Syracuse outpedals the rest of state in number of bicycle commuters

In relation to the total population of the four largest cities in the state of New York, Syracuse has the largest percentage of people who use bicycles to move around the city.

Disconnected bike paths, lack of signals and street construction are common for Syracuse, but this doesn’t discourage its dwellers from using their bikes to move around the city.

Syracuse narrowly beat Rochester, N.Y., in 2010 for having the highest percentage of commuters that use bikes in the state, according to the data compiled by the League of American Bicyclists.

"(SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor) wants it to be connected not just for cars, not just for pedestrians but also for cyclists."
- Paul Mercurio

However, the number is not astronomically high. The data suggests that only about one percent of Syracuse's total population, or approximately 587 people, use their bicycles to commute. The number of cyclists in New York City is 40 times larger, but in comparison to the total population of the Big Apple, the percentage of people who bike is fairly low.

Although Syracuse leads the state in cycling commuters, the number of Syracuse cyclists decreased from 2009, when 2 percent of the population biked. However, it doesn't seem like the city is going to give up being number one. To further increase this percentage, a “Bicycle Infrastructure Master Plan” is being developed by the City of Syracuse Planning and Sustainability Department, with the support of F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse, a citizen engagement organization.

The idea is not new in Syracuse; it dates back to 1998, when F.O.C.U.S. was born. During these early days, F.O.C.U.S members went out to the streets of Syracuse and interviewed thousands of citizens who came up with over 15,000 improvement ideas for the city. People gave number one priority to building hiking trails, walking paths, and bicycle paths throughout the community, said Charlotte Holstein, executive director of the organization.

Now, more than 10 years later, the wheels are turning in part because of the Complete Streets Law enacted in the sate of New York last February. The law's stated purpose is to transform streets to provide safe access and “improved mobility for pedestrians, cyclists, mass transportation riders and motorists of all ages and abilities.” 

Syracuse’s bike master plan follows those guidelines by proposing cycle tracks, or separate bike-riding areas, such as those being constructed on University Avenue; bicycle lanes, or designated lanes that run adjacent to driving lanes on already existing roads; bicycle boulevards, which are regular streets with reduced speed limits to give priority to bicycles; and sharrows, which are regular roads properly signalized to allow both bikes and cars.

A comprehensive bike plan is not unique to Syracuse. Cities in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the U.S. have organized infrastructure to accommodate this new fad in transportation. However, the masterminds behind Syracuse’s bicycle infrastructure plan are not doing this to be part of a trend.  

Paul Mercurio, transportation planner at the Planning and Sustainability Department of the city, sees the plan as their “responsibility as a government to accommodate the needs of all citizens,” given that not all of Syracuse’s citizens use cars. “It's not about being modern or not being modern, it's just about doing the right thing for our citizens,” he said.

At Syracuse University, some bike-friendly changes are also occurring, such as the Connective Corridor’s ongoing construction at University Ave. When it’s done, the street will offer a two-way bike track that will connect the University with the rest of the city.

“It’s part of Chancellor Cantor’s vision to connect SU to the downtown area,” said Mercurio. “She was pushing for this concept of the connective corridor between SU and downtown and she wants it to be connected not just for cars, not just for pedestrians but also for cyclists."

For those who are more serious about biking, the Syracuse University Cycling Club is a good place to go to train and participate in competitions. For the more adventurous, the Syracuse area also offers a couple of trails for mountain biking, such as the ones at the Green Lakes State Park or the Gorge Trail in Cazenovia. SU student looking for new and exciting places to bike in Syracuse? Contact the Syracuse University Outing Club, which offers weekly outdoor adventure trips, incluing whitewater rafting, rock climbing and mountain biking. 


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