NYC commuters look to simpler travel options

Wiley Norvell, Transport Alternatives: “We want a city that’s safe, that’s convenient, that’s pleasant to walk. We can’t really handle more cars in New York City, but we can handle a lot more walkers if we play our cards right, and a lot more bicycles too."

NEW YORK CITY – Many New Yorkers are saving money on their daily commute by choosing cheaper modes of travel.

According to a study by the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity released in March, most New York City residents choose to ride the subway, take a bus or just drive alone, rather than using the taxi system. Taxis are the most expensive and least-utilized options. Rising automated transportation costs, spurred by the May 2009 Metropolitan Transport Authority bailout, have made taxis even more expensive.

So because they are costless, walking or bicycling to work have become favorite options for some New York City residents – and city programs are encouraging it.

This movement toward alternative means of intra-city travel has gained support from New York City transportation officials. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council has put together a Regional Transportation Plan for 2010 through 2035, which aims to help transportation grow with economic and technological innovations in the next 25 years.

NYMTC spokesperson Lisa Daglian said that the council’s bicycle and pedestrian programs are part of this long-term plan, particularly because they are so cost-effective.

“(Biking) is relatively inexpensive, particularly compared to the other modes of transportation,” Daglian said. “When gas prices were so particularly high last summer and the summer before, we definitely saw an increase in bike commuting. So the ideal would be to provide a seamless network of bikepaths and bikeways. That’s the goal.”

Over 10 percent of New Yorkers elect to utilize free transportation, according to the Center for Economic Opportunity report, which was mentioned in a May 9 article by Sam Roberts in the New York Times.

Other programs have encouraged New Yorkers to find alternate means of travel, such as Transportation Alternatives’ Bike to Work day on May 21, which is a “celebration of biking to work,” according to the Transportation Alternatives website.

Though biking only represented 0.9 percent of commuters in the Center for Economic Opportunity report, Transportation Alternatives is trying to get New Yorkers to embrace its benefits.

“New York is a transit town, it’s a walking town, it’s always going to be a good walking town,” said Wiley Norvell, communications director of Transportation Alternatives. “We’re trying to make it a good biking town too. That offers a pretty good relief value for a lot of people who are finding public transportation prohibitively expensive or inefficient and slow.”

Norvell stood in the middle of a busy office, as workers answered phone calls and hurriedly carried large boxes back and forth. Norvell explained that the “Bike to Work” day was the next morning, and the cluttered area around his desk testified to his deliberation.

But he believes it’s for a good cause.

“There’s a really viable and important health component to (riding a bike to work) – very strong environmental reasons, very strong cost reasons,” he said. “Fortunately bicycling is an elegant solution that solves all those problems at once. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for your bottom line, it’s good for transportation and efficient streets and it’s good for people’s health, so what reason do you have not to bike in a city in New York?”

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Editor’s note: This is part of my first convergence project at the World Journalism Institute in New York City. For the rest of it (and fifteen other really great ones by my classmates), go here.

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