28 September 2015

Back on the Bike in New York

I've survived my first few bike rides back in New York City. After a year biking in Cambridge, where the streets are narrow and twisty but the cars are tiny and move slowly and the drivers accustomed to yielding to cyclists and pedestrians alike, I was feeling a little squirrelly.

It's great to be back on my Brompton (which cost me more than my first car, a ten-year-old Datsun purchased back in the 1980s) but there's also something to be said for being able to park a bike and run errands while being confident that the bike, and all its parts, will still be there when I return.

The new 25 mph speed limit is a huge improvement. Most of the cars actually seem to be doing that speed, as opposed to pushing the old 30 mph limit to 35 or 40, and it makes a difference. The traffic lights have been re-timed accordingly and it means that cyclists don't get shut out by red lights, block after block after block.

I ended up on Houston Street by accident because I forgot which one-way streets went which direction, and discovered the new bike lane feels quite safe. Until it's blocked in its entirety by delivery trucks, taxis, and livery cabs. There's a web site where you can report blocked lanes, but when I heard about it I actually laughed: I had just ridden from the Lower East Side to Penn Station and found blockages on every street I rode on, and almost every block.

The joy I felt when I saw one police officer giving a ticket to one truck parked in a bike lane was not schadenfreude. It was self-preservation.

Cars turning across the bike lanes are also still a major problem: they don't yield for bikes, but they do yield for pedestrians, so they cut you off and then stop suddenly, diagonally across the bike lane. Pedestrians stepping into the street while absorbed with their smartphones are also an on-going problem, and I've nearly been in two pile-ups as a result, when one cyclist slams on the brakes and then the next several have to react.

Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero plan is a huge boon for pedestrians and cyclists alike, but there's still a lot to be done to make New York truly safe for cyclists.

But to brighten your day, here's Gianni riding in style with Elizabeth: