Wednesday, September 06, 2006

BBB Archive Dec. 21 2005: Transit Strike: Cyclists Find it Easier to Navigate

Dec. 21, 2005-- Getting into and around the city has been easier and more enjoyable during the mass transit strike than at other times, said cyclists who rode to work on Tuesday. Many cyclists attribute the new ease to the reduction in overall car traffic under the city's HOV four-plus regulation on major entry roads, the restrictions on major avenues such as Fifth and Madison, and orange cones marking off bike lanes on several roadways.
Cyclists new to the experience of human power have expressed a myriad of emotions with their newfound transport, from joy, to amazement and self-empowerment. Despite the biting cold of 25 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the dry, sunny weather and layering for the cold have helped make the experience more bearable, though with snow predicted for Wednesday night, the mood may change quickly.
Many others remarked that the newfound space on the road and safety due to fewer cars, combined with the numbers of cyclists participating, encouraged riders to new levels of civility, with reports of 20 cyclists at a time waiting patiently at red lights.
Jamie Trachtenberg, 47, rode her bike from Park Slope in Brooklyn to Chelsea on Tuesday and said her ride was "exhilarating". "I dressed appropriately for the 26-degree weather," she wrote on ebikes, a popular email exchange for cyclists in New York City founded by Daniel Lieberman. She gave kudos to her warm "Pearlizumi lobster gloves", bowed to the inventor of the balaclava and marveled over the Sunday-like conditions. But she also complained that pedestrians were unaware of cyclists, and motorists drove like "Kamikaze drivers."
But overall, the negatives ere far outweighed by the positives: "I can't wait to do it again," she said.
Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg this afternoon called the Mass Transit strike "illegal, selfish, and unnecessary," cyclists are hoping that many of the changes put in place by the city's police and transportation departments, such as orange cones along bike lanes, will become permanent once the strike is over. But new changes coming on Thursday, including the further easing of restrictions on Fifth and Madison Avenues which had been restricted to emergency vehicles so far, will make commuting for cyclists less inviting.
Andrea Mercado who commuted from the Upper West Side to 40th St. and Third Ave. said that Fifth Ave. had effectively become a "big bike lane" due to the temporary restrictions. She noted that "cyclists were being abnormally mindful of red lights-- occasioned, no doubt, by the police directing traffic at every intersection." She and other cyclists who rode to work said they saw many new cyclists on the road, and even some from their own workplaces who were riding to work for the first time. Even though she has been riding for over eight years, Mercado normally does not commute to work because of heavy traffic and restrictions in her building that normally bars bicycles, temporarily lifted during the strike.
Other cyclists said that cones placed too close to the cars on many bike lanes, especially along Broadway and on St. Nicholas Avenue, made those lanes too dangerous, and were fearful that they would be "doored" by motorists opening their car doors into the bike lanes.
Still many "newbies" to bike commuting did not wear helmets or hats and gloves, a practice that is sure to ruin their enjoyment according to seasoned riders.
Peter Hoff traveled from Washington Heights to the east side midtown area, and said St. Nicholas Avenue from 168th St. to Fifth Ave.. was coned off, but too narrowly. But he could not help being infected by the newfound space on the road: "Boy, did the few blocks I rode on Fifth feel good," he said. " In fact, the whole commute felt good, the cars seemed less aggressive and a sweet mood filled the air," he added.
With only one lane to be restricted to emergency vehicles on Fifth and Madison Avenues starting Thursday, cyclists once again are feeling the familiar lack of freedom and safety they have been used to, creeping back into their commuting picture.
Still, with such a good experience under their belts, cyclists are hoping that the city's attempt to make riding easier and safer will help form future city policies and even inspire permanent changes, such as adding bollards to the edges of the now-easily infringed bike lanes. But the hope may be too soon, the apparition too facile, because motorists themselves are the problem cyclists acknowledge, and their behavior is far more difficult to alter.

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