Author Archives: Jason Hackett

The Future of NYC Biking

Cycles of urban renewal

(from The Eye – the magazine of the columbia daily spectator)

Kenneth Jackson recalls his first class bike trips in the 1970s with a certain fondness. “You and I and a dozen other people would go out on bikes and we’d ride around Manhattan. And we’d say, ‘This looks interesting! Let’s go down here!’” These were as much exploratory missions as they were teaching moments.

In recent years, things have changed. His now-famous midnight bike ride is attended by more than 200 students, has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, requires a police permit, and is accompanied by an ambulance. “It’s not spontaneous anymore. … It’s gotten bigger, it’s less fun, it’s more bureaucratic. I have to know which streets are one way, where there’s a bathroom, where people can get a hamburger.” Suddenly, Jackson’s bike ride is one of the hottest Thursday nights of the semester.

In much the same way, biking in New York City has exploded over the past ten years. More than 200,000 people now bike on a daily basis. Furthermore, almost 10,000 people commute by bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan over the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges on any given day. Down at City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan are watching, and attempting to accommodate the growing two-wheeled masses. And in Morningside Heights, Columbia administrators and students increasingly point to biking as a choice mode of transportation. As Jackson notes, “There’s almost no downside [to] a bike.” And yet, as New York City is seeing, “bicycling requires change.”

Central Park: “A serviceable machine”

By now, I know the six-mile outer loop of Central Park by heart. I mentally prepare myself to climb the Three Sisters, a trio of steep hills in the north part of the park, before even leaving my building. Slow and steady wins the race, I’ve learned. My right hand shifts my gears automatically now. My first inhales after entering the park at 110th and Frederick Douglass are familiar, and I am comforted by the silence, interrupted only by the chatter of tourists and the whine of road bikes speeding past. The initial wafts of horse shit usually hit around 72nd Street. I weave in and out of the pedicabs, with their dinging bells and unpredictable paths. After navigating the tourist chaos that is south Central Park, I am rewarded with the sweeping reservoir views of the East 80s and 90s, before flying down the hills of the Harlem Meers. This was my first bike ride in New York, in spring 2010, and it remains my favorite.

In fact, this is where some of the first bike rides in Manhattan took place. The bicycle exploded across America in the late 19th century, especially in New York. The city’s parks department was integral to its success. By 1885, Brooklyn park officials developed rules for cyclists, primarily applicable in Prospect Park, and noted that “this machine … would be found very serviceable” for traveling “upon the park and parkways.” “Wheelmen” formed clubs across the city and Long Island, and were required to obtain badges to ride in parks.

In 1894, the country’s first bike path was completed on Ocean Parkway. The path’s speed limit was 12 miles per hour, a pace most modern-day Central Park racers would scoff at. Shortly thereafter, additional bike paths along the waterfronts of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx were constructed. In 1936, under Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, the west drive of Central Park was finally opened to cyclists in order to establish a space for them outside of streets and park paths, which were deemed “dangerous.” Moses was integral in championing additional bike paths in parks across the city.

Interest in cycling as a recreational activity and competitive sport ebbed and flowed, then picked up speed again in the 1960 as the city began to close avenues and park drives to cars at certain hours to accommodate cyclists. Street bike lanes emerged in 1978 in Manhattan, connecting Central Park South to downtown. In the 1990s, the city government decided to recuperate the once-industrial western shore of Manhattan and develop a bike greenway.

Today the Hudson River Greenway stretches from Dyckman Street in Inwood to Battery Park, and is the most heavily used bikeway in the United States.
For most of the bicycle’s history, it has served as a purely recreational tool for New Yorkers. It’s only with the development of bike lanes and greenways, especially on inter-borough bridges, that cycling has become a practical means of transportation.

Williamsburg Bridge: “There’s strength in numbers”

Nearly every weekday, Laralyn Mowers commutes from Crown Heights to Manhattan over the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges. Mowers, who began commuting by bike in April, received her masters in human rights from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the spring, and is a former employee of ModSquad Cycles at 114th and Frederick Douglass. “I can get anywhere in New York on my bike faster than on the subway. I have control over my life when I take my bike,” she explains. Even though she suffered three accidents this summer, she still believes commuting by bike is the best option in New York City.

Mowers is joined by more than 17,000 New Yorkers who cycle to work on an average weekday, many of whom come from Brooklyn to Manhattan via the bridges. Commuter cycling in New York City grew by 13 percent between 2009 and 2010. More than four times as many people commuted by bike in 2010 than in 1986. Every Manhattan avenue except 11th and 12th avenues now carries more than 1,000 cyclists a day.

Why are so many people commuting by bike? George Beane, Upper West Side resident, bike commuter and member of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, says it’s simple: bikes are the “fastest, cheapest, and most fun way to get around.” In many cases it’s easier to get around New York on bike, especially within Brooklyn, and between the east and west sides of Manhattan. New York’s population is rapidly growing in places like Hell’s Kitchen, Greenpoint, and Bushwick, where subway service is inconvenient and bus service is painfully slow.

Biking, by comparison, is fast. Each year, Transportation Alternatives, a bike activism organization, sponsors a morning commute race in which three people travel from their homes in Fort Greene to their offices in Union Square. A cyclist, a taxi passenger, and a subway passenger speed to work, coping with traffic and train delays along the way. For the past eight years, the cyclist has won.

The Department of Transportation, under Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan, is encouraging New Yorkers to bike to work, primarily by constructing new bike lanes, increasing bike parking inside and outside of office buildings, and developing a new city-wide bike share, which will launch next year. As Brent Tongco of Bike New York, a bicycle education and advocacy group, notes, “The DOT has done a tremendous job in building bicycle connectivity. Ten years ago I wouldn’t be able to find a bike lane for the life of me. Now they’re almost everywhere.”

