Sometimes when you’re looking for signs of progress towards a healthy cycling ‘culture’, it’s the little things that indicate we’re on the right track. In places where cycling for transportation is as normal as getting out of bed in the morning, no one would blink an eye at the sight of someone walking their dog by bicycle.
In NYC, it’s still an anomaly, but twice in one week, I spotted two different individuals doing just that- and by Citibike no less.
Citibike is in the news again because the company that manages the system, Alta is in serious financial trouble and by proxy, so is Citibike. We’re all hopeful that a solution will be worked out and I like Doug Gordon of BrooklynSpoke’s argument that it should be granted public subsidies. All our other public transportation systems receive subsidies, why not Citibike?
Financial woes aside, Citibike has been a great success for NYC’s residents- adding nearly 100,000 people (via annual memberships) on bicycles to our streets. If NYC had a complete network of cycling infrastructure that felt safe and enjoyable to everyone at any age, I’d wager those numbers would be much greater.
If we look at the behavior of people on bicycles in NYC, there’s definitely been a shift since Citibike was introduced. I’m seeing more social cycling. I’m also seeing more ‘types’ of people on bicycles that beforehand wouldn’t have chosen a bicycle for transportation. Overall, there’s a more relaxed attitude towards cycling from A to B than there was a year ago.
Previous to Citibike, there was only one person I ever witnessed walking their dog by bicycle. I ran into her over the years on the streets, in Central Park and on the West Side Greenway. We always exchanged a friendly ‘hello’. Her name was Vivien and her dog’s name was Brutus.
It was always such a treat for me whenever I spotted them- a spot of Dutch cycling culture inserted into the NYC urban landscape. Over time, I discovered she was the wife to the then current (and now former) Dutch Ambassador.
Vivien, her husband and Brutus have retired and returned to the Netherlands. I have no idea if the new ambassador cycles for transportation here- whether with a dog or not.
But it’s a small sign of hope that other regular New Yorkers- not of Dutch origin and who might not even own a bicycle- would choose to hop on a bicycle and go for a walk with their dogs. The photos of Vivien, her husband and Brutus were taken uptown- where we have minimal safe cycling infrastructure (don’t worry, advocates are working on that) and no Citibike stations as of yet. Downtown, where the other photos were taken, we do have a decent network of cycling infrastructure and Citibike stations galore. Naturally, this is where the most people just look ‘normal’ when cycling and going about their daily business.
People walking dogs by bicycle is a small sign of progress. When we see an even split between men and women cycling from A to B, then we’re really starting to get somewhere. The end measure for the success of cycling in NYC? When it’s normal to see kids cycling independently from A to B. To achieve that- we need to keep fighting for and implementing more and better infrastructure. It’s a long haul, but I’m optimistic we’ll get there.
Where will we be in 10 years? Hopefully at a better place overall. Ten years ago, even though I wished for it, I could have never predicted the first on-street protected bike lane (established in 2009) or the existence of Citibike (2013). Hell, six months ago, advocates were worried that with the departure of Bloomberg that the safe streets movement might ground to a halt. Yet here we are now with Vision Zero as a promise and a reality. The political fight going forward isn’t going to be quick or easy- but now more than ever we have people in our NYC government who see the value of safer streets (and more people on bicycles).
In the meantime, noticing these little things is like sighting the first robin of spring. A sign of hope.