BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL | Last Saturday, several dozen cyclists rolled their bikes to the front of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery for its first annual Blessing of the Bicycles.
“It’s a riding neighborhood,” Reverend Winnie Varghese, the E. 10th St. church’s pastor, said as the cyclists gathered round with their three- and 10-speeds.
“As a church, we value preservation of the environment,” she continued. “It reminds us of the agency we have here, to be part of an alternative economy.”
Varghese wasn’t referring to socialism or even bitcoins.
“Once you have a bike, it doesn’t take much to maintain it,” she added. “Regular life can feel out of our control. With a bike, the city is ours.”
The informal ceremony started with a gentle call to services; the tinkling of bells attached to handlebars. Varghese then read a passage from the prophet Ezekiel:
“When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them. And when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. The spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”
More bikes on the streets may lessen, but not completely remove, the hazards of riding alongside cars. The reverend offered several prayers of safety.
“In a world groaning under the excesses of consumption, we acknowledge the inherent goodness of non-motorized, human-powered transportation,” she said.
With the city’s new bike-share program set to begin as soon as later this month, bike docks have started springing up in many neighborhoods. On the program’s first day of online registration, more than 2,500 people signed up for an annual $95 membership. That entitles members to use a bike for up to 45 minutes at a time. Eventually, the program is expected to offer 10,000 bikes and 600 docking stations around town.
As the cyclists bowed their helmeted heads, prayers for victims of road rage and those injured while cycling were offered. Varghese asked those who drive buses, cars and trucks to display wisdom and caution in operating their vehicles.
The congregation then observed a moment of silence for those who have died while cycling before Varghese conferred the final blessing: “May the road rise to meet you, may all your journeying be joyous.”
“It’s a symbolic way to start the bicycling season,” offered East Villager Rob Schoenbohm, an architectural lighting consultant. “Thinking about safety, thinking about the environmental advantages to cycling, thinking about how we can reconsider transportation in our city.”
No word yet on if you can chain your bike to the pearly gates.