Both Beane and Tongco add that rising concerns about health, efficiency, and cost motivate people to bike, too. For the price of a monthly MetroCard, you can buy a decent used bike to commute. Though Beane has been biking in the city for 45 years, he has noticed that the recent surge in cyclists is among “all ages and all incomes.” Tongco cites rising environmental awareness as motivation for many people to bike, even though New Yorkers’ carbon footprints are below the national average.

Ultimately, however, the commuter biking movement is building on itself. Beane notes that “people are following the lead of other cyclists. What works for some gets picked up by others.” Seeing other people biking safely, and talking about how much they enjoy it, empowers new cyclists. This cyclical effect makes biking safer for everyone—and safety is paramount. “There’s the strength in numbers idea. You won’t have more bicyclists without infrastructure improvements, and you won’t have those without more bicyclists. Janette Sadik-Khan is a visionary and she knows this is cyclical, and she wants to take the lead … so that the people come out of the woodwork and start biking,” Tongco says.

There are plenty of cyclists who have climbed out of the woodwork and are riding on the Williamsburg Bridge when I journey across it on a recent Sunday afternoon. I enter the bridge from the Manhattan side, exiting the trafficked chaos of Delancey Street. The climb up is always steeper than I remember. At first I’m speeding past the pedestrians in our semi-shared lane, then they’re passing me and I’ve lost my breath. Cyclists coming from the Brooklyn side fly by me on their sleek road bikes and European-style cruisers. As I leave Manhattan behind, the sound of traffic below me on the bridge dissipates, and the J train rumbles by. When I look up, I am surrounded by sweeping views of Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, and the East River. This, I remember, is why I started biking in New York—to feel connected to the city itself, to experience it as I move through it. Within minutes I reach the top and descend into the industrial, bike-laned quiet of south Williamsburg.

The DOT’s all-stops-out effort to increase biking in New York is not to be underestimated. As part of PlaNYC, the city’s sustainability initiative, the DOT constructed 200 bike-lane miles between 2006 and 2009. In the same period, it installed 3100 on-street bike racks. Commuter cycling grew 45 percent. By 2030, the city will have 1800 bike-lane miles. The DOT has also led innovation in cycling infrastructure. Not all bike lanes are created alike. Some are separate white lanes painted on the road, others are protected bike paths that utilize a lane of parked cars to separate vehicle and bike traffic. Many bike lanes are painted green to increase motorist and pedestrian awareness.

Bike parking, a seemingly small issue, has been another force for innovation within DOT bike policy. Under the Bicycle Access to Office Buildings law, passed in 2009, office building owners are required to accommodate cyclists who bike to work, if they so request. The DOT has grown the network of outdoor bike racks and developed a sheltered bike parking structure.

A lack of residential bike storage prohibits many people from buying and commuting by bike. For this and other reasons, the DOT has partnered with Alta Bicycle Share, a private company, to develop a city-wide bike share, which will launch next summer. For an annual fee of less than $100, city residents will have access to 10,000 bikes at 600 stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn, and potentially other boroughs. Modeled after similar programs found across the U.S. and Europe, the NYC Bike Share will allow people who either don’t have the physical space or desire to own a bike to move throughout the city on two wheels. It will also allow locals and tourists to rent sporadically, for recreational purposes. Once again, the DOT and Commissioner Sadik-Khan are driving the increase in cycling.

Columbus Avenue: Towards “complete streets”

Yet the uptick in ridership has not been met with city-wide acclaim.

“What are cyclists?” asks Jackson. “Are they vehicles like a car, or people like a person? They can’t fight with cars, but it’s not fair for them to fight with people either.” This dichotomy is at the heart of many New Yorkers’ discontent with the growth of bicycling. Deliverymen on tricked-out bikes frequently ride on sidewalks or on the wrong side of the street. Nearly every cyclist runs red lights (myself included). “Lots of people see bicyclists as menaces, and Janette Sadik-Khan as a Nazi,” Jackson says. It often seems that cyclists want all the rights of the road and none of the responsibilities. Drivers complain that cyclists riding in traffic are unpredictable and don’t signal. Pedestrians, accustomed to looking out for cars but not bikes, are caught off-guard.

Bike lanes and street redesigns have attempted to create a third space for cyclists, in line with their seemingly separate status. The Columbus Avenue redesign, between 96th and 77th streets, is a prime example. The bike lane lies on the east side of the street and is separated from traffic by a lane of parked cars. Like most street redesigns in New York City, the Columbus one was decided between the local community board, the DOT, and residents. In 2009, Community Board 7 requested that the DOT develop a plan to implement a protected bike lane on the Upper West Side. Mel Wymore, outgoing chair of CB7, says: “There was a lot of common support for a bike lane on the Upper West Side, especially on Columbus.” The lane was seen as the first step in “creating a network of viable lanes” in the neighborhood. In April 2010, the DOT responded with a complete street redesign plan for Columbus between 96th and 77th streets. From here, CB7 approved the plan with community support.

Construction was slated to start on the redesign in August 2010, when the community board was on a summer hiatus. The DOT, without CB7’s consent, changed several design elements before implementation, in what Wymore sees as a mix of an increase in available funds from the city and a “broader vision” for the avenue. The new plan more than quadrupled the number of pedestrian islands and reduced parking even more. “It would have been nice to have been involved,” Wymore states. “We didn’t have an opportunity to inform the community.” As a result, many people who supported the new bike lane as a temporary measure were “disconcerted by the permanence” of the new plan.

“There’s a difference between thinking about a bike lane and the actual implementation of it,” Wymore asserts. “The physicality [of the Columbus redesign] was different than what people thought.” As a result, he created a working group last fall comprised of various stakeholders, such as avenue businesses, concerned residents, local government officials, and cycling advocates. The group went block by block to assess problems with the redesign. The most outspoken critics were (and still are) residents in need of parking and business owners who rely on loading and unloading, both of which were significantly reduced by the redesign. 81st Street was also heavily hit by the changes and produced angry residents and business owners, some of whom have now come to firmly support the bike lane. There were concerns about the new pedestrian islands, which can be confusing for pedestrians themselves. “The bike lane was blamed for a lack of parking, and loading/unloading spaces, but it wasn’t the bike lane’s fault,” Wymore says.

