. Objectives include increasing use of nonpolluting transportation.
Mid-August: Due to collisions, City bans bicycles from Fifth, Madison, and Park from 59th to 31st St., between 10am and 4pm.
Police and traffic officials blame bike messengers (estimated at 7,000) for the “majority” of ped injuries, Newsday reports. (In 1986, bike/ped collisions injured 668 people and killed three; vehicle/ bike crashes injured 2,954 people and killed nine.) The Association of Messenger Services, T.A., and League of American Wheelmen file suit in state court.
September 8: State Supreme Court in Manhattan strikes down bike ban, ruling city failed to give public adequate notice.
T.A. ride to River Road (across the GWB from Manhattan, under the Jersey Palisades) ends when Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) police arrest one rider and detain 10 others.
April: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) introduces legislation that becomes Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), opening way for highway trust funds to pay for pedestrian and cycling projects.
July 4: Cyclists gain full-time access to River Road, after T.A.–led coalition, including New York Cycle Club, AYH, and Bicycle Touring Club of North Jersey, lobbies PIPC. Presentation by volunteer lawyer from NYCC, on liability issues regarding bicycle crashes, helps to overcome ban.
T.A. campaign wins cyclist right to ride on south (ramped) path of GWB. Previously, cyclists risked $65 ticket for not walking bike on either south or north path (which has five flights of stairs).
T.A. launches Campaign for Car-Free Central Park with rally at Columbus Circle.
T.A. stages 30 weekly car-blocking demonstrations to assert cyclists’ right to use the South Outer Roadway bridge path. In October, six T.A. protestors (the “QB6”) are arrested for disorderly conduct. Their March 1991 acquittal was first successful use of a necessity defense in NY State.
T.A. convenes “First International Conference for Auto-Free Cities,” attended by 400. May: T.A. and DOT partner for first time on Bike Week NYC—a week of bicycle-related programming.
October: Through Parks and Recreation Commissioner Betsy Gotbaum, city imposes 15mph speed limit on bicyclists in Central Park in response to complaints about speeding riders. Lawsuit organized by Charles Komanoff, with T.A., NYCC, et al., as plaintiffs, issues procedural challenge; cyclists lose.
After three-year T.A. campaign, NYC Transit Authority issues new bike policy permitting bikes on subways provided no hazard created for passengers. Williamsburg Bridge promenade opened. Access is an improvement, but poorly lit path has 83 steps. (Over next decade, north and south paths are used alternatively during bridge construction. Both have 83 steps.)
T.A. publishes Bicycle Blueprint: A Plan to Bring Bicycling Into the Mainstream in New York City, laying groundwork for the city’s 1997 Bicycle Master Plan.
The Department of City Planning (DCP) produces A Greenway Plan for New York City, 350-mile master plan of car-free biking/walking paths; becomes active in the planning, design, and implementation of new greenways.
Time’s Up! organizes weekly traffic calming rides in Central Park; rides spread to other boroughs.
April 16: First NYC Critical Mass assembles at Washington Square Park. No group organizes the rides, but T.A. promotes them later that year. Rides struggle until late 1990s, when environmental group Time’s Up! promotes them and introduces afterparties.
First Central Park Moonlight Ride inaugurates tradition of nighttime group rides. Recycle-A-Bicycle founded; youth program promotes cycling and environmental education in public schools.
1995 T.A. helps City secure federal funding for its CityRacks bike rack program. By 1996, T.A. volunteers have suggested 200 sites. Contract technicalities delay installation until 1998.
Time’s Up! begins publishing monthly events calendar to increase bike riding in city.
Pedicab industry in NYC founded by Time’s Up! and the Hub Station, beginning with purchase of 12 pedicabs.
T.A.’s “Light It Up” campaign rallies nighttime crowds of cyclists with blinking lights to draw attention to dark, dangerous conditions on the Williamsburg Bridge and promote low-cost safety measure.
Right Of Way inaugurates Street Memorial Campaign, marking outlines of pedestrians and cyclists killed by drivers at 250 sites over 30 months.
T.A.’s pilot Safe Routes to School program uses computer database and graphical system to analyze crash patterns around schools and recommend safe routes. Later expanded by NYC DOT to 135 “priority schools” and adopted in cities and states across the country.
