June 2010 Issue: Cycling NYC

Vol. 2, June 2010: Cycling NYC

Cycling NYC

A Letter from the Editor

A couple Saturdays ago, I biked home to Bushwick from Brooklyn Pride in Park Slope. I noticed every other bar was filled with cheering World Cup Fans, rooting for (or against) Team USA in their 1-1 tie against England. Adulatory roars and painful groans were heard blocks away, and when I stopped to catch the final moments of the match – at The Gibson in Williamsburg – the rhythmic cheer of “USA! USA!” spilled onto the street. The bar was so full, I couldn’t even step foot inside. Many patrons even stood on the outside windowsills and perches in order to watch the game. Moments later, the soccer match ended to satisfied clapping, the bar emptied and I continued home on my single-speed Schwinn.

Obviously, for the next month, New York will be the sister city of Johannesburg, the World Cup epicenter (you’ll be able to catch me cheering for the USA, Germany and Ghana around town). Less obviously, I would not have gathered that the World Cup is such a connective force for New Yorkers if I hadn’t witnessed it from the seat of my bicycle while pedaling halfway across Brooklyn.

Biking unfurls New York City in detail. Pedal one hour towards the city’s borders and you’ll come to realize that New York offers as much green space as any city on the West Coast: pristine beaches, hills densely populated with trees. Cycling makes accessible hidden culinary treasures in all corners of this great city. For all the accessibility cycling affords us, New York City starts to look like relatively small metropolis; after all, if you can spend an hour on bike to grab delicious Dim Sum in Flushing, imagine how much more you can see of this city with a full Saturday on-hand.

As New York City cyclists, we occupy dynamic roles as citizens within our geographical communities and as citizens of the asphalt network. Despite various tensions directed towards the cycling community, we help lower the average New Yorker’s carbon footprint to 60% of the average American’s and we help free up space in overcrowded subway cars (except when escaping downpours).

Often despised by motorists, we are tied to the same “rules of the road” that governs car traffic with many cyclists skirt those rules without real consequences. The law privileges cyclists to occupy their own lane when commuting with motored vehicles, yet we constantly face harassment on city streets as motorist entitlement (and their two-ton moving metal bricks) can easily strip our privileges, quickly making us explicitly aware that our personal safety and health may be in grave danger. Yet, for those of us who don’t fully understand our rights as cyclists, interacting with the NYPD can leave us with a bitter taste in our mouths should an officer find fault with our simplest oversight of relatively obscure laws.

At best, some of us may have mutualistic relationships with the city’s pedestrians: Pedaling towards a red light, you may be able to gauge whether or not it’s safe to enter an intersection if pedestrians are crossing against the signal. At worst, over-aggressive cyclists blowing through intersections can terrorize a populated crosswalk as some of us are guilty of crashing into NYC’s surefooted.

Thankfully, New Yorkers are taking up cycling en masse as the city develops one of the most ambitious urban cycling networks in the world. As subway fares increase, the number of cyclists increase and the city responds with greater support and safety for biking this city. When complete, the city should have over 400 miles of bike lanes empowering access to all corners of the city and the tri-state area. As a result of municipal support and programs spurring New Yorkers to take up cycling, our community is growing by leaps and bounds. We must hope that as our community grows, we will benefit from a better acceptance of cyclists sharing NYC roads by pedestrians and motorists.

Regardless of the external attitudes cyclists face, we all share a universal connection to our vehicles, our bikes. I personally own two, a road and a track bike; both have served as my ambassadors to this city for over three years. Through my bikes, my affinity for and knowledge of New York grew, as once remote spots like the Rockaways, Pelham Bay and the Palisades in New Jersey became simply accessible! As a cyclist, I am no longer tied to a subway schedule and I absorb enough sunshine and exercise simply commuting on a daily basis. Better yet, cycling contributes to my identity as a New Yorker: group rides expand my social circles and ultimately learning about where I bike to sheds much light on how our neighborhoods and communities are organized.

On a World Cup scale, I experienced a once-in-a-lifetime sensation while commuting home nearly a year ago from my (then) midtown office. For seven and a half miles, down 7th Avenue, across the Village and L.E.S., over the Williamsburg Bridge and into Bushwick cars packed the streets during rush hour and bars were open for happy hour, though, it seemed the entire city was lamenting: everyone was blasting Michael Jackson’s music. “Rock With You”, “Beat It” and “Human Nature” emanated from every street corner as if the city itself weeped and oozed adulation for Michael’s work. It must have been a surreal experience for anyone who happened to be in the city that day. For me on my bike, it was one of the most memorable, reflective and aurally exquisite commutes home. I doubt subwaying it home that day would have granted me an experience nearly as powerful. Nor would I ever expect to experience a similar, culturally significant event – the way I experienced Michael’s death – for as long as I live.

So yes, bikes are our vessels, and ambassadors to this great city. “May was Bike Month”. June opens the city’s Bike Film Festival and concurrently, the Hoopla Hoop aims to provide some perspective into cycling in this city with our Cycling Issue. So please, keep checking in or subscribe with your RSS reader receive the latest updates, and be prepared to get excited about Cycling in New York City (oh, and the World Cup too)!

Jeff M. Lagasca

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4 Responses to “June 2010 Issue: Cycling NYC”

  1. Leslie says:

    I like your piece. I ride the Hudson River Greenway from 106th to 14th St and then through the city to Astor Place and I find motorists are aware of my existence and make way for me. I make sure I catch their eye and am polite, and that seems to go a long way.
    What I find incredibly frustrating are the pedestrians. NYers cross against the light, we know that, but what I find frustrating is that where they’ll back up for cars, they get angry at cyclists. I ding my bell to make my on coming presence known but am ignored by blasé foot traffic. Grrrrr.

  2. […] Vol. 2, June 2010: Cycling NYC […]

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