The group produced a report with specific adjustments for the bike lane, such as signage and turning lane changes. Wymore credits the group’s success on the fact that “we were able to be data-driven and specific” in addressing the issues instead of relying on opinions and feelings. “I think the DOT is dedicated,” he notes. “People sometimes feel like the DOT does not have a robust public process before it moves forward, but its job is enormous.”

My ride down the Columbus lane is short and bumpy. As I enter on 96th Street, I immediately hit a series of storm drains and sewer covers that last the entire lane. It’s nice not having to worry about cabs cutting me off, but I nearly hit three pedestrians, who seem to think that the bike lane is actually made for casual strolls, chatting, or waiting to cross the street. At 81st Street, I run into the Sunday farmers market. While the street redesign stipulates specific hours for normal merchant deliveries, there’s a constant flow of movement between farmstands and trucks on Sundays, and I’m right in the middle of it. I do my best to dodge farmers carrying crates of produce until I finally arrive at 77th Street and rejoin traffic. Thanks, DOT and CB7, for building me a bike lane. I appreciate the sentiment. But next time, I might just ride with traffic instead.

I am reminded by Tila Duhaime of Upper West Side Streets Renaissance that the Columbus redesign is not just about me as a cyclist. Rather, it’s about making the street “more democratic” for all. The increased bike traffic on Columbus since the redesign is “speaking to a large unmet need” among cyclists for safe streets. Yet the new Columbus is also designed to “improve the streetscape generally” especially for pedestrians. The goal is to make the street safer for everyone. The DOT’s data from the first six months of the new Columbus show that the redesign has done just that. Total crashes are down 34 percent, and vehicular speeding has also dropped. Sidewalk bike ridership has dropped from a pre-redesign high of 9.3 percent to a current maximum of 2.8 percent. City Councilwoman Gale Brewer’s office, in a separate survey, found that 70 percent of locals surveyed believe the street redesign is “moving in the right direction.”

Beane also points to cyclists as just one element of establishing “complete streets.” He believes that the new Columbus is closer to achieving this goal than the old. Because the bike lanes went in with other, more controversial changes, such as decreased street parking, all of the subsequent complaints were associated with the bike lanes. He attributes this to “growing pains” and nothing more. “Merchants have gotten accustomed and deliveries are working out well now.” Like Duhaime, Beane points to the community task force established by Wymore as the driving force in resolving the problems that arose with the redesign.

Wymore believes that the Columbus redesign should be the first of many DOT initiatives to “engage the whole city around the idea of complete streets.” The Columbus changes have been a challenge and a shift for the community. “It’s difficult when you’re talking about change of behavior,” he notes. The issue is not just that bike lanes, street redesigns and the changing urban landscape require personal, everyday changes, but that “people keep being taken by surprise” when these changes arrive on their block.

Morningside: “A much bigger idea of what New York is”

By now, I know Broadway between 110th and 116th streets on two wheels just as well as I do on two feet. I’ve ridden these six blocks in the freezing cold and in mid-August sweat, coming back from a day trip to Brooklyn and from countless loops in Central Park, in the setting sun and at two in the morning.
I pass Westside and Deluxe on the uptown side and know that I am slowly, block-by-block, making my way home. I dodge delivery trucks and wave to friends before pulling over at the gates. On my way downtown, everything is a blur until the chaos of the 110th intersection. Only there do I begin to feel the anonymity and freedom of leaving Morningside Heights.

Stephanie Jurburg, a Columbia College senior, explains why biking is especially viable for college students: “It’s cheaper than the subway, for one,” she notes. And furthermore, “You get to see way more. … You know where you are.” Cycling “gives you a much bigger idea of what New York is.” Grasping that “bigger idea” is why many of us chose to attend Columbia in the first place.

It’s for these reasons that Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti and the Columbia EcoReps are developing a campus-wide bike share program, to hopefully launch in 2012. The project was born out of Columbia Public Safety’s mysterious “bike closet,” a collection of abandoned bikes on Columbia’s campus that public safety officers clipped. The issue was simple: the bikes were taking up valuable space in Low Library. A working group, which Kipp-Giusti was a part of, started examining the feasibility of turning the collection into a bike share last year. In the same way that the City’s bike share is not targeting the most avid cyclists, who already have their own bikes, the Columbia share would serve people who are interested in cycling but not yet committed bikers. “A bike share is a program for a people who happen to have a couple of hours and want to go for a bike ride,” she explains. She envisions students using the bikes to pick up groceries at the 72nd Street Trader Joe’s or taking a day trip to the Brooklyn Bridge. The program does not seek to revolutionize the way students get around the Morningside campus but rather “provide a choice to students who want to get out into the city more, which is one of the main purposes of being at a school like Columbia.”

Yet the University also must consider liability, rider education, and the actual mechanism of checking bikes in and out. Most pressing among the unresolved issues is who will have access to the share. Would the program be limited to students, or would faculty and staff be included as well? Currently the bike share committee within the EcoReps is working to garner student council support, and writing a strategic plan to bring before the administration. The challenge is developing the program so that it can last long after students on the committee graduate.

Beyond the bike closet, Public Safety has been the origin of the majority of the University’s bike-related initiatives. Ricardo “Ricky” Morales, crime prevention director, lists the host of efforts his office has made to support cyclists: installing more than 200 bike racks across the University’s campuses, creating a program to register bikes with the NYPD in case of theft, selling expensive but effective U-locks at cost, and distributing bike maps and information. Morales mentions, with special pride, his twice-annual “Ride your bike to campus” events, which offer University students and staff free bike tune-ups and the opportunity to register their bikes with the NYPD. At the August event, 61 bikes were registered and students came from as far as Brooklyn to participate. Because of Public Safety’s efforts to “constantly promote how to secure your bike,” bike theft has decreased in recent years, and Morales believes theft rates are “evening out.” In terms of additional initiatives, Morales asserts that “what we have done is good enough.” He believes that the University’s efforts are to increase cycling are “perfect.”

