Friday, August 24, 2007

Biking in NYC

Bike Lane Near the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn

In the summer, I do a lot more bicycling. I am what one might call a fair weather biker. Once winter sets in, I put the bike away. I don't like to have cold feet, or fight the wind. It usually gets to me by Christmas when the city also seems filled with tourists who stand in the street waiting for the light to change and the glare of the low-hanging December sun blinds my eyes. But now while the sun is high and the wind falls flat, I am out and enjoying this very particular New York experience.

There are lots of new bike lanes all over the city which is wonderful. There are stretches of lane that are really fun like this bit between some venerable housing projects. It is flat and curvy and there is enough room for the cars. At places, the trees are everywhere and it smells like the country, grass and hay kind of country. But just painting a white line along the road does not really ensure a useful bike lane. Even in my blissful project paradise there are potholes. People use the bike lanes to park in.

The fun ends quickly anyway as the bike lane leads into a heavy construction area. It starts with the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway overpass. There is roadwork going on up there that seems to require a constant shower of water.

One of the sidewalks is closed causing the rare pedestrian to puddle through the water while cars and bikers surge past. Then there is the intersection with giant holes.

The holes are on both sides of the intersection and a third one is in the middle covered by slippery metal plates. Sometimes there is a traffic cop guiding the cars and trucks through the disarray. But often they are on their own. I usually turn onto a bumpy uphill side road where the earth movers prowl. The cars are a little destabilized by all the rubble and large vehicles, a biker has a slight advantage.

The bike lane leading up to the Manhattan Bridge is the craziest part of my trip. The lane goes two ways, up a steep hill, under another BQE overpass and around a blind curve or two. The other side of the road are entrance ramps to the BQE. Some bikers choose that side, it is closer to the bridge. Others ride right down the middle of the road. I have tried those ways, but I had too many near death experiences. Not that this bike lane is without its hazards. Cars at the bottom of the hill speed upwards in the bike lane to pass the cars that make illegal turns onto one of the ramps. The sidewalk is closed at the underpass and sometimes pedestrians walk in the bike lane. The road is hideously potholed. And some cars park right before the overpass, or they come in and out of a hidden driveway near the top of the hill.

And here is a reckless person who walked on the bike lane, in the darkened underpass, down the potholed hill oblivious to the dangers of the traffic.

After another blind curve and an overpass, I make it onto the Manhattan bridge bikeway which is worth all the effort.

It curves around a grassy field and up onto the bridge. The rooftops of dumbo give way to the East River and the Manhattan skyline. It is a small oasis from the stress of the traffic. Nothing to do but climb the hill and admire the graffiti.

This odd green triangle in dumbo is new. I cannot figure out what it is all about. From the bridge it looks as if someone painted a snot green triangle on the street and put some tables down with some shrubs and parasols. It just feels so uninviting, so concrete. I think the problem is that particular shade of green, it seems to mock the plant life.

Once I get to Manhattan, the ride becomes even more agressive. I did
take photos because I need to concentrate hard just to stay safe. I wish it were a little safer to ride in the city. If the cars would slow down and their drivers would pay more attention, if my fellow bikers were more considerate towards one another and the pedestrians, if the pedestrians were more aware of their mortality, it would be a much better ride. But it is still pretty fun.

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