Friday, May 18, 2007

Update:

As I mentioned in an addendum to the last post, the DOT plan to add bike lanes (and a left turn lane) to 9th St. was passed by the community board. That's not to say it went on without a fight. Previously, the plan had been brought up to CB6 by the DOT and, after complains from 9th St residents, was sent back to the DOT was further discussion by the board. The forum I went to happened because the DOT sent the proposal back to CB6, along with the distinct impression that everyone opposed was being a bit irrational. I have to say, I am apt to agree. I have never been to a community board meeting, but never have I seen such rancor, such flat-out contempt, as I saw among the residents who opposed it. The first voice of opposition (and the first speaker), I was sure, was going to be kicked out of the proceedings. I can't even remember what the question was (only questions were allowed, no statements, though people sure found ways to sneak the latter in, on both sides), she was so loud and rude. She interrupted the DOT speakers numerous times, attempted to ask follow-up "questions" (also not allowed), raised her hand, despite being told that everyone would have a turn to ask a question before they allowed a second round and generally made a nuisance of herself. Though there were some exceptions, I found the divide to be extremely generational. Almost guaranteed, if a speaker started out with 'I am a 9th St resident, I've lived in Brooklyn all my life/50 years/etc', the next words were an opposition to the plan. There seemed to be a distinct seperation between "old brooklyn", which did not want the plan and "new brooklyn", which did. Though there was the occasional agitated cyclists, the group that did themselves the most disservice were the opposition. One accused the co-chair of the CB6 of playing favorites, only choosing pro-plan people to speak, claiming a conspiracy. Another, the appalling highlight of the night, said..and I quote:
"So you have a plan! You know who else had a plan? HITLER!"

No one in the room, even most of the opposition, knew how to respond to that one.
Yes, adding a left turn and bike lane, it's just like systematically killing Jewish people. It's exactly like that!

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Random Bike Stuff

May is Bike Month and, in particular, tomorrow (Friday May 18th) is National Bike to Work Day. Though biking is part of my everyday world, I've been thinking about various aspects of biking in the city quite a bit lately. I'm not going to bother trying to tie one story to the other, consider this post a series of mini rants.

God, I hate driving in New York
By "New York", I do mean New York City. It's a very common thing to, shortly after moving to the city, simply drop the "city" part of the name. After all, where else could a resident possibly be talking about...Albany? anyways, Two days ago, I was asked to drive to an area of Brooklyn called Bay Ridge. I was picking up cupcakes for a party and, being a short 90 blocks, it seemed relatively close. I borrowed my boss's car and started making my way there. No sooner had I gotten on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway before I was stuck in stopped traffic. The same traffic I see everyday. I ended up having to get off the highway, pump a bit of $3.15/gallon gas into the car and take side roads the whole way. Total time it took me to drive a total of 180 blocks: over an hour and half. To give this distance some perspective, I could bike there in less time. Truly, I have biked into that same area and, from my house, it takes just about half an hour. I don't understand this car culture in the city. When not only is the subway faster, but *biking* is faster (and completely free to fill up the tank! ;)), why do people still pile into their cars to wait and wait and wait!?

In Related News
I am heading to my first community meeting tonight. I will be there in support of a DOT proposed plan for a "road diet" for 9th St. The plan includes adding a bike lane to this street and is based on the idea that there is simply not enough traffic for the road (which results in people going too fast and causing dangerous conditions). Despite the fact that this road has been the site of many accidents, including a famous one in which a car crashed into Dizzy's Diner, there is actually a very vocal opposition to this plan! The opposition's viewpoint seems, to me, focused on two points. One, they don't want to encourage cyclists to use a dangerous road. This is neglecting the fact that cyclists, like myself, are already using the road and that the bike lane is intended to make the road less dangerous. The next point of argument is that people are afraid of losing the "right' to double-park on the street (parking in a bike lane is technically illegal). I say 'technically' because, in my time biking these city streets (and, as you readers know, I've biked ALOT of them), I have never seen a car get ticketed for being in the bike lane. That's not to say it doesn't happen. Today, on my way home from work, I counted 8 cars parked in the bike lane, in just a 13 block span. That's more than a car every other block. I don't think these people get (or care) about the impact of this. Everytime a car parks in a bike lane, the cyclists who are supposed to be using that lane are forced out into the main flow of traffic. Now, fast as bikes can go, they do not go as fast as a car, so cars behind the cylists must either move further to the left to avoid them or slow down to accomodate them. Though these sound like rational courses of action, I have learned that you can never trust a motorist to be rational. It remains the equivilent of waking into oncoming traffic. If everyone notices you, you'll be fine, but all it takes is one car to not notice you. You see, when two cars hit, the drivers walk out of their vehicles, maybe yell at one another, call the cops and exchange insurance info. If a bike and a car hit, while the driver may be fine, the cyclist can look forward to serious injury or perhaps death.
Update: The DOT's proposed plan passed!

Think Before You Act
I can not count the number of times I have been honked at by drivers. I actually had a delivery van curse me out the other day. (I called him a few choice words too, I should add). It's always ironic that, most of the time it happens, I am going with the flow of traffic and, if I were a car going the same speed, the driver would think nothing of it. In over half the occasions, I've even passed the driver later on, while I zoomed through stopped traffic. After driving in the city, I think it's the act of driving that makes people like that. Something about being in a huge enclosed metal box makes me people assholes. I'm not quite sure why. It's no wonder that a group of cyclists move like a silent stream while a group of cars is called Gridlock and is accompanied by the honking of horns and gnashing of teeth.

Well, I'm off my high horse for the day. Thanks!

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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.

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