Time’s Up! begins Memorial Stenciling Campaign to raise awareness of deaths by automobile in city. DOT publishes first NYC Bike Map.
May: DCP issues The New York City Bicycle Master Plan for network of 909 miles of bike lanes and greenways.
November: NYPD creates unit of 10 bicycle officers to keep cyclists off Midtown sidewalks and cars out of designated bike lanes, according to the Times.
NJ resident Arthur Kaye, leaving an Upper West Side restaurant, is struck by food delivery cyclist on sidewalk and killed—the second such fatality in 1997, according to the Times, and one of 11 pedestrians killed by bike crashes during 1996–2005, according to NYC DOT.
February: Mayor Rudy Giuliani proposes “civility campaign” that would, among other things, require police to enforce vehicle speed limit of 30 mph (through a “one-day crackdown”) and mandate licensing of bicycle messengers.
After 21 years of unreliable shuttle bus service, detours, closures, and agitation by T.A., City opens dedicated bike/ped path on north roadway of Queensboro Bridge.
Killed by Automobile: Death in the Streets in New York City, 1994–1997 published by Charles Komanoff and Right Of Way; statistical analysis of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.
December: Mayor Giuliani erects Midtown pedestrian barriers costing $136,000, according to the Times.
Right Of Way publishes The Only Good Cyclist, study of cyclist fatalities and driver culpability.
July 25: Manhattan Bridge south path opened to cyclists and peds, with no ramp and 23 stairs on Brooklyn side.
August: Hudson River Greenway officially opens on Manhattan’s West Side, becoming nation’s busiest car-free biking and walking path with 1,000+ users per hour at peak hours.
T.A. and NY Metropolitan Transportation Council release Bicycle Parking Solutions: A Guide for Installing Indoor Bicycle Parking, a resource for landlords, tenants, and businesses.
Renovation begins on Kissena Velodrome (built 1962, one of only 14 in US), with $192,000 in public funds and $80,000 in private gifts.
T.A. launches Working Cyclist Safety campaign (in Chinese, English, and Spanish) to improve safety of working cyclists and relations between walkers and bikers. Riding on sidewalks, disregarding traffic rules, and disrespecting peds continue to fuel public opposition to proposed bike improvements, according to T.A.
August: Mayor Michael Bloomberg launches interim Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, a route by which users can circle the island and the first mayoral bike project since Koch’s 1980 bike lanes.
Dec. 12: Ramped Williamsburg Bridge bike/ped path opens. Its 26 expansion-joint covers prove treacherous to people on bikes or using canes or wheelchairs; T.A. begins campaign for their removal.
December: Bike commuting gets big boost when newspapers highlight bike transport during threatened transit strike; Mayor Bloomberg makes Daily News cover buying new wheels. Media and local wags deride Mayor for being out of touch with “the average New Yorker” (Times) for purchasing $663 Cannondale (US-made) mountain bike. (Bike shop prices generally run $300–$6,000, according to Bicycle Habitat.)
Time’s Up! leads organization of Bike Summer, month-long celebration of bike culture.
NYC DOT announces extended car-free hours in Central Park, 7pm to 7am; closes four vehicle entrances; and lowers speed limit to 25 mph. (Studies show nearly all drivers still exceed 25 mph.)
May: T.A./NYC DOT Bike Week becomes Bike Month.
July: Ramped access for cyclists opens on Manhattan Bridge.
August: First Brooklyn Critical Mass.
August 27–29: Bike rides held during Republican National Convention, including monthly Critical Mass and two Bike Bloc protests, result in arrests of some 400 cyclists by NYPD. Initiates period of conflict between Manhattan police (under leadership of Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka) and Critical Mass cyclists entailing hundreds of arrests, dozens of lawsuits and settlements; ongoing.
September: Police cut locks and seize bikes after Critical Mass, resulting in the Bray case. City seeks legal injunction against Critical Mass.
October: In Bray v. City of New York, federal judge William H. Pauley rules against NYPD injunction and directs department not to indiscriminately seize bikes. After Halloween Critical Mass in Manhattan, police close Houston St. to traffic, post rifle-bearing officers outside Time’s Up! building, try to force entry to a party in progress, and seize bicycles locked outside. Attorney Norman Siegel arrives after midnight to negotiate a truce.
