• 01.09.14

A Video History Of New York City’s Bike Lanes: From Deadly Days To Today

Cycling on New York City streets in 2002 looked a lot different than it does today.

A Video History Of New York City’s Bike Lanes: From Deadly Days To Today

Just in case newly anointed New York City mayor Bill de Blasio spent the last decade fast asleep while citizens clashed over (and clamored for) the slow, but persistent growth of bicycle culture on city streets, a heartwarming video for bike lanes has surfaced on Vimeo to remind him of the progress that’s been made.


“NYC Streets Metamorphosis,” complete with clunky instructional music and all, is the creation of Clarence Eckerson Jr., co-founder of Streetfilms and former host of public access show BikeTV. It captures clips of what cycling was like before bike lane infrastructure exploded, including pesky, near-death almost-collisions, like the one at 2:29. The mini-documentary also serves as a model for what’s possible when cities get aggressive about providing for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. It’s like an “It’s Get Better” video for cyclists.

Condensed into just a few minutes, the transformation seen in New York over a decade appears pretty radical. Take, for instance, the cyclists on Kent Avenue in 2002, riding past a mostly undeveloped waterfront. Then there was the tenuous situation seven years ago on Sands Street, near the Manhattan Bridge, where riders were forced to weave narrowly between the rush of car traffic and parked cars without a lane. Both roadways now have ample green lanes dedicated to riders.

Eckerson’s time-lapse shows some of the biggest cycling lane projects under former Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Transportation, in addition to major investments in public space. Over just a few years, DOT transformed a strip of Broadway in midtown choked with car traffic into a pleasant almost-piazza, with picnic tables, pedestrian walkways, and yes, thick bands of bike lane.

If we’re to go by the New York City DOT’s Cycling Risk Indicator, the statistics do reflect the aesthetic changes. Calculated as the number of cyclists killed or injured in car crashes, divided by the number of cyclists riding on the streets (In-Season Cycling Indicator), New York City has experienced a 73% decrease in cyclist risk of injury since 2000.

“As much as [what] has been done, the large majority of our streets still need reforms, we need drastic policy change, slower speed limits and traffic calming for our most vulnerable citizens,” the film’s creators write. “Hopefully, this short gets them excited to top the transportation record of the Bloomberg administration.”

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.