The Office of Environmental Stewardship and the Work/Life Office are also working to promote biking among faculty and staff, and to some degree, students. According to Nilda Mesa, associate vice president of environmental stewardship, her office tries to advertise Public Safety’s bike-related initiatives. Environmental Stewardship hasn’t conducted a formal survey on cycling in the University community, but Mesa has noticed “that the level of interest amongst both faculty/staff and students has increased” in recent years. She points to the growth of the city’s bike infrastructure under Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan as the cause. The number of bike parking options has increased across campus, and, apart from providing information and developing the bike share, Mesa seems to think that this is the best way to promote biking in the community. She notes that, while “we can always do more, New York City has come a long way over the last few years, and so have we.”

Yet there is a general consensus among students and faculty that the university does indeed need to do more. Several students involved in realizing the EcoReps bike share explain that the initiative is now primarily student-driven, even though it originated within the administration. “You could make the argument that this is not one of the most pressing issues” the University is facing, so “it gets put on the back burner,” Kipp-Giusti says. “I don’t think there is a lack of interest from an administrative standpoint, but I do think that other things have been prioritized.”

Meanwhile, Christia Mercer, associate professor of philosophy in Columbia College, believes the University needs to step up its efforts to make biking to campus a feasible option for faculty and staff. “It makes me happy to bike” from her home on 105th Street and Central Park West, “but in the past year it has become more of a chore” with the lack of bike parking on lower campus, she explains. Now that commuter cycling has become more popular, bike parking is even more difficult to come by, and Mercer doesn’t see carrying her bike up Low Steps to her office in Philosophy Hall as a viable option.

After her bike was stolen from a bike rack in front of the guardhouse at 116th and Amsterdam, Mercer reported the incident to Public Safety, who never followed up on her report. “This happens all the time,” Public Safety told her. “They never catch anyone.” This, along with the lack of parking, leads Mercer to believe that “Columbia hasn’t gotten the fact that the bike culture has changed,” even though University administrators argue otherwise. “They don’t make it easy for those of us who have bikes.”

Ultimately, increasing infrastructure for cyclists, whether at Columbia or in New York City as a whole, must originate with increased communication between cyclists and the people who design the systems they use. It has been thanks to outspoken cyclists such as Mercer and Kipp-Giusti that the University is being to act.

New York City: “A time of tremendous adjustment”

With so much progress made in the past ten years, is New York City on track to be the next Amsterdam? Certainly, every cyclist I spoke to for this story couldn’t help but dream.

Over the next five years, “cycling will become taken for granted as another form of transportation,” Beane asserts. He notes that, while “we are going through a time of tremendous adjustment,” cycling will become more integrated into daily life, and pedestrians and drivers will adjust. He envisions interconnected bike lanes throughout New York City, specifically the extension of the Columbus lane uptown, and connections in midtown.

Before traveling and biking through Europe, “I didn’t know that post-modern countries had adopted the bike,” Jurburg says. “New York is falling behind.” And yet she confirms that cycling is taking on here, and will continue to. With reason, she points to the fact that police are cracking down on cyclists as a sign that cycling is being integrated into the cityscape. “You don’t regulate something that’s insignificant.” Mowers, however, argues that the police “need to back off of cyclists.” Instead of “punishing the bikers” as cycling becomes more prevalent, she hopes to see “a legitimate plan for biking to become a real transportation alternative.”

“We want as many people to bike as possible, from all walks of life,” Tongco says. “We want to stress the importance of safety for complete living streets.”
For now, I hop on my bike outside my building on 114th Street and fly down Broadway with traffic. On two wheels, New York is mine.

The Surprising Psychology of Driver Interaction with Cyclists

 

Pop quiz. Do you wear a helmet when you ride? Spandex or normal clothes? Are you female or male?

Though they may seem unrelated, your answers to those questions affect how much deference motorists give you when you set off down the street on a bicycle. That’s according to a number of studies outlined by Sam Ollinger on Network blog Bike San Diego.

A classic post from Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt on How We Drive, detailing the findings from a UK study on helmet use and motorist behavior, serves as the starting point:

In his study (published as “Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender,” in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention), [Ian] Walker outfitted a bike with a device that measured the distance of passing cars. He found, among other things, that drivers tended to pass more closely when he was wearing a helmet than when not (he was struck by vehicles twice, both while wearing a helmet).

New research has identified similar effects. Ollinger writes:

In a Florida DOT commissioned study [pdf] published last month, researchers reached a very similar conclusion. Although the study didn’t specifically address helmet usage, the researchers found that their data was consistent with Walker’s conclusions when it came to how closely drivers passed bicyclists based on the bicyclist’s gender and attire. The study found that on average, drivers passed cyclists more closely when cyclists were dressed in “bicycle attire” and if the cyclist was male. The study was unable to determine the reasons on this passing behavior and the authors of the study speculated that, “it [was] possible that motorists perceived less risk passing riders who were in [a] bicycle outfit.”

 

The gender factor, at least, appears to be noticeable to the general public. In fact, it has a name: the Mary Poppins Effect.

All of which raises the question, what’s a cyclist to do?

Ollinger says: “I suppose effective measures that can be made as a result of the Florida study would be to encourage cyclists to ride in casual clothing rather than bicycle-specific attire.” As for helmet usage, a cyclist is still probably safer with a protective shield over his or her skull, but it does seem to offer support for those who choose to go helmetless.

From StreetsBlog.org

Posted: 26 Oct 2011 07:57 AM PDT

Discover the North Fork

When I woke up on Sunday the sky was iron.  Clouds were everywhere, waves of gray and white, not a speck of blue to be seen.

