By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM and MARJORIE CONNELLY
Published: August 21, 2012
Bicycle lanes may be little more than painted stripes on concrete, but in New York City, they have become the stuff of lawsuits, neighborhood squabbles and tense debates over the proper role of government.
Now, six years after the Bloomberg administration began its controversial campaign to edit the city’s streetscape, adding 255 miles of bicycle lanes onto streets previously dedicated to automobiles, a hard-fought acceptance for the lanes may finally be at hand.
When asked simply whether the bike lanes were a good idea or a bad idea, 66 percent of New Yorkers said they were a good idea, according to a new poll by The New York Times. A majority in all boroughs said they thought the lanes were a good idea, with support highest in Manhattan.
Twenty-seven percent of residents called the lanes a bad idea, and 7 percent had no opinion or did not answer.
The poll results suggest that residents have gradually become accustomed to bike lanes, which have been frequent targets of tabloid ire and are already emerging as a flash point in the 2013 mayoral race.
But despite their enthusiasm for the lanes, most New Yorkers are not riding regularly. A third of adults in the city said they owned a bicycle, and nearly half said nobody in their household had one. Of those who do own a bike, about half said they rode once a week or more.
The city’s planned Paris-style bike-sharing network, a capstone of the Transportation Department’s efforts to encourage two-wheeled transit, has not generated much interest.
Bike-sharing is still a mystery to many: 40 percent of respondents said they had heard nothing about the new program, the opening of which was recently delayed until next spring. And more than half said they were not at all likely to use the service.
The bike-share network will initially be limited to Manhattan and parts of Downtown Brooklyn, and Manhattanites were more likely than residents of other boroughs to say they would use the service.
New Yorkers who said they thought bike lanes were a good idea cited environmental, health and safety benefits, as well as the addition of more space for bicyclists to ride. Some respondents said they were simply happy that the lanes had encouraged bicyclists to stop riding on the sidewalk.
The lanes make “for a cleaner, safer, more inviting, more interpersonal city,” Barrie Cassileth, 73, of Manhattan, said in a follow-up interview after the poll.
“Biking improves health; it is good exercise,” added Dr. Cassileth, who is the chief of an integrative medicine service at a hospital. “It will get rid of some of the pollution from automobiles and reduce the amount of automobile traffic.”
Among the quarter of New Yorkers who said they thought the lanes were a bad idea, the most commonly cited complaint was that the lanes hinder vehicular traffic. Some residents also described the lanes as creating dangerous street conditions.
Gloria Tingue, 41, an occupational therapist in Brooklyn, said she believed that many bicyclists ignored the city’s traffic rules. “Everyone should be going in the same direction, and if we’re stopping, they should also be stopping and not weaving and bobbing in traffic, because it is a hazard for everyone else,” she said.
The placement of the bike lanes, Ms. Tingue added, was not well thought out, particularly on narrow streets. “I know it’s environmentally sound,” she said, “but you have to think about how to do it so everyone can participate in a safe manner.”
Some respondents wondered in the follow-up interviews if the city would mandate helmet use for bicycles, a rule that has been opposed by the Transportation Department. Others spoke approvingly of the exercise that comes with riding a bike.
Not every fan of the lanes actually uses them.
Dr. Cassileth said that she doubted that she would use the bike-share network, but that her husband, an avid bicyclist, was looking forward to it.
“I’m very tempted to try it myself one of these days,” she said.
The poll of 1,026 adults, conducted Aug. 10 to 15 using landline phones and cellphones, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Marina Stefan contributed reporting.