Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan"

Two days ago, Genevieve and I completed our first first bike tour. During the Five Boro Bike Tour, we rode a (car-free) 42 miles through the streets of New York. The tour took us through all five boroughs (Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan). Genevieve sent a beautifully detailed e-mail about the whole ride out, which I will reprint at the bottom of this post. Since that covers the details of the tour pretty well, I'll stick to talking about some feelings (good and bad) I took out of the ride.

First, the best feeling of all: seeing thousands of bicycles on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (the tour roster was the biggest ever, with 42,000 cyclists taking part). I ride near the BQE everyday on my way to work and it's constantly gridlocked. It doesn't matter if I'm heading to work at 4 in the afternoon or 8 in the morning, cars simply do not move on the BQE. Now, if you turned all the bikes on the expressway on sunday into cars, you would not only have that traffic instantly, but you would literally have to pile cars on top of one another to get those sort of numbers. With the bikes though, traffic moved. Thousands of cyclists flowed like a river over the concrete: silently moving along. It was probably the first time I've ever been on a highway and felt some sort of peace of mind, it felt almost like a utopian vision. The only sound was people talking to one another and not on cell phones either: person to person. I finished the tour imagining what it would be like if commuter traffic in New York stopped (obviously, there will always be and should be commercial traffic). It was a good image.

My feelings were deflated a bit on the ferry ride back to Manhattan (from the end in Staten Island), when both Genevieve and I overheard conversations where people expressed the general sentiment of "oh man, now that the tour is over, I never want to ride my bike again until next year!" Apparently, some folks were so exhausted from riding 42 miles on their own power, they were positively ecstatic to get back to their cars. I guess some people don't see the broader picture.

The next day, it was back to normal. I was back riding with cars again. As I made my way down Union St., after dropping books off at the library, I was honked at and skimmed past by an impatient driver. I sighed and pedaled on (and, though it was a bit immature, gave him the finger as I passed him when he got stuck in traffic just a block down the road).

Anyways, without further ado, those who want to see picture from the tour, head here. Genevieve's e-mail is below:

Patrick and I rode in the 5 Boro Bike Tour yesterday.

We got up at a very painful 5:30am to get ready for the ride. After stretching, breakfast, and last minute bike-packing, we were out of the house at about 6:45. We were the only ones on the road from Park Slope to Cobble Hill, but once we were on the Clinton St bike lane we started picking up other riders at every block like the pied piper. By the time we exited the Brooklyn Bridge and headed onto Broadway, the road was filled with cyclists. As I remarked to Patrick, "It's like critical mass
except the cops are helping."

We followed directions from tour marshals to Church St and ended up in formation (also known as a sea of cyclists) on Church between Park Place and Murray St. The tour formation started at Battery Park and stretched
to the starting line at Franklin St; over 20 blocks of what we later found out was 42,000 people.

After waiting in the cold (the low was something like 40 degrees the night before) for what seemed like forever, we started out, very slowly, at a little after 8. They were letting people go in sections, so we walked the bikes a few blocks, stopped, and then walked some more until we got near Franklin St where we actually got going.

It was a beautiful, smooth ride up Church St and 6th Ave for all of about 15-20 minutes, when we all had to stop at 49th st. to wait to enter Central Park. Between 10,000 more people than last year, the much narrower Central Park roads, and crossing floats lining up for the Israel Day parade, we were stuck there for about an hour and a half.

It was slow going in Central Park as well, as people got into their own grooves, and also figured out that we were supposed to be on the car section of the path, and the bike lanes were now filled with joggers. We finally hit the (relatively) open road as we exited the park onto Adam Clayton Powell Blvd (aka 7th Ave north of the park). We took that up through what I think is Harlem (we crossed 125th St) and then took the Madison Ave bridge into the Bronx.

We were in the Bronx for literally about 5 minutes, long enough to count it in the "5 boro tour" and long enough for the marshals to point out Yankee Stadium to all of the people from out of town. We reentered Manhattan and got onto our first highway, FDR Drive. It really is an amazing thing to see a highway filled with cyclists, and it gives such a perspective on traffic density, realizing that it would be physically impossible to have a car for every rider on the road.

After a quick break to call Caleb, we arrived at the Queensboro Bridge, where he and JoAnne were waiting to snap a picture and cheer us on as we entered the first long bridge of the trip. It was really windy and pretty steep, but I made it up the incline of the bridge, and met Patrick when we reached the bottom in Queens.

A brief ride through Long Island City, and we crossed the Pulaski bridge into Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We rode through Greenpoint and Williamsburg and then stopped at the rest area near the Navy Yard for bathrooms, snacks, and some general refueling.

The next leg of the tour took us through the business district of Dumbo, where a lot of riders were stopping off for a slice at Grimaldis, and then down Columbia Street in Downtown Brooklyn and onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway at Atlantic Ave.

For those of you who have ridden to F train to our apartment, the BQE is the elevated highway that can be seen from the train when it is above ground. We rode up the BQE to the top, where the view was amazing, but I couldn't stop for a picture because, for once, traffic was actually moving on the highway.

We followed the road down through the edge of our neighborhood and into Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, where we split off onto the very scenic Shore Parkway, which runs south along the bay on the eastern edge of Brooklyn. The whole way down the parkway, the Verrazano Bridge loomed in the distance, like a challenging nemesis waiting for me.

We followed a clover leaf exit off the parkway and into the final rest area, literally beneath the bridge. After stretching, eating, drinking, and psyching myself up, it was time for the lest leg of the tour, 3 miles across the Verrazano Bridge into Staten Island. I paced myself along it and, surprisingly, it wasn't too bad. We ended up at the tour-ending festival at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island at about 1:45. If it hadn't been for the wait at Central Park, we would have completed the tour in about 4 - 4 1/2 hours.

After surveying the long lines for less than appetizing food (who wants to eat hot dogs after biking for 40 miles?), we headed down on the longest 3 miles of the tour to the ferry dock. Between a lot of people, a broken down ferry, and the fact that, even with the tour, they could only manage to get the ferries running every 30 minutes, we waited about an hour before we were ready to board. I have to say that it made us really glad we don't live on Staten Island, because we really felt trapped there.

We arrived back in Manhattan at about 4:30, and foolishly for me, started trying to bike home, very stiff and sore after sitting for so long. I had heard about "hitting the wall", but I didn't realize how dramatic and sudden that could be. About halfway up the incline on the Brooklyn Bridge, I was overcome with the most total physical exhaustion I have ever felt. Since we weren't near a train that would take me home, and once I made it to the top it would be downhill most of the way home, I walked up the bridge and we rode to Smith St in Cobble Hill. Once there, Patrick continued home, while I took the subway 3 stops instead of facing the 4 block incline to our house.

All told, I biked about 47 miles and Patrick did about 50. And yes, I would do it again, although I hope they will cap the registrations earlier in the future.

Good Things:
- I finished the ride!
- It was really fun seeing the city by bike, especially riding on the highways.
- I didn't have to walk my bike up any of the bridges in the tour.
- Neither of us got into an accident (which I, at least, feel very lucky for, since we saw a guy being taken away in an ambulance)
- People were generally really nice.
- It was well organized.
- They didn't run out of food, water, or toilet paper at any of the rest areas.
- I'm not sunburned.
- I'm not too sore today.

Not So Good Things:
- There were about 10,000 too many people
- Waiting to start, at Central Park, and for the ferry. (It was well organized, but for about 30k, not 42k)
- It was really, really cold waiting to start
- The one thing I forgot to bring was lip balm, and my lips are still chapped today.
- I really should have just taken the subway home.