“Oh no,” I thought to myself.  I was accompanying our North Fork tour, a 23-mile ride designed to introduce bicyclists to the scenic North Fork of Long Island.  One of the riders had sent me an email earlier in the week asking if the ride was rain or shine.  “It’s supposed to be a beautiful day,” I wrote back.  Confident in the predictions made by NY1 and weather.com, I refused to admit the possibility of rain and continued prepping for the ride.

Although I had ridden the route three times before (twice engineering the ride and once with a group), I was looking forward to this last tour of the season.  It was going to be a big group and everyone had been incredibly accepting of LIRR’s cancellation of its Mattituck train and were flexible about having to take the jitney or drive out.  A nice ride with a nice group . . . what could be nicer?

We were all on bikes and ready to go by 12:15 on Sunday.  One of our guests told me that her iPhone predicted sun by 1pm.

Making our way out of Mattituck, across 48 and onto Oregon Rd. was much easier than I had expected with a group this size.  Everyone was about the same skill level and all were attentive and cooperative.  We didn’t have any spandex jackrabbits who were more interested in clocking mileage than seeing the sites we’d selected.

We stopped at Sherwood House Winery first, handed out our locavore picnics, and settled at the tables scattered around the fire pit.  The merlot grapes hadn’t been harvested yet, so the vines still looked full and robust.  I’ll admit I’m a little bit of a wine snob.  I lived in northern California where the quality of wines one finds in the supermarket is better than the what one usually finds on the North Fork.  But I had tried Sherwood House’s cabernet franc, liked it, and given the delightful atmosphere of the French-style outdoor tasting room, it earned a place on our tour.

Leaving Sherwood House Winery after lunch on the North Fork tour.

The guests tried a steel-aged chardonnay and a merlot.  A few bought wine, which was carefully tucked into the bed of our sag truck.  Now that everyone had eaten, drank a little, and enjoyed the view over the vines, it was time to move on.  Plus, the sun was starting to peek out.  The iPhone weather app was on the money.

The next part of our route led past bucolic farms, potato fields, even a vast expanse of sunflowers.  Hurricane Irene had taken her toll on the sunflowers.  All their giant heads were bowed, but their faded beauty was still recognizable.  We crossed 48 again (at that point a divided highway) and rode along the wide shoulder at a healthy clip everyone could manage.

Catapano’s Goat Farm was our second stop.  I remember when Catapano’s was a tiny place with just a few goats.  I watched it grow until it outgrew it’s first location and relocated to where it is now.

There is a small shop with a large selection of goat milk products and a vast array of flavored (and plain) goat cheeses.  My favorite is the lemon-pepper (which gets consistent raves from our guests) and I never leave there without a chunk or two of the goat fudge, the taste of which falls somewhere between chocolate and dulce de leche.  Yum.    

We bought a couple of different cheeses as a snack for later, let everyone who wanted to say “hi” to the goats, got back on our bikes, and moved on.

The North Fork of Long Island, unlike the South Fork, was carved out by a glacier during the last ice age.  The North Fork is undulating and rocky, with lots of inlets and covers.  The South Fork, in contrast, is sandy and flat.

We rode for a few miles on these gently undulating hills until we reach Horton’s Lighthouse.  The lighthouse sits back from a cliff facing Long Island Sound and the southern shore of Connecticut.  The views are beautiful.  There’s a long staircase that goes down to a lovely beach full of pebbles and giant boulders that I’ve been climbing since I was a kid.  Several guests went down the long wooden staircase, enjoyed the view, collected some rocks, and headed back up when they were ready.

Horton's Lighthouse overlooking Long Island Sound

A few wandered over to the lighthouse, closed for the season, but beautiful in the way all lighthouses are beautiful.  A beacon shows one where to go (or not to go) and therefore offers reassurance.  Maybe that’s what makes them all beautiful; maybe it’s their proximity to water.  In any event, this lighthouse, too, is beautiful.

Mounted up again, we started going south, crossing the fork.  It was autumn, after all, so we stopped at Krupski’s farmstand, which was so loaded with pumpkins it looked like an orange wonderland.  It was the perfect photo op and we took lots of pictures of guests with pumpkins, gourds, and squashes.

A little further down the road we stopped at Pugliese Vineyards.  We pulled out the goat cheese and the extra baguettes from our picnic supplier.  Everyone was ready for a snack and the goat cheese was so delicious that it disappeared remarkably quickly.  Those guests who wanted to tasted a few more wines and purchased a few more bottles.  We sat at tables next to a pond occupied by giant koi with a great blue heron posing at its edge.

I liked that this particular tour group was interested in the history behind the Cutchogue Historic Buildings, our next stop.  The fact that Parker Wickham, the first large landowner in the area in the 17th century and whose house stands to this day in the common, still has descendants in the area fascinates me.  The North Fork feels more like New England than New York.  Peter Wickham’s house would fit in perfectly in Salem, Mass.

An autumn Sunday at Kimogener Point.

The next part of our ride took us to Peconic Bay, the south side of the North Fork.  We stopped at a spot overlooking Robin’s Island, with beaches in front of us, salt marsh behind us.  It was the golden hour and everything was bathed in beautiful light.  Everyone just sort of stood, chatting, enjoying the view, the weather, the fact that this was the perfect way to spend an autumn Sunday.

On our way again, we continued along Peconic Bay, passing one field filled with more Canada geese than I’d ever seen before.  We made our way to the Mattituck train station, and suggested to our guests that they take a stroll along quaint Love Lane before biking the last mile or so to where the jitney would pick up those who were riding it and where the others had left their cars.  It would be a few hours until they got back to the city.  Having a snack in hand seemed like a good idea.

Everyone said they’d had a wonderful time.  Several wanted to try our tours in New York City.  As always, our tour of Central Park seemed to have the greatest appeal, but many were intrigued by the idea of riding across the Brooklyn Bridge and exploring Brooklyn’s neighborhoods.

As far as the North Fork tour goes, we may be done for this season, but we’ve got April and May dates already loaded for next spring and even have a few bookings for them.  Spring will be a different experience, but it will be just as wonderful.

