Get the NYC-cycling relationship in gear

A cyclist on a bike lane in Chelsea on 9th Ave. near 26th St.
A cyclist on a bike lane in Chelsea on 9th Ave. near 26th St. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

With more than 1,240 lane miles of bike lanes in New York City, and some 490,000 cycling trips made daily in the five boroughs, it seems as if everyone is riding a bike these days.

But cycling isn’t all that new to New Yorkers. The first bike path in America — Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway — opened in 1894. Back then, it was considered downright scandalous to ride a bicycle.

If you ask modern-day New Yorkers why they love bikes, there’s often a mention of escape.

“I remember riding my bike when I was growing up in Sheepshead Bay. It was my first taste of freedom,” said aptly named Brooklyn native David Racer.

For biking aficionados, it goes deeper. “A car is too fast; a walk is too slow. A bike is the right speed to connect with your city and the people in it,” said Kenneth Podziba, president and chief executive of Bike New York, a nonprofit organization that promotes cycling.

Riding a bike improves the quality of your life. For instance, many bicyclists point to the exercise and believe it is one of the reasons places like Amsterdam rank exceptionally high on worldwide happiness indexes.

“Safety is the heart of the issue, and Amsterdam’s impressive bike infrastructure offers a model and opportunity for us here,” said Stuart Johnson, chief marketing officer of Raleigh Bicycles, which also makes ebikes.

As much fun as it is to ride a bike, it’s increasingly dangerous. So far in 2019, there have been 18 cycling fatalities, up from 10 in all of 2018. It may seem like not all two-wheeled vehicles are meant for city dwellers. Still, NYC plans to spend more than $58 million over five years on a plan that prioritizes bike lanes, redesigns intersections and steps up traffic enforcement.

Speaking for cyclists, Podziba offers a somewhat zen approach to safer streets: “Drivers need to peacefully coexist with cyclists. They have to go slower to save lives. The calmer traffic is, the better it is for everyone.”

Then again, my friend Pippo regularly reports dodging speeding cyclists eschewing the bike lane on Ocean Parkway, while nearly mowing down those in the pedestrian lane.

As for Racer, he no longer rides his bike for a 13-mile work commute. “I used up eight of my nine lives,” he said. “I’m done.”

 Rachel Weingarten is a Brooklyn- based writer.

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