Hurricane Sandy Gets New Yorkers on their Bikes

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Transportation continues to be a huge challenge for New Yorkers. Getting around by subway, car or bus is all but impossible for some in the aftermath of Sandy, but many New Yorkers have discovered that they can get around just fine on their bikes. Caroline Samponaro heads up Bicycle Advocacy at Transportation Alternatives in New York City. She's not surprised that New Yorkers are dusting off their bikes, giving recent efforts to make the Big Apple a world class cycling city.

Caroline Samponaro: What we've seen in New York City over the last 10 years is really a more than doubling in daily cycling, and in the last five years we've seen an expansion of the bike network. And it started with Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC, which looks ahead and makes adjustments in the way that our transportation system works to take into account climate change and growing population, like cities all over the world are doing.

Mullins: And who's doing the biking because if we look at these cities and countries that have been in the Vanguard of bicycling movements, are you seeing immigrant populations upfront, literally, figuratively in New York?

Samponaro: New York City runs on food delivery. There's a huge number of working cyclists ever day in New York City and I think that population of people is often taken for granted. We also have, are seeing for the first time entire families riding bikes, you know, kids writing bikes to schools, due in large part to protected bike lanes…you know, streets that are becoming safer and making it actually possible for families to ride a bike in the way that you might have done for years in let's say, Amsterdam.

Mullins: It's also not hard to think though in terms of gas prices where in Europe they are so high, the taxes are so high that a lot of cars are off the road and people take to their bikes. Relatively speaking, gas prices are much cheaper here in the United States, including in New York.

Samponaro: Initially, in New York City after the hurricane, a lot of people got in their car and we saw gridlock all over the city. And then the mayor called on people to stop driving alone and to carpool and made that mandatory. And I think you know, that lead to a real change, a teachable moment for New Yorkers to recognize their own ability to get around in ways they didn't think they could before.

Mullins: Caroline, I'm wondering in closing here if you have seen a city where you think things meet the gold standard? Which international city has got bicycling right?

Samponaro: I love Paris and I love Paris not because it's you know, the bike mecca of the world. I know Copenhagen and Amsterdam are often thought of as such. I like Paris because it feels similar to New York City. It's a city that has a lot of demands on it, it's—people depend on transit, people depend on driving, but what they've done in Paris over the last seven or so years is really start to integrate bicycling into the transit network. So you can use your transit card to get on a bike share just like you could use it to get on a bus or a subway. And I think that does a huge amount of work to really change the way people think about bicycling.

Mullins: Thank you, Caroline Samponaro, Director of Bicycle Advocacy at Transportation Alternatives in Manhattan, thanks a lot.

Samponaro: Thank you.