Jeff's Guide to Biking in NYC

Biking in NYC isn't for the faint of heart. The only traffic is pretty intense and the pedestrians are totally unpredictable and have no sense of their own safety. I've been commuting to and from a variety of places in the city since 2007 and do exercise rides frequently. My current commute is from midtown east to SoHo. I generally take the subway in the morning since I don't love second avenue's congestion at the time I'm going in. I take a CitiBike from work to home going up the 1st ave protected bike lane.

I've got a set of rules I follow to make sure that my riding is as safe as possible. I've listed them below along with my reasoning for each one.

The setup

  • Wear a helmet. It's easy to carry a helmet, or to snap one onto a bag. There are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong and you really want to protect your head. I carry a tiny messenger bag that holds my helmet when I go to work so I have it when I'm riding citibike home.
  • Have front and rear lights. You want the brightest lights you can get, and ones which can flash. It's nearly impossible to get lights which will improve how well you can navigate at night, so you really just want them to be extra visible to cars and pedestrians. It's also the law and cyclists do get ticketed for not having them sometimes.
  • Have a bell, even though it's basically useless. Again, it's the law. Most people can't hear your bell. Cars have windows in the way and sounds inside. Pedestrians, even when they don't have headphones, even when they are crossing against a light, aren't paying any attention. The CitiBike bells are the best ones I've used since they can let out a loud continuous ring, so aim for that if you can.
  • Yelling at people, on the other hand, works pretty reasonably.

Rules of the Road

  • Don't salmon. Riding the wrong way makes any accidents you might get into way worse because the relative speeds are much higher. I don't hold it against people salmoning on 1st ave since 2nd ave is so much worse, but really try to avoid it if you can.
  • Don't be afraid to ride out in the middle of a lane. The law says that you can if you feel you need to, and I'm inclined to use it aggressively. This is especially true in a shared bike lane (like 2nd ave) where cars aren't legally allowed to pass in the lane but will try anyway if you give them a chance
  • Don't ride on two way streets. It's way too unpredictable what will happen at intersections.
  • Stay on the left on one-way streets, away from car doors. On the left you're near passenger doors so it's less likely someone will be exiting. You should still stay 3-4 feet out just to be safe.
  • Don't run red lights. It doesn't save that much time. The laws on this for bikes are really dumb, but as it stands now there are very steeply increasing fines. It's something like $200, $500, $1000. Since the police sometimes do red light enforcement in central park where everyone always runs red lights, save yourself from the higher fines and don't run them on the street.
  • Trucks, busses, street sweepers, and garbage trucks have a very poor field of vision. You want to stay as far away from them as possible and never try to slip by them or ride behind them. The StreetsBlog Weekly Carnage section is littered with people who were injured or killed by these big vehicles.
  • When your side of the street is turning, pull in behind a car to go through, or go on the outside of the car. The inside is really dangerous because the driver is probably not paying attention to you. The second car is paying attention to what is going on in front of them much more closely so it's pretty easy to get in.

Help Out

And, lastly, please consider making a donation to Transportation Alternatives. They're doing tons to make it safer to bike in the city but they can always use more help.