New York City is arguably one of the best bike cities in the country. People bike everywhere, and it’s a great way to see the city without putting too much wear and tear on your feet. While the city can be tricky to navigate and drivers are aggressive, with a little research and safety precautions, it is a great place to ride.
Or so I’ve heard and seen.
I didn’t ride at all in New York, as tempting as that was. As a cyclist, I observed a lot. That made it tough to stay off of wheels, and there were a couple times I considered either renting a bike or grabbing a Citi bike, but I exercised caution rather than risk hurting myself and ruining the vacation.
This post is just about the biking that I saw during this vacation.
The Three Tickets
We saw bike lanes practically everywhere in New York. At first I cringed seeing riders ‘sharing’ the road with aggressive taxi and Uber drivers, not to mention dodging walkers and dealing with traffic. I could tell that riding in Manhattan is not for the squeamish if you ride surface roads along with cars. There are plenty of isolated lanes that allow for a more safe and quiet ride, but those are generally scenic areas and not necessarily a way to get from point A to point B.
One of the coolest things I saw was while walking not far from the United Nations. There were a lot of bike lanes in that area, but as usual in NYC, not much parking. We walked along a road where three cars were idling in the bike lane, using it as a parking place. We thought nothing of it until we heard yelling behind us. Our heads snapped around and we saw that it was a cop, and he was yelling with authority.
We almost stopped in our tracks, wanting to watch the human drama that was about to take place. Instead we walked slowly and inconspicuously as we saw this police officer yell at the first guy. He swaggered up to the car and handed the first guy a ticket. The guy protested, tried to give an excuse, and he didn’t even listen. He then was upon the 2nd car, also delivered a ticket. By this time our slow walk had placed us in front of all three cars, and we saw the driver of the 3rd car looking concerned through his rear view mirror. Bam! The officer ticketed the 3rd guy. The entire thing took place in about two minutes, and I was lucky to catch a picture of the final ticket. I don’t know this officer’s name, but he immediately became my hero. People better not park in the bike lane on his watch!
Running Red Lights
When I hear or see something in the news about a cycling incident (usually an accident, and unfortunately sometimes a fatality), a lot of people point the finger back at cyclists for not obeying traffic lights. Stephen Pastis even twerked us in his Pearls Before Swine article by saying we are above everyone and allowed to do this. The truth is that most that cycle for sport are extremely safety conscious and they obey traffic laws. I pride myself on riding like a car would. The gray area is stop signs, which we will coast through without putting the foot down, but we first make sure that passage is safe. Essentially that is a stop because we are going slow enough to see danger in the area, but unclipping and putting the foot down, and then having to clip back in slows us down and makes it take longer for us to get through the intersection, which is a different type of danger.
Many of the traffic laws in New York are out the window for bikes and pedestrians. If the coast is clear, we walk or pedal through the intersection, red light or not. The cars will stop, but that’s because they would get a ticket otherwise and there are police everywhere. The law looks the other way with walkers and bicyclists. That’s all well and good, but I saw some people doing very dumb things on a bike. Usually these were locals or tourists. There was one time I saw a bike dart out into an intersection where I had already stopped because I saw three cars coming. He didn’t see them, and for a split second I thought I was going to witness a horrific accident. Instead he turned the wheel towards the right once he saw the cars. I still thought he was going to get hurt, just not as bad, and then he kept on turning. He did a U-turn right in front of us, and was fine. Mad props to him for his reaction, but I guess you learn survival instincts while biking in New York.
The Citi Bikes
At many major intersections, we saw rows of the familiar blue bikes from the Citi program. We saw people riding them often. The program has to be a huge success, and it really makes sense for Manhattan where many people do not drive (we didn’t either). These riders were mostly tourists, and a lot of them did not wear helmets, but they also tended to ride in safer areas like Battery Park City and across the Brooklyn Bridge. This was the biggest temptation to me, and I almost pulled the trigger on a Citi bike to ride over the Brooklyn Bridge on my last day in town, but I passed. The worst case scenario would be that I would flare up my scar tissue injuries and have a miserable flight back. There wasn’t a good chance of that, but I still didn’t want to risk it.
One of the funniest sights we saw during our trip was someone using the Citi Bike as an exercise bike. He even had headphones on and everything. Most people, myself included, would far prefer to ride in scenery than in one place, especially along the Hudson River, which was where this guy was riding. Not to mention, the bikes are relatively inexpensive. This was a kid, so maybe they were expensive for him. Either way, we got a good laugh and I hope he got a good workout.
The Central Park Ride
This was the toughest temptation for me. We visited Central Park twice, one day from the west side and the other from the east side. We were bombarded by people trying to rent bikes when we got off the subway. When we got into the park, we understood why. There were bike lanes and bikes everywhere. As we navigated through on foot, we were only able to see a small portion of the park, and even that little exhausted us. I’m the type of person that likes to explore and see everything, so it felt wrong to pack up and leave without seeing the main park attractions like the reservoir or Strawberry Fields.
Just because we were in the park, didn’t mean that bikers were any less aggressive. This time we had to watch out for them when walking around. There was one time that I was crossing the street when all of a sudden a road cyclist was darting right towards me. I stopped in my tracks. He nodded to motion that he would take the inside lane, and I was able to continue crossing. Just like in downtown Manhattan, the Central Park cyclists have built-in instincts on how to get around safely.
Even though I wasn’t able to cycle, I walked dozens of miles and the hip held out, so I should not be too disappointed. That said, I love to ride and that’s one of the major attractions for going to New York City. No worries because we loved the city so much that we’ll definitely be back again. I’ll make sure that next time I’ll be healthy enough to ride, and Central Park will be at the top of my wish list.