Music star pushes cycling lifestyle

Envisioning a city where bicycle traffic gets priority over automobiles, singer David Byrne, a longtime city bike commuter, hosted a program Saturday that explored ways to make New York's streets more like those of bike-friendly Copenhagen.

Published October 9, 2007 by amNY.com 
By Justin Rocket Silverman

Envisioning a city where bicycle traffic gets priority over automobiles, singer David Byrne, a longtime city bike commuter, hosted a program Saturday that explored ways to make New York's streets more like those of bike-friendly Copenhagen.

About 35 percent of the workforce in the Danish capital commutes by bike, said Byrne, the "Talking Heads" star who visited the city with the folding bicycle he carries around the world with him.

Less than one percent of New Yorkers commute by bike.

"The purpose of a city is not to pack in as many cars and parking spaces as possible," said Jan Gehl, an urban planner in Copenhagen who helped design a system of timed green lights for cyclists that allows them to bike for miles through the city without stopping.

All taxis there are required to have a bike rack, and the penalties for hitting a cyclist with a car are extremely high for the driver.

This summer, Gehl showed off his city to New York Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden and Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who spent two days biking around Copenhagen.

"I've never seen such wonderful ladies who were so sore in their behinds," joked Gehl.

Josh Benson, director of the DOT's bike program, told the large New Yorker Festival audience Saturday that "it's an exciting time to be a cyclist in New York," and said bike ridership has tripled in the past seven years.

He described the city's new "complete streets" philosophy, which includes equal room for cars, pedestrians and bicycles.

The first example of a complete street is being built now on Ninth Avenue, where a separate bike lane keeps cyclists protected from car traffic between 23rd and 14th streets.