Autumn in New York

There are days when having to hop on a bike for work is an incomparable perk.  I got to do it yesterday and I get to do it again today.

Let’s back up a little.  It’s mid-October, the midst of Autumn, we’re in the Northeast, and there have been years when searching for gloves before leaving the house is part of this time of the season.

But I’m looking out at a clear blue sky with temperatures nudging 70.  Yes, I am worried about climate change, but today I’m focusing on a ride through Central Park and upper Manhattan as the leaves start to change.

There’s something about exploring the city on a bike.  We’re looking for something special to offer our customers this fall — something that will let them take advantage of the weather, the smaller number of tourists, and all the bike paths and bike lanes at our disposal.

First Central Park . . .  The big loop in Central Park takes you all the way north past the Conservatory Gardens and the Haarlem Meer, then up the big hill past the North Woods (where a search for screech owls at dusk can end with threatening growls from raccoons).  I stop at the Conservatory Gardens (still lovely despite the fact that their spring and summer blooms are gone) and walk my bike past the Haarlem Meer where a flock of Canada geese are resting on their migration south.

Then on to St. John the Divine.  I lock my bike up and go inside.  The soaring space never fails to amaze me.  I could be in any of the great cathedrals of Europe, but instead I’m here in New York.

It’s just a short hop to Columbia where I wander into the quad, find a bench, and watch the students hurrying to and fro as I perform a quick electronic check of emails, texts, and messages.  It’s a beautiful scene of very formal architecture with lots of columns set against so many young people dressed in casual clothes and enjoying casual conversation.

The bike lanes take me over to Riverside Park and Grant’s Tomb, another imposing edifice with columns and a dome.  It’s open to the public most days and I go inside.  Although this native New Yorker has actually been to the Empire State Building (when visiting friends insist) and the Statue of Liberty (via a field trip), I’ve never been inside Grant’s Tomb.  The mosaics are beautiful and there’s a sense of timelessness appropriate to the memory of a war hero and president.  A park ranger is giving a talk and I listen in for a while.

Familiarity with the soccer fields in the area (I am an American with kids, after all) means I know how easy it is to get to the Greenway bike path.  The sky is still blue, the water is still warm, and the slight headwind is refreshing rather than forcing me to shift down.

There are sailboats with their shrouds clanging against their metal masts, one of my favorite sounds in the world.  I’m in the middle of New York City, but I can hear it.  Ships are heading up the Hudson; a barge is heading down.  Most of the bike traffic seems to be heading in the opposite direction from me and the riders are aware and polite.

Oops.  Got to run.  I’m off to meet a co-worker in Central Park.  Another ride awaits.

 

The Manhattan Commute . . . on a Bike!

I admit it. I was a chicken. The guys in the warehouse tuned up my bike over the summer while my kids were at camp. When my bike was ready, it was the perfect opportunity to start riding to work, but I took the less-than-courageous route. From the Upper West Side I rode to the bike path on the Hudson River Greenway, then rode down to 34th St. and then up to the office at 36th between 7th and Broadway. What would have been a 50+-block ride on Manhattan’s streets became a breeze along the river with just a few blocks of streets to get to and from it.
Then the kids came home from camp and school started. While my older daughter takes the bus to middle school, my younger one needs to be taken to her school situated a bit more than a mile from our home. She wanted to scooter; I wanted to ride. We had to figure out how to do this.
Thanks to the good works of the current NYC administration, there is a nearby bike lane that dumps us into Central Park. My little one scooters on the sidewalk as I slowly bike next to her on the bike lane. Once we’re in the park, we travel together on the runners/bike lane down to the lake and up the hill. One small path through the edge of the park and school is right across the street. I drop her on the steps and then I’m back on my bicycle and off to work.
At that point, riding all the way over to the river would be silly, time-consuming and extremely inefficient, so I take the bike lane on Broadway. At 8:30 in the morning the pedestrians are reasonably awake and aware and Times Square’s quotient of tourists is few. It’s easy enough to weave among them, use a loud voice to remind several that they’re blocking/crossing/walking-in-the-middle-of a bike lane, and get to the office in just a few minutes.
Let me confess that I hate the subway during rush hour. I’ll do anything to avoid it. When I don’t ride, I walk all the way to work from home (more than three miles) just to miss the crush of commuters. I can’t stand that descent into stinky hell. (Who exactly is peeing in the subway?) So the morning ride is a wonderful start to my work day.
It was much harder for me to get used to the ride home. I tried using the Greenway bike path for a while, but it felt very out-of-the-way at the end of a workday and was over-populated by Spandex-clad speedsters who got out of work much earlier than I and were intent on getting their workout in regardless of who else was on the bike path.
I view 8th Ave. as the price I have to pay to get to the bike lane on Central Park West. I work at a bike company, so everyone rides in this office and everyone has an opinion about 8th Ave. around the Port Authority: they all abhor it. It is a little spooky and I did find that the adrenaline rush from the fear I felt riding those blocks up to Columbus Circle the first few times was enough to keep me up for hours past my bedtime.
But if I ride slowly and don’t let the pedestrians using the bike lane as an extra sidewalk and forcing me into lanes of traffic get to me, it’s not bad. And once I get to Central Park West, it’s a breeze . . . the trucks up there are mostly for movies, the pedestrians seem to be more aware, and the car doors don’t open as much. Of course this is my perception and could just be because I’m close to home, I’m about to see my kids, and I’m next to Central Park.
It was cold this morning as I rode and I didn’t have a jacket, much less gloves. By the time I got to the office I realized that my biking days for the season were numbered (snow, salt, and sand are not in my cycling vocabulary). And even now as I look at the darkening sky, I just want the rain to hold off long enough so that I can ride home. Who knew I’d ever look forward to biking on the streets of New York?

