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Biking in New York City

May 28, 2012

I’m a huge fan of biking around the city. I like to commute to work, from the Columbia University neighborhood up at 116th and Broadway to just below Houston on Varick. Since both my house and my work are within blocks from the west side of Manhattan, I can bike the whole way along the west side bike path (see, for example, this map).

It’s a gorgeous ride along the Hudson River, and there’s not one day I ride it without appreciating not being stuck in the traffic next to me on the West Side Highway. Okay, actually, last Monday was one, when I got caught in a huge thunderstorm. Luckily I had dry clothes, but for some reason no dry socks (note to self: bare feet with wet leather boots is gross). I’m also happy not to be on the subway (1 line) on Monday mornings when people are extra grumpy about going to work.

I don’t bike when it’s (already) raining, or when it’s icy, and it’s always a bummer when daylight savings starts, because it means it’s already dark by the time I leave work. But otherwise I am on the lookout for great biking days and opportunities.

A few weeks ago, on the first really gorgeous day of spring, I biked from one Occupy meeting to another, the first one up at Columbia and the second in Union Square (to see my friend Suresh Naidu speak about Radical Economics 101). I biked through Central Park, which was bursting with spring joy, and then all the way to Union Square down Broadway, which now has a beautiful bike lane. The only annoying part was Times Square, which is so full of tourists you have to walk your bike. So that’s a good sign, when the pedestrians are more dangerous than the cars.

And I also bike on other streets, although after being doored a few times and breaking someone’s windshield with my head (a long time ago in Berkeley but still) I am hugely defensive- I pretty much assume every moving car is trying to hit me and every parked car’s door is about to open. Even so, there are quite a few quiet streets I can feel safe biking down, in the middle, and although it’s not very fast, it’s certainly faster than walking. A great way to explore the city.

And I’m not alone, here’s a great essay by David Byrne in a recent New York Times Opinion column entitled “This is How We Ride”. It’s a beautifully written piece, and he describes the joys of biking in the city perfectly. He mentions that there’s a new bike-share initiative starting this summer, where there will be 10,000 bikes for rent at 420 bike stations in Manhattan, Long Island City, and Brooklyn.

That’s awesome, even if I will have to share the bike lane with even more enthusiasts. The rides are limited to 30 minutes, so not a full commute for me, but it means that if I’m already downtown and want to get to the East Side (which is always hard – I like to say that going to the East Side is like going to L.A. in terms of logistical difficulties) I will be able to hop on a bike and cross town. Cool!

Categories: musing
  1. rob
    May 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    After biking daily for over thirty-five years in this city — my friends all thought I was attached by the hip to my bike — I quit, disgusted with the new bike lanes. I don’t like social control, and biking was my freedom. Now bikes are stuck on the shoulder; auto lanes are now too narrow for flexibility of speed or movement.

    I’m glad for all the new bikers — they seem happy and I’m happy for them; I’m not bitter, but I do not welcome the blandness of gentrification everywhere overwhelming the once anarchic New York of my childhood. Social control rationalizes on the naive belief that the least common denominators of human aspiration are comfort and safety. OWS and its inspiring youthful naive idealism notwithstanding, I’m awaiting the recognition by some New Beat Generation that the problems of the human condition are not matters of mere engineering for comfort and safety, but of uncomfortable human nature itself.

    I know this is off your topic, but bike talk brings out the Ancient Mariner in me…

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