NYC cycling

17May07

NYC cyclist style

This lock is called the “New York Chain”, and for good reason – every bike you see here is locked up with a massive chain, and due to the weight the most comfortable way to transport it is to wear it. On top of that, a U-lock is necessary to keep the wheel your chain isn’t through (even without quick-release). Seat locks are also pretty common. Even with precautions, I still can’t help returning to the bike rack every 10 minutes to make sure the Iron Horse hasn’t become a property crime statistic.

Biking in Manhattan is intense. The traffic is as bad as you’d expect. Traffic lights and laws are respected as much you’d expect. Bikes are appreciated by taxi drivers as much as you’d expect. Getting from point A to point B by bike is unhealthy (inhaling exhaust), dangerous (aggressive drivers), and claustrophobic (balancing at a red light between tour buses, trying to squeeze between yellow cabs). Since the goal for everyone – pedestrians, vehicles and bikes alike – is simply to move in the right direction, regardless of all other factors, it feels necessary to be watching in every direction at all times and expecting the worse from everyone.

At the same time, though, NYC cycling provides a rush I’ve never had in road biking – just going to the library is a challenge that takes determination and an immense amount of focus. I’m sure the novelty will wear off quick, but for now I’m somewhat enjoying zooming through gridlock; let’s just hope I don’t get the door prize.

While there are some attempts at bike paths in the city, they are incredibly patchwork and lacking in any coherence. To get from our place to the Brooklyn Bridge, about 3/4 of the distance is on bike lanes – but in between is a maze of one-way streets with no signage or any other evidence that planners are considering that cyclists will want to get from a west-bound bike lane to a north-bound one.

Similarly, when we set out to cycle the circumference of Manhattan last weekend, we were sorely disappointed with the NYC Greenway (.pdf). Although it had some great stretches of quiet paths by the water (and segregated bike/pedestrian lanes, which I’d love to see in Ottawa), these would be followed by the path going directly through packed tourist attractions and miles of biking under loud, dark freeways. Just when you got to enjoying yourself, you’re tossed out onto a garbage-smelling alley – and it’s hard to call a route a “greenway” when it includes about 40 blocks of normal street biking. Not to mention you wouldn’t expect the NYC government to direct tourists through a neighbourhood where a grocery store cashier stresses that they would prefer payment with food stamps over cash.

Hopefully the much-hyped PLANYC 2030 includes expanding biking capacity. Even with these mediocre conditions, apparently 120,000 New Yorkers cycle-commute, and with the smallest bit of institutional support, I’m sure this number would skyrocket.

Pro-bike graffiti

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