Hunter Graduate Students Release Study “Beyond the Backlash: Equity and Participation in Bicycle Planning” in NYC

May 16, 2011 | Hunter College

Graduate students from the Urban Affairs and Planning Program at Hunter College have released their detailed report “Beyond the Backlash: Equity and Participation in Bicycle Planning.” The Hunter College bicycle studio spent nine months studying the history and practices of bicycle planning, identified the challenges facing the expansion of bicycle lanes, and made recommendations that would affect the roles of the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), cycling advocates, and community boards. In response to recent controversies over bike lanes, the group proposes new approaches to serve the needs of current and future cyclists and ensure the longevity of bicycle planning under future administrations.

“This study is carefully researched and offers innovative solutions to complex transportation issues,” said Tom Angotti, PhD, professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College. “The students address the critical need to make streets safer for cyclists while at the same time engaging communities in the planning process. New Yorkers want and need streets that are safe for all users.  By creating a sustainable bicycle planning policy, DOT can have a system in place to create safe networks of bicycle lanes throughout the city for many years in the future.”

The Hunter students worked with the DOT Bicycle Program and cycling advocates, including Transportation Alternatives, but developed their recommendations independently. They interviewed cyclists, members of community-based organizations, and community board representatives, and undertook a major field survey in Flushing, Queens.

The report starts with the knowledge that bicycling promotes physical health, eases congestion on roads and public transit, increases mobility, and improves air quality. However, while New York City has made progress towards producing a robust bicycle network two issues are critical:

  • Traditionally underserved areas outside of the core of Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn have inadequate bicycle infrastructure. These areas have many cyclists and residents who are largely new immigrants and people of color. This is therefore a matter of transportation justice.
  • The process of planning for bicycle infrastructure in these areas is not well developed. This is a question of both transportation justice and community planning – that is, involving all street users in an open, transparent and public planning process.

To address these issues, the recommendations for DOT, city government and community boards include the following:

  • Establish the firm principle that the city’s bicycle infrastructure should equally and equitably address the needs of all people, regardless of economic class, race, sex, age, ability or any other kind of social distinguisher.
  • Establish new methods for assessing the needs of cyclists in all neighborhoods, in cooperation with community boards, bicycle advocates and community-based organizations. The Hunter study created and successfully tested such a method. The survey in Flushing, in three languages, found that most cyclists wanted more bike lanes and bike racks and recognized serious safety problems.
  • Build neighborhood-based networks of bicycle lanes that correspond to the most frequently used routes. The Flushing survey identified the most frequently-traveled routes.
  • Improve connectivity with mass transit by expanding bicycle parking at transit nodes.
  • Use DOT’s Complete Streets design approach, which calls for sharing the roadway among different modes of transportation, to bring all street users into the planning process, including vehicle operators, pedestrians and mass transit users.
  • Provide resources and build the capacity of community boards and their transportation committees to engage in integrated transportation planning.
  • To guarantee that community planning does not frustrate transportation justice, it must be clear that community boards cannot and must not exclude bicycle infrastructure or be able to veto the creation of facilities needed to improve public safety and public health.