Recycle Your Electronic Waste and Go Cycling as a Reward

 

Old computers cluttering your closets? Did you upgrade to a flat-screen a while ago and now you’re tired of using the old TV as extra counter-space? As a responsible recycler, you can’t just throw these old electronics in the trash. Come to Brooklyn Bridge Park this Sunday, October 2, rain or shine, 10am – 4pm. The Lower East Side Ecology Center will be at Pier 1 accepting every type of household electronics.

To reward you for your green conscience, Bike and Roll is happy to offer you a 50% discount on a bike rental on Sunday. Have you checked out the bike path that goes all the way down to Sunset Park? It’s a beautiful ride along the river and harbor with magnificent views of Governors Island, the Statue of Liberty, and downtown Manhattan.

Can’t ride on Sunday? You’ll get a $5-off coupon for any future rental or tour.

Get more information about Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Electronic Waste Recycling Day

Bike and Roll NYC Teams Up with NYC Century Bike Tour

 

Bike and Roll NYC Teams Up With NYC Century Bike Tour
to Provide Bikes and Support to Participants – Just Show Up on Sept. 18th, Your Bike is Waiting for You!

DETAILS: Anyone planning on participating in the NYC Century on Sept. 18th has a convenient option – rent a bike from Bike and Roll NYC and a bike will be waiting for you at either of the five route’s two starting points. Whether you’re planning to ride the 15-, 35-, 55-, 75-, or 100-mile route through the streets of New York City, Bike and Roll NYC’s support is behind you.

In addition to the convenience of not having to get a bike to either Start (in Central Park or Prospect Park), every renter gets a bike fit to their height, a helmet, and mechanical support.

“The NYC Century supports Transportation Alternatives, which supports bike lanes in New York City,” said Chris Wogas, President of Bike and Roll NYC. “This is one of the best ways I know to show everyone that biking around New York City is a great activity. This tour has something for everyone – from families to the most hard-core cyclist. We’re proud to be a part of it.”

More than 5,000 cyclists expected to participate in the event, many from outside the city. Knowing that a well-tuned bike will be waiting for you at the start means travelers have one less thing to worry about. Bikes are simply returned to Bike and Roll NYC at the Start when riders are finished with the tour.

Bike and Roll NYC has built its reputation on the quality of its bikes and the dedication of its mechanics – renting from them for this event means peace of mind.

Several different bikes are available for the day:

Comfort Bike: $69; Performance Bike: $79; Road Bike: $89 (Transportation Alternatives members get $5 off)

Go to bikeandrollnyc.com or call 212-260-0400 for details on bikes and additional info on equipment for kids.

On Two Wheels with Water as a Companion

 

(by Jane Margolies, New York Times)

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WHEN I told my local bicycle mechanic that I was thinking about circling the city by following the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, he shrugged off my reservations about the unfinished route, which I’d heard was still dicey in parts.

“It’s Manhattan,” he said. “It’s an island. What are you going to do, get lost?”
Yet there I was on a recent Sunday morning, turning right at East 63rd Street, only to find that I’d started down the car ramp onto the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.
Though the Greenway does encompass some city streets, mostly it snakes for more than 28 miles along rivers, under bridges and through parks. My companion for the ride was the recently released 2011 NYC Cycling Map (available atbike shops or by calling the city’s 311 information line), depicting the Greenway mostly as an enticing thick green line along much of the coast, with dotted lines indicating sections to come. (Full disclosure: I recently worked as a freelance editor on the city’s new plan for waterfront development; the Greenway was mapped out years earlier.)
Cycling the route is on the whole satisfying and at times exhilarating — a boon for bikers like me who get bored going round and round Central Park. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bumps in the road.

WEST SIDE From the West 103rd Street entrance to Riverside Park, it was a quick trip down a hill and under an overpass to reach the Hudson River. There, signs for the NYC Greenway — racetrack-shaped and green, with a five-leafed ivy motif — greeted me.

The Department of City Planning included a route around Manhattan in its 1993 master plan for 350 miles of recreation and commuting paths in all five boroughs. In 2002 Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pledged to have the Manhattan loop built, and the city began stitching together existing pedestrian walkways, esplanades and city streets into a single route — in some areas paving connections and in others simply planting signs pointing the way.

Hanging a left so that I’d be circling Manhattan counterclockwise, I quickly reached a new segment. Cantilevered over the water, the path between West 90th and West 83rd Streets has a jaunty boardwalk feel. Before it was built, cyclists had to veer inland up a steep hill and reconnect near 79th Street. Now the path continues uninterrupted for more than 10 glorious miles close to the river, from the George Washington Bridge to the Battery.

Although I’d timed my departure to avoid the crowds later in the day, already cyclists — along with joggers, in-line skaters and stroller pushers — were out in force. At a cafe around West 70th Street, servers were opening table umbrellas for the day.

Here in Riverside Park South, the bike lane runs under the elevated West Side Highway. Still, cyclists have a good view of the rusted remains of the 69th Street Transfer Bridge, one of the relics from the city’s industrial past that you can see as you pedal. Out on the water a blue-and-white tugboat pushed a barge.

But keep your eyes on the path: Travelers streaming off a cruise ship rolled suitcases across the route at West 48th Street. Ten blocks later, a parked white bike, with back baskets overflowing with dried flowers, was a sobering memorial to a cyclist who was killed by a truck there in 2006.

Approaching Battery Park City after being separated from the water by basketball and tennis courts, I made a few turns near Stuyvesant High School and continued south, again right along the water. Hello, Statue of Liberty!

EAST SIDE When you get to Battery Park, the trick is figuring out which way the Greenway goes — now you see the signs for it, now you don’t. But once I was on the path bordering the East River, there were fewer cyclists than on the West Side, and no wonder. Although it’s thrilling to pass under the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, the Greenway here is a disjointed affair.

At East 35th Street the path heads inland, skirting the United Nations on busy First Avenue. Several blocks later I got caught up in the flow of traffic and found myself on that F. D. R. Drive ramp. My mistake was not spotting the pedestrian bridge over the highway, leading back to the Greenway.

