New York Gets an ‘F’ Grade in the New ‘Bike Friendly States’ Survey…

That's a big fat F.
That's a big fat F.

We could have been a contender.

Chart: League of American Bicyclists
Chart: League of American Bicyclists

New York State finished a depressing 13th in a national survey of “bike friendly” states — and the demoralizing performance was entirely due to the poor performance of our state legislature in Albany.

New York got great grades in categories such as “Infrastructure and funding” and “Education and encouragement” (A-) in the League of American Bicyclists’ annual survey, but the Empire State got an “F+” in the crucial “Traffic Laws and Practices” category. No state in the top 39 states on the list did worse in that category.

And that includes hostile cycling states such as Georgia, Wisconsin and Nevada.

New York’s failings in traffic law has been well documented by Streetsblog. Last year, the state legislature failed to pass any items on the livable streets wish list, including allowing New York City to set its own speed limits or run its life-saving enforcement cameras 24-7.

But the League of American Bicyclists’ annual survey [PDF] includes four legal areas that are even broader than the legislature’s failure. This year, the category had only four qualifiers:

  1. Does the state define a safe passing distance for motorists overtaking bicyclists? (New York: No.)
  2. Does the state maintain and allow public inspection of statistical information for each traffic stop made by law enforcement regarding the race and ethnicity of drivers, passengers, or people on foot or bike? (New York: No.)
  3. Does the state allow localities to set their own speed limits? (New York: No.)
  4. Does the state use camera enforcement? (New York: Yes.)

“New York got full points for camera enforcement, thanks to having one of the largest camera-enforcement programs in the nation,” said Ken McLeod of the League of American Bicyclists. “But that’s the only laws and practices question where New York got any points.”

McLeod was specifically surprised by New York’s position on speed limits — which groups such as Transportation Alternatives and Open Plans have been trying to change.

“New York really only has one statutory speed limit: 55 miles per hour,” said McLeod. “It doesn’t do statewide urban districts or reduced speed zones. It is one of the few states that has an explicit cap on how low localities can set speed limits.”

And, McLeod added, New York is way behind other states on having a “safe passage” law, as 38 other states do. Current New York State law does not specify a distance, leaving it solely to the driver to determine what is “safe.” A bill to change that never made it onto the floor last year.

McLeod added that half of U.S. states keep statistics on the race of people stopped by police.

Advocates and lawmakers agreed that New York needs to do better.

“Bicyclists in New York deserve better than an F-rating for their safety on our streets,” said State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge). “There are real steps we can take to make our streets safer for bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers alike, such as passing my bill in the legislature that would require training for safely sharing the road to the DMV’s permit and road driving tests. We also must pass Sen. Brad Hoylman’s bill to lower the speed limit, my bill to keep our speed cameras turned on, and more. As a state legislature we must take action on strong street safety legislation — because it can and it will save New Yorkers’ lives.”

Overall, however, the League was reasonably impressed by New York.

“The state is doing a lot of good things compared to other states,” he said. “A lot of states have too much tension between the state DOT and city DOTs. We see that in Pennsylvania. And a lot of states have problem with basic culture. Their traffic laws feel like a cultural expression rather than an effort to someone who gets around on a bike. So even in New York City, which is doing well on changing the cultural perception of biking, the state hasn’t kept up with what is happening on the ground.”

Also on the plus side: New York State received three bicycles (out of a possible five) for its overall “bike friendly actions,” which the League defines as:

  1. Having a complete streets policy (New York State does).
  2. Spending 2 percent or more of federal funds on biking and walking (New York does).
  3. Having a bicycle safety section of the state’s strategic highway safety plan (New York does).
  4. Having the aforementioned safe passing law (New York State does not).
  5. Having a statewide bike plan adopted within the last 10 years. (New York State does not).

Indeed, one activist found himself feeling optimistic about the Empire State’s future.

“We can’t disagree with the League’s findings, but would also point to New York-specific progress like requiring the MTA to develop a bike strategy in 2021 and current efforts to bring state funding to city greenways,” said Jon Orcutt of Bike New York. “When you consider bike champions in the Legislature like Senator Allesandra Biaggi and Assembly Members Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Emily Gallagher, who have generated a lot of progress in just a few years in office, we think we’ll see a lot more from Albany.”

The League last conducted its annual survey in 2019, and New York also finished 13th, which was an improvement on its earlier rankings of 23 (in 2017) and 29 (in 2014 and 2015). (Here’s a chart of all states’ prior years’ rankings.)

Massachusetts ranked first on this year’s list, its highest ranking ever. Its governor, Charlie Baker, even issued a press release touting the state’s performance, as Streetsblog MASS reported. Meanwhile, in New York, Gov. Hochul declined to answer our questions for this story.