In three years, the New York City Department of Transportation added 200 miles of new on-street bike facilities.
For people who ride bicycles, this may be the modern equivalent of an old Robert Moses project: a transformation made possible by a clear goal, sufficient financing and a serious lack of red tape. (Those who have studied Moses’ work will recognize the irony of his name being mentioned in the same sentence with bicycles.)
Bicycle ridership is up and so are the inevitable conflicts between people who see this as a good thing and people who don’t. Some of the opposition to New York bike facilities complain that their voices have not been heard by the city, which was another hallmark of a Moses project.
What can Peoria learn from New York’s expansion of bicycle infrastructure? Hard to say. While people are people no matter where you go and complainers are in fine voice everywhere, Peoria and New York have differences that go well beyond the size of their respective populations.
With the help of a long history of federal and state funding, Peoria is still focused almost entirely on improving the flow of automotive traffic along major arterials. In terms of land area, the city is much larger than it was in the 1950s, with a commensurate increase in infrastructure costs. However, the population has stagnated since the 1970s, with a net outflow of population from within the 1950s boundary.
Peoria’s most publicized infrastructure from a bicycle viewpoint is an 8.9-mile multi-purpose trail linking northern Peoria with its southern waterfront. It is now more than a decade in the making. There are no comparable on-street efforts to improve the ability of people to move around the city by bicycle.
New York City has subways, density, pedestrian traffic and limited room for additional cars. It offers its residents and commuters a diversity of transportation options. Perhaps most significantly, the city’s Department of Transportation coordinates the development of bicycle-related infrastructure.
Complaints about people on bikes? Both communities generate them. However, in New York, people riding bicycles have seen a noticeable improvement in their ability to get from Point A to Point B, whereas in Peoria, road design often discourages bicycle travel between Point A and Point B in favor of Point C, the bike trip that begins after a car ride out of town.