After living in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn for a while, I have some bike commuting observations, tips on routing, and other things to know when riding your bike around Brooklyn!
Riding your bike is the FASTEST way to get around
I’ve been riding my bike from Bushwick to most of the nearby popular Brooklyn neighborhoods: Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg, Dumbo, Sunset Park and all those other neighborhoods around Downtown Brooklyn and Prospect Park. I’ve ridden much further too, but those rides are less commute friendly.
I knew that riding my bike would be one of the fastest ways around, but I didn’t know it would be so much faster than everything else. Sometimes the ETA on Google maps shows the driving directions as a few minutes faster, but if you’re an experienced bike commuter and run the empty red lights (which everyone here does), you will surely beat the ETAs on Google. Even if you’re new to biking and riding a Citibike, you may be slower than the time estimates, but still likely faster than cars.
This is because the car estimates are ALWAYS longer than it says on Google Maps. No matter how you try, you’ll always get caught behind some obstacle that blocks your way: double parked cars and trucks that don’t move for 5 minutes, bus stops that cause gridlock, pedestrians & bikes taking priority (for good reason), other drivers terrified of driving in NYC so they are slow (for good reason), etc. Maybe if you drive in the middle of the night you’ll avoid most of this…but this is the city that never sleeps, and neither does its traffic.
Once I needed to take an extra bike back to Bushwick from Williamsburg, so I ordered an UberXL to take it home and I biked home separately. The driver naively asked me what if he got there first. HAHAHA I can’t believe he actually thought the car is the fastest way around NYC. I chuckled and said no chance, don’t worry about it.
I’d rather get there faster on a breezy bike ride than sit in traffic, and as expected that was the case. This happened once more with a desk I wanted to carry with the same results, but as usual YMMV.
For longer distances, connecting a bicycle with the subway can again be the fastest way around. Citibike is generally easier to use for subway connections, but you can take your own bike as well (barring a few rules here and there).
Unfortunately Google Maps still doesn’t calculate transit times using bicycles (only walking or driving to the station is considered), but try to tweet @googlemaps and maybe they’ll update with enough demand. Once this subway + biking option shows up for people it will open their eyes to how much faster bicycle connecting trips can be.
Bike lanes are on the left side of one-way streets
One-way streets in New York City are EVERYWHERE, and I quickly noticed bike lanes are often on the left side of these one-way streets.
This confused me at first, but after some thought it seems to make a lot of sense and have lots of benefits!
- Less likely to be doored since you’re riding close to the passenger side and not the driver side of parked cars
- But still avoid riding in the door zone! Passengers may not think to open their door slowly!
- Fewer conflicts with cars/buses/trucks/whatever stopping on the right side of the street
- Likely to have more space given when cars pass since the bike lane is on the driver’s side
- As an added safety benefit, this makes a left hook (usually called a right hook if the bike lane is on the right) less likely since the driver is more likely to notice the bike next to them
It seems all the other Brooklyn, NYC cyclists got the message too, because on one-way streets without bike lanes, most bicyclists end up riding to the left side of the street anyway.
It took some getting used to, but now I’m riding on the left side like everyone else. For me that’s often when riding on Jefferson or Hancock through Bed-Stuy to get to and from Bushwick. Maybe I’ll start trying this soon in other cities with many one-way streets.
Citibikes work really well (especially paired with the subway and transit)
Citibikes are very popular here in New York City. Everyone is riding them all over the place. Women especially love them because they can ride past all the catcallers. Citibikes are similar to any other Lyft-owned bikeshare system like the one I wrote about San Francisco bikeshare a few years back (which is now wildly out of date). Citibikes aren’t everywhere yet, and that’s a whole different issue, but hopefully expanding more and more.
The Citibikes are great for quick little trips around your neighborhood, to and from the subway, or when you want to only take a bike one way. One thing that makes them work so well is having docks EVERYWHERE. I haven’t yet been to a place in the Citibike service area where there hasn’t been a dock 1 or 2 blocks away. Yes, it’s still annoying when there are no docks or bikes (one reason why I still don’t rely only Citibike), but usually the next station is still an easy walk.
If you have a few subway stations that you never go to because they’re too far away to walk, you may realize that a Citibike directly to that subway station may be easier/faster than walking to your close subway and transferring at the hub somewhere else.
Renting a Citibike is also super easy. If you already have the Lyft app, just open it up, tap the bike tab (it may not show up if you’re not in NYC), and Scan the QR code on the bike. No new app, no hassle. Once you’re ready to commit and want unlimited rides, you can buy an annual membership in the Citibike app.