The map says it’s a clear shot to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, at 125th Street. But repairs on the path in the East 70s meant that I had to tack back and forth across the F. D. R. Drive on pedestrian bridges. And for now the Greenway turns at 120th Street, so once again it is back onto city thoroughfares.

HARLEM AND THE HARLEM RIVER The Greenway continues west in Harlem — some blocks are lined with lovely old brownstones — then north on St. Nicholas Avenue. I crossed West 125th Street as noon church bells rang.

There’s no waterfront along this part of the Waterfront Greenway, but there’s plenty of greenery along St. Nicholas Park. Still, when I finally reached the Harlem River, after riding along Edgecombe Avenue and crossing over Harlem River Drive, it felt good to be back by the water again.

The view along this least-traveled part of the path isn’t fetching: high-rises and highway on the Bronx side. But fishermen with propped-up rods give this area a homey feel, while rowing crews gliding by add a sporty vibe. And because there’s practically no one else around, you can finally cut loose.

In fact, this area was called the Harlem River Speedway at the beginning of the 20th century, a straightaway for horse and carriage racing. Today cherry and crabapple trees beautify the West 180s. The yellow and green Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse occupies a pier at the tiny Swindler Cove Park (at Dyckman Street and 10th Avenue, in Inwood), with its winding paths and tidy rows of potatoes, lettuce and fava beans tended by students at the school next door.

DYCKMAN STREET CONNECTION This nerve-racking stretch of storefronts and double-parked cars connects the Greenway on the East Side with the trail along the Hudson. Eudes Espino, co-manager of Tread Bike Shop on Dyckman Street, said that at least once a day a cyclist wandered in to ask how to get back onto the Greenway. By the end of the year, work will have begun on a ramp to the Hudson River part of the path, according to the Parks Department. For now, head up Riverside Drive, then lug your bike up stairs to reach the path along the Henry Hudson Parkway.

GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE AREA To your right, the Hudson River is a silvery ribbon far below, glinting through the trees. At Inspiration Point, a 1925 overlook modeled on a Greek temple, cyclists stop and gaze at the George Washington Bridge. Soon you’re swooping down to the foot of the bridge, with the Little Red Lighthouse tucked at its feet. From here to Riverbank State Park, the Greenway runs through what feels like a big block party on weekends. Volleyball nets are unfurled. Barbecues sizzle. The scene is more pastoral along Cherry Walk, from West 125th to West 100th streets, where the path weaves between trees that were beautifully in bloom for me.

Nearing West 100th Street, a cyclist in front of me swerved to avoid broken glass. I did too. But several yards later, at the exact spot where I’d started my journey four and a half hours earlier, Dr. Edward Fishkin sat on a patch of grass next to his red Cannondale bike, expertly fixing a flat.

The medical director of Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center and a cyclist for 25 years, Dr. Fishkin bikes up to 250 miles a week, and the occasional flat just comes with the territory. He rarely experiences flats on the Greenway, however, Dr. Fishkin said, adding, “Compared to what riding was like in the city 20 years ago, this is phenomenal.”

New Highbridge Park – Easy Access to Hudson River Park Greenway, Harlem Greenway, and the Only Mountain Biking in Manhattan!

Everyone is aware of NYC’s efforts to promote bicycling in the city – lots more bike lanes, expanded Greenways, less traffic in the parks, even mountain biking trails in Inwood.

Bike and Roll NYC’s newest location at Highbridge Park on Dykman St. is the perfect place to take advantage of all of these efforts.  Ride east on Dykman and the Harlem Greenway is just across 10th Avenue.  Ride west on Dykman and you’re on the Hudson River Park Greenway that goes all the way to Battery Park and beyond.  Go west and around the corner on Ft. George Hill and you’ll find the trailhead to the only mountain bike trails in Manhattan.  From calm, flat, bike paths to rugged, steep single track, every type of cycling is within blocks of Highbridge Park.

What’s wonderful about this neighborhood is that it’s a great place for any cyclist,” said Chris Wogas, president of Bike and Roll NYC.  “There’s a path or trail for everyone, from the novice to the most expert.”

“It’s really a great family activity,” said Jennifer Hoppa of the NYC Parks and Recreation Department and Inwood resident.  “Kids can easily and safely ride to the Harlem River Greenway where there’s a lovely, wide bike path.  It’s easy to keep an eye on the kids as they explore a new part of their neighborhood.”

Biking gives access to places that feel too far away to walk to.  It’s a fun, easy, healthy family activity.  It’s a great way to see sights you couldn’t see any other way.  It’s green.  Just about anyone can do it.  Then there are the adrenaline rushes from riding Highbridge’s mountain bike trails.  All these experiences are possible with a trip to Bike and Roll NYC’s newest Manhattan location:  Highbridge Park.

About Highbridge Park

Highbridge confounds expectations. With everything from smooth cruisers to wickedly technical “east coast gnar,” the trails provide a small but entertaining subsample of the best of the regions trails, all within the confines of the densest metropolitan area in North America. Highbridge Park itself straddles the rocky cliff band above Harlem River Drive between 155th Street and Dyckman Street, and the trails use this rocky, cliff-strewn terrain to their advantage… routing beginner riders through the shadow of hulking rock cliffs, and taking expert riders up, down and across the steep and challenging cliffside. In addition to the XC trails, Highbridge also features a freeride trail, with terrain that includes drops, berms, steeps, rock gardens and other challenging features sure to get your adrenalin pumping (designed and built in conjunction with pro ride Jim Dellavalle and the Brooklyn Bike Riders). But the most-used feature of Highbridge Park is the dirt jump park, designed and built by IMBA Trailsolutions with current and former pro riders Judd DeVall, Jeff Lenosky and Kyle Ebbett. The Highbridge jumps include a pump track, a beginner line with three small jumps, and an intermediate line with five tables and two berms. While the XC trails are a bit short to ride as a destination, they’re perfect for city residents looking for a local spin and riders out to sample a bit of everything- jumps, drops and trail riding all in one place, and all a half block from the #1 train.