Daily NYC bike commuters‘ fragile existences hang in the balance of which route they choose to take. Quick and efficient routes depend on a number of factors, including directness, traffic volume/flow, safety, time of day, and the overall nature of the neighborhood. Below, we recommend both five routes you should start taking advantage of and five routes you should drop like a bad habit. We assume that you’ve already learned that the Hudson River Park Bikeway is awesome and the Brooklyn Bridge is, well, not, and hopefully you’ve taken in our top 10 tips for biking in NYC.
Routes You Should Utilize
1. Park Avenue Viaduct
What You Bypass: The insufferable hell that is Grand Central Terminal traffic at all hours of the day.
Why You Should Take It: The traffic around Grand Central is not limited to 42nd Street. The complex has entrances all throughout the immediate neighborhood, making pedestrians all the more likely to end up in your way on Third Avenue or even 39th Street. Plus, did we mention that this is a viaduct? You literally have the chance to soar above Midtown Manhattan on your bike before going through a short tunnel in the Helmsley Building.
2. “East Side Bikecess” (Manhattan Bridge-Canal St-Allen St-First Avenue)
What You Bypass: Manhattan’s heavily trafficked central arteries on Third, Madison, Sixth, and Eighth Avenues.
Why You Should Take It: “East Side Bikecess” is the ultimate route to take along the East Side of Manhattan, with a dedicated bike lane that is (mostly) separated from automotive traffic by a row of parked cars and traffic light right-of-way. The Allen Street portion is even routed through the green space along the street’s median. Whether you’re headed all the way up to 124th Street or down to Brooklyn (south of Houston Street), you can depend on this route to get you where you need to go quickly and efficiently.
3. East & West Drives in Central Park
What You Bypass: All that is grey and concrete in Manhattan.
Why You Should Take It: A ride through New York’s most heralded green space can be more than a joyride, and the lush greenery is sure to make a commute from Midtown to Harlem or vice versa much more scenic. Of the 51 streets that intersect with Central Park, only one enters the park to intersect with East/West Drives (Terrace Drive/72nd St). And, okay, Central Park is manmade, but you don’t have to look at it that way.
4. 10th Street in Greenwich Village
What You Bypass: Non-bike friendly traffic on 14th Street.
Why You Should Take It: 10th Street has the only continuous crosstown bike path from river to river south of 14th Street. Along the way you hit various attractions, such as the Jefferson Market Library, several NYU buildings, and Tompkins Square Park before being rewarded with a pedestrian-only bridge over the FDR Drive to East River Park, where you may continue your bike ride.
5. “Brooklyn Spine” (Vanderbilt Avenue-Prospect Park West-Ocean Pkwy)
What You Bypass: Residual fallout from Atlantic Terminal/Barclays Center and the bottlenecks in Downtown Brooklyn
Why You Should Take It: With direct access to the Brooklyn Greenway at one end and Coney Island at the other, there is no artery that is both well-marked and scenic as what we will dub as the “Brooklyn Spine.” Along the way you will enjoy the tranquility of Prospect Park and the historical significance of America’s first urban bike lane along Ocean Parkway. Not to be overlooked is the route’s access to significant institutions such as the Brooklyn Public Library and economic hubs like the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Routes You Should Avoid
1. Broadway from Columbus Circle to Times Square
Alternate Suggestion: How about just not riding in the Theater District?
Why You Should Avoid It: An adept New York biker can deal with the tourists–they are much more prone to concede their street space than a local. What makes this area troublesome is how it lures you in on an empty promise. The beautifully detailed bike path gets cut off and rerouted at 48th Street, so those bikers hoping to get a quick and relatively safe downtown commute get shafted. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, as nearby Seventh Avenue–which could be utilized as an alternative route–is speckled with pot holes and virulent bus drivers.
2. Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen between 4:00-6:00 PM
Alternate Suggestion: Eleventh Avenue or 52nd Street to Park Avenue (see above).
Why You Should Avoid It: The Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street between Eighth and Ninth is the busiest bus depot in the world, a superlative that is not hard to believe during peak periods. Added to this, the nearby Lincoln Tunnel provides the only automotive access to/from New Jersey from Midtown. You’ll effectively be sharing Ninth Avenue with people who are crazy enough to want to drive into Manhattan for work in addition to all of the buses. It’s also worth mentioning that Ninth Avenue has been undergoing massive reconstruction for what seems like since before the dawn of time.
3. Second Avenue from 42nd-36th Streets
Alternate Suggestion: Lexington Avenue to 39th Street to the East River Bike Path
Why You Should Avoid It: This time, the Midtown Tunnel is to blame. Though the bike path along Second Avenue is an excellent compliment to the one on First, it’s not worth fighting against four lanes of stop-start traffic queues. The M15 Select Bus Service also seems to be driven by the most aggressive drivers, many of them probably just as frustrated as we are that the Select Bus Service fleet technically isn’t real bus rapid transit.
4. Brooklyn Greenway in North Williamsburg
Alternate Suggestion: Roebling Street, four blocks over
Why You Should Avoid It: The Brooklyn Greenway is that godsend that is absolutely vital for bike commuting anywhere from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge, but it does the job almost too well in some hotspots. The path’s popularity with bikers alone guarantees high traffic volumes, but that’s before you add in pedestrians. Whether it’s the crowds of people disembarking from ferries at North 6th Street Pier or the throngs of people at Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea Market on weekends, a ride along this portion of the Greenway is seldom quick and never smooth.
5. Harlem River Greenway
Alternate Suggestion: Saint Nicholas Avenue or Broadway
Why You Should Avoid It: Though not located along a major commuter route, the Harlem River Driveway may seem like a viable alternative to the busier strip on Broadway or the steep incline on Saint Nicholas Avenue–but wait. The Driveway is not the most clearly marked of paths, discretely redirecting you across a highway exit ramp before continuing down a hill to its main drag along the river. You’ll bounce along choppy pavement and be forced to squeeze into a narrow space before realizing that that which goes down must go back up.