There is a basket that can carry some things, but can’t carry nearly as much as my personal bike with a rack and pannier. The Citibikes have lights that turn on automatically so no worries for night riding! (You can have locking lights for your personal bike as well)
I still prefer my personal bike for most trips because it’s faster (less clunky) and more efficient (no time wasted finding bikes or docks). If you’ve been riding only the Citibike for a while, you’ll be surprised at how much easier and faster a normal bike is. One thing about my personal bike is I do have to lock my bike up and come back to it eventually.
Bike theft seems a little less intense than San Francisco
Living in San Francisco for so long, I wouldn’t dare to leave any part of my bicycle unlocked. If you do, it’s just a matter of time before someone steals some components or the whole thing. That’s why I lock every component to give me that peace of mind (and scare away the thieves!). Plus, a bicycle outside with even the strongest u-lock can be taken with enough motivation, and some people in the Bay Area must be motivated.
Apparently Brooklyn residents don’t worry nearly as much. I can’t compare to Manhattan, but here in Brooklyn I see lots more bicycles without their wheels locked or seats secured, and I don’t hear as many horror stories of stolen bicycles.
I wonder if this is partly due to Citibike being so popular, maybe causing less demand for other commuter bikes in general. Or simply that I haven’t heard about the thefts.
Out here in Bushwick and Bed-Stuy (and likely elsewhere I haven’t been), I see people locking bikes out in their paved front yards to easy-to-cut fences. You definitely cannot do this in San Francisco, and I know personally some people who’ve had their bikes stolen when people cut the fences and take bikes that way.
Even so, I’d still recommend you lock your bike up right (check out my post here!). The cheaper options are still highly effective and much easier than replacing something!
There aren’t enough bike racks
Brooklyn does not have enough official CityRacks for bike parking.
When I’m riding my personal bike around, it has been annoying to discover swaths of sidewalk with tons of businesses and no bike racks. It may look like there are a lot of racks on the NYC DOT CitiRacks Viewer, but this is nothing considering EVERY street is lined with car parking. With limited bike racks and not many parking meter poles, I’m often limited to parking on street signs, of which there aren’t many.
I see why so many people are still parking to scaffolding and other random metal things, since that’s their only option once the street signs fill up! If I’m riding with a few people, we usually lock our bikes together when we would probably lock them to separate bike racks if there were enough.
There are bike racks around, but from talking to some local businesses, it seems that the city is not great at adding new ones. As I’ve noted about bike racks before, you can usually request them around your house or any place you frequent. The same goes for requesting a NYC CityRack (or a repair).
While writing this, I sent off a request for more bike parking in front of Metrorock Bushwick, a climbing gym. Some staff there mentioned they’ve been trying to get the city to add more parking there for a few years now, so we’ll see how this request goes…my case number is DOT-528230-Y3W4. If you check request status, it says resolved and “Location Added for Consideration.” I’m not sure where this list of considered locations is found though. Probably a backlog that will never be looked at…
According to the NYC DOT website, when requesting a bike rack I’m actually contacting Commissioner Henry Gutman, who has apparently pledged to add new bike racks, so maybe the request will go over better than in past years.
I’ve also seen a number of bike corrals that have become a bicycle graveyard with abandoned bikes that haven’t been cleaned up yet. You can report these abandoned bikes to NYC DOT. I reported some that I found at the intersection of Starr St & Wyckoff Ave.
Google Maps bike routes around Brooklyn aren’t always great
Finding the best bike route to safely and peacefully get to your destination is sometimes one of the hardest things about bike commuting. When driving, you just open up directions and if you mess up, the worst case is you’re stuck in traffic.
When biking, there are so many more things to consider, and although I may still go straight to navigating during my first time in a place (or if I just don’t have time to do more research), it’s worthwhile spending a little time route researching if you have a chance, as I talk about in my guide to finding fun bike routes on Google Maps.
If you’re heading into an area without many bike lanes (which is unfortunately still a lot of places here in NYC), you may want to double check if there may be a slightly longer but safer/easier way to your destination. You’ll read later in this post where I’ve found better routes from looking closely at the maps instead of blindly following the default routes.
One great resource I found recently is the official NYC Bike Map (2021 pdf link) which has all the bike lanes clearly marked as protected, painted, sharrow, or just a “bike route” which means they don’t have any bike infrastructure but you gotta get there somehow! I’m assuming you can get the paper version at bike shops around NYC but not sure.
There’s still a lot of bicycle infrastructure with room for improvement in 2022
While Brooklyn is a biking haven, it’s also still crowded with lots of people, lots of cars, and lots of gaps in the infrastructure. I can ride around busy streets with no problem, but when I take less experienced people with me, I still worry when there’s no really good safe place to ride. New York City step it up!!