November: City publishes Manhattan Waterfront Greenway Master Plan. Though portions are off the waterfront or existing greenways, plan envisions improvements over five years.
Petition drives obtains 100,000 signatures for a car-free Central Park. Pressure builds on City Hall for car-free summer trial.
Roughly 20 NYC bike and community groups form New York City Bike Coalition. To advocate for improved conditions, group writes and sends to City Hall the New York City Bike Safety Action Plan.
First Ghost Bike memorials (bikes painted white and left chained on streets where cyclists were killed) created by Time’s Up! and Visual Resistance, an artist collective. Rallies and rides held for three cyclists killed in less than six weeks.
City removes bumps on Williamsburg Bridge bike path.
February: FreeWheels, an organization providing legal support to arrested cyclists, is founded by 14 Critical Mass arrestees.
May: Premiere of Still We Ride, documentary of RNC arrests and crackdown on cyclists.
August: Police arrest Critical Mass bicyclists stopped at red lights and tackle a woman after she informs them she’s pregnant.
December 20–22: Strike by NYC Transit Workers’ Union shuts down buses and subways. Bike commuting increases, though numbers on East River bridges from 6–10am down 44% from April 1980, to 4,892, likely due to cold weather (in the 20s on Dec. 21).
January: State Court rules that Critical Mass does not violate parade permitting scheme.
First Memorial Ride sponsored by Time’s Up! and Visual Resistance. Five-borough ride honors 24 cyclists killed by motorists in 2005; 300 cyclists attend.
February: Criminal Court judge rules parade permitting scheme unconstitutional, leading NYPD to propose revisions in August 2006 (abandoned) and January 2007 (imposed).
June: Facing a legislative showdown with T.A. and City Council over a car-free parks bill, Mayor Bloomberg launches pilot program for additional car-free hours. During rush hours, one side of Central Park is closed to automobiles; Prospect Park opened to cars on one side during mornings only.
September: City issues a multi-agency study of the last decade of bicycle crashes: Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City. Among its findings: crashes with motor vehicles seriously injured 3,462 NYC bicyclists during 1996–2003, and killed 225 bicyclists during 1996–2005.
NYC Depts. of Transportation, Health, Parks, and the NYPD jointly announce “action steps to improve city cycling”—a direct response to the bike coalition’s Bike Safety Action Plan.
Work begins on additional 240 miles of new bike lanes, routes, and paths by 2010—a 50% increase over 2006. T.A. estimates that 120,000 New Yorkers bike daily, of whom 40,000 commute to work.
November: Time’s Up! publishes study finding NYPD spent $1.3 million on surveillance and arrest of Critical Mass cyclists since September 2004 (i.e., excluding RNC).
January: NYPD publishes revised parade permit regulation requiring groups of 50 or more cyclists to obtain permits in advance of biking together, effective late February. Bruce Smolka retirement announced.
February: City Council passes bill capping number of pedicabs in city at 325, banning pedicabs from bike lanes, and requiring $2 million insurance, among other provisions. Operators argue it will destroy entrepreneurial, carbon-free, tourist-friendly industry. Legislation to take effect in April; Mayor vetoes it in March.
March: In preparation for NYC DOT/T.A.–sponsored Bike Month, T.A. asks organizers to consider new parade permit rules in planning bike rides for May.
March 27: Five Borough Bicycle Club, Columbia Univ. professor Kenneth Jackson, and other plaintiffs, represented by Debevoise & Plimpton, file lawsuit against NYPD’s parade permit regulation. Citing First and Fourteenth Amendments, filing asserts “Plaintiffs’ right to engage in group bicycling activity that is constitutionally protected as speech, expressive conduct, association and travel.”
Editor’s Note: This timeline is republished from our exhibition catalogue. It was originally compiled by T.A. staff, with contributions from Jym Dyer, Rebecca Heinegg, John Kaehny, Charles Komanoff, Charlie McCorkell, Ed Ravin, Richard Rosenthal, and others, and edited by Carol A. Wood. Produced in two weeks, it awaits further research and broader representation of NYC cyclists.
A separate timeline about Critical Mass legal cases is the subject of an art work in this catalogue, by Will James, FreeWheels, and Fred Askew.