I want to recognize that this infrastructure is better than most American cities and NYC is definitely planning to add more infrastructure in 2022 and beyond, but it’s still nowhere near the bike utopias like Amsterdam and the like. Not good enough.
Fortunately, we can make a difference if enough people voice concerns like this to the city.
If you have a specific request, you can contact the NYC City Commissioner (same as requesting a bike CityRack) and voice your suggestion or concern. There may be more people to email, but I don’t know the specifics of NYC politics yet. Joining a local bike group like Bike NYC, the New York Bicycling Coalition, or Transportation Alternatives and getting more info from them will surely help. I have a dedicated post for supporting safer infrastructure in San Francisco that may also give some ideas.
Here are a few big issues I’ve run into while biking around Brooklyn, and I’ve sent a message about each one of these issues to the NYC Commissioner, maybe you can too!
Unsafe mixing zones on Bedford Ave at Atlantic Ave & Dean St
Riding into to Bed-Stuy or Bushwick from near Prospect Park, Google Maps often directs you onto a street called Bedford Ave. This is a main street that goes through the entirety of Brooklyn. The city added a bike lane on it, but they’ve really failed to connect it in a safe way. From Prospect Park into Bed-Stuy there are 2 busy mixing zones that don’t give drivers or bicyclists enough time or notice to easily switch places.
One of them the bike lane completely switches sides, going from the ride side of the street to the left side of the street with absolutely no indication. Manhattan Ave in Williamsburg does the same thing, which is also unacceptable.
My first night in Brooklyn, 3 of us rode our bikes after dark back to Bushwick through this area. The 3 of us had ridden in some traffic before so it was generally fine, but we all commented on how that was a sketchy section of road. The second time I rode that section I was with a newer, inexperienced bike commuter, and I realized the maneuvers required were advanced and shocking to new bike commuters.
I have since reported the Bedford Ave issues to NYC DOT and my case number is DOT-528375-Y9B9.
I’ve also reported the Manhattan Ave bike lane switch as well with a case number of DOT-528436-X9G8.
For now, I’ve found an alternative to using Bedford Ave and it is much safer and easier in my case. Google Maps never leads me this way, but I’ve changed to using Classon Ave as my northbound route across Atlantic and Fulton. When I cross Fulton I immediately turn right and right again to get onto the Jefferson Ave Bed-Stuy thramsough street.
Biking through Bed-Stuy can be a dream or hell
Biking back to the east end of Bushwick, the main biking streets are Jefferson Ave eastbound and Hancock Ave westbound. They are big, beautiful one-way streets with lots of trees and plenty of room to ride side by side and still allow cars to pass.
However, cars and trucks are often double parking everywhere, forcing the bikes and cars to share the leftover space and squeeze by. It’s a bummer I can’t have a nice conversational bike ride with a friend as we keep moving over to let the cars pass.
The lights are usually red (and terribly timed) so the cars won’t get very far if they pass us, but if you ride in a relaxed way they’ll probably honk at you anyway so they can speed past you, stop at the light, and do it again after you pass them. How many times to drivers have to do this before they realize it’s just frustrating for everyone?
Even if there aren’t any cars double parked, people still pass a little too close for comfort, and I wonder if wide, painted bike lanes would help a bit.
The best solution would be a protected bike lane on each of these streets, but painted bike lanes are better than nothing on a street like this that gets a considerable amount of car traffic too. As soon as you cross Broadway into Bushwick where the streets are more narrow, suddenly they have painted bike lanes, but I want them earlier too!
I’ve submitted this suggestion to NYC DOT with case number DOT-528490-D9V3.
Send your own message
I hope from reading some these you’ll get motivated to send your own message about Brooklyn and other New York City bike infrastructure that’s failed you (or maybe just to compliment them on a new bike lane well done!). It only takes a few minutes and it’s good to get these things on the radar of the city planners and leaders.
Share your NYC DOT case number and what you asked for in the comments!
FYI Transportation Alternatives just posted a cool redesign of some intersections to improve them for biking which is cool to see!
I’ve been having a blast riding around Brooklyn for all my commuting needs, and I’ve even biked across the bridges to Manhattan a few times (but not enough to write home about). It’s flat, and drivers are for the most part respectful to bicyclists around them.
I wrote this post with winter coming up fast, so it may help to read my winter biking guide to stay warm. And it seems to rain here on and off throughout the year, so always a good idea to stay safe in the rain and read my rain gear guide.
If you live here or are visiting, bikes are one of the most fun and efficient ways to get around. Try it out!