Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Streets Winds Up a Long Hot Summer

BBB headed out to bike down Park Avenue for the Summer Streets event with Ana Banana in tow.

It was 80 degrees, cool compared to most of this summer when I loaded Ana into "Paws," her aluminum-constructed Burley wagon, and attached the wagon to my mountain bike.

Wearing one of my Hotvelociti bike dresses which I wanted to test out for function and wearability, I set out for a day of socializing and viewing New York from a different perspective--13 miles of uninterrupted car free roadway from 72nd Street and Park Ave., to the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge.

This was the third and last Summer Street event this year, the first two having been held earlier this August.

The idea was to see Park Ave. from the viewpoint of a cyclist without the pressures and dangers of motorist traffic. This of course was only true once I reached 72nd St. and Park, and to the end of the closed course in Manhattan.

I was to meet John Doyle, research director at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Russell Meddin who is spearheading an effort to bring a bike share program to Philadelphia. Both had boarded Amtrak early in the morning to make  the ride today.

First I wound my way through Central Park, which was relatively crowded for a summer morning--wasn't everyone supposed to be in the Hamptons or upstate? Runners, cyclists, walkers, skate-boarders, skaters, tourists snapping photos, parents with baby carriages, and even the errant car fought for space along the drives.

I exited Central Park at 72nd St., and crossed two blocks to Park Ave. to the start of Summer Streets. 

Starting down Park was marvelous. I breathed a sigh of relief as I experienced this lovely avenue that used to be home to horses and carriages at one time in history, and now was the one day getaway for people to ride and walk in peace.

Children delighted as they biked with their parents, while some skateboarded, and others rode in strollers.

The pedestrians on the right side of us were slightly in conflict with cyclists as we approached and had to stop at major intersections.

Most of the intersections were heavily posted with crossing guards dressed in bright green or orange safety vests, and big signs that they turned, one saying "STOP", and the other, "GO".

But some were not manned at all, and at times this was confusing, and it took a while to relax and go through red lights: you had to look for the barricades on the side street to make sure you would not be hit by a car while proceeding through. 

A woman with flowing blond hair, pink sunglasses, pink shorts and a pink bike cycled next to me. This was her third Summer Streets this year, and she had done three in 2009 and four in 2008. But she said she never rides in the city otherwise. "Too dangerous," said the woman without a name.

Girls cooed at Ana Banana in her wagon, one calling out in French, "Maman, c'est un chien!" ("Mom, it's a dog,") with surprise.

Young men riding in a pack grinned at me, and one said, "She should be pulling you!"

Almost everyone was riding very slowly, much too slowly for my pace. Even when I slowed down I was passing just about everyone. People were just enjoying being there, free and easy, and it seemed to have little to do with the sport of cycling.


As I made my way downtown, we passed the Pan Am building that rose gloriously in front of us.

It was a zooming delight to make our way through the tunnels of the building and out to the other side, where scores of tourists had jammed the roadway trying to take photos of the magnificent building behind us, before swooping down the descent. I think Ana really enjoyed the downhills, as the breeze lifted her little ears, the wind cooling her down from the hot air.

Yes, it is now called the MetLife building, but it will never be that for me, since I've lived in New York most of my life. I mean, the name Pan Am has a real historic echo to it, considering that they left a legacy behind them of interesting architecture, design and style (re: the Pan Am Worldport at JFK Airport, great stewardess outfits, and fancy magazine ads, see pics).

Pedestrians crossed at the regulated intersections when they had a green light, or took their chances darting in front of us where they didn't, but cycling traffic was woefully slow, about 15 mph max.

Once we passed 40th street however, the lanes became much more narrow and it made less sense to have pedestrians walking on the right hand side: there wasn't even enough room for cyclists who formed gaggles and stoppages along the way.


When I got down to Lafayette St., I met up with Doyle and Meddin in front of Charlie McCorkell's store, Bicycle Habitat. It was a hub-bub of activity.

Here is a pic of them with a gorgeous cyclist who happened to come by and I asked her to get into the photo.

There are two Bicycle Habitats-the first one is fabulous, new Trek concept store with high end Madone models and Team RadioShack jerseys and bibs--the second, original two-storefront width shop was jammed with customers.

(You can get some of the higher end Madones on sale now for about $1,000 less than their original price at Charlie's store.)

Just outside the concept store were the folks from bike share company B-cycle who were chosen for the Denver, CO and Chicago, IL share programs, and are vying for the share program in Philadelphia and New York.

B-Cycle is a partnership between Humana Inc., Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky (see pic,) and is similar to the Velib bike share program in Paris, which I checked last July at the end of the Tour de France. (The program which was pioneered by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoƫ of the French Socialist Party is very successful, but the program has also lost a lot of bikes to vandalism and theft.)

According to Treehugger.com, a bike sharing program is being evaluated in New York City by the Bloomberg administration as we write.

Next to the B-Cycle display was another table stationed by Charlie Collins, Beth Bryson and John Kalish (pictured left to right) of the New York Cycle Club who came to offer free bike tune ups and spread the word about Escape New York, the big bike ride they are putting on Sept. 25th. The first 800 people to register receive a free pair of socks!

If you recall, Collins and I were some of the lucky New Yorkers (along with Bill Rigler and Tassana Landy--oh yeah, and Bike Snob who dominated the conversation all the way up 9W and then Armstrong knocked his fitness level on Twitter, LOL) who got to ride with Lance Armstrong from near to George Washington Bridge to Piermont, NY last October. We got to know one another a little when we sat and gushed over our experience in Bunberry's in Piermont that day.

One more table down, Bicycle Habitat had set up an outdoor sale table full of good deals on apparel, gloves, and accessories, and it was a freaking mob scene!

Pic right: Matt, Charlie's son, and a customer in a great outfit and riding a zany green bike!

They also had a free tune-up, pump-up stand going on, and there was a line eight people deep waiting for the mechanic.

I decided to come back later when I could check out the store, and Doyle and I headed down to the Brooklyn  Bridge, while Meddin discussed bike share programs for Philly with the people from B-Cycle (apparently they are going to make a stop in Philly tomorrow).

We headed down, stopping briefly at the lights on Canal Street: I have never seen so many cyclists ever on this street! We passed the court buildings, the fringes of China Town, and then neared City Hall and the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Since I had Ana Banana in the trailer behind me, I had been forewarned that the bridge would be congested, so we turned around in front of the majestic steps of City Hall.

It was amazing how quickly we got down to the bridge from Lafayette St., a testimony to how much more simple cycling would be with dedicated avenues (not just bike lanes) and real safety.

Everything looked better too--the architecture of buildings really stood out when seen without a jumble of cars blocking the view, and interactions with people on other bikes were easy and friendly.

Coming back to Lafayette St., I went back to Bicycle Habitat and ran into Danny Lieberman, founder of E-bikes, the electronic exchange for heavy duty cyclists in New York (you have to email him to join at ebikes@ebikes.org).

Here is a picture of the two of us together inside the store.  Danny was on his way to the airport soon thereafter for a 2.5 week bike trip in Australia. Have a good time!

While in the store I picked up a new pair of sexy navy bike gloves, and front and back Glo lights by Trek for my mountain bike.

These little babies are so cute, they attach easily to your handlebars or stem, and are made in gorgeous colors like sea foam green and bright fuschia.

Pink seems to be on my mind lately and I mentioned this to Charlie's son, Matt, and he suggested that they had a nice hot pink helmet I could try on. Since I have been looking for a new helmet for a while (the one I have is pretty old) I thought it was a great idea.

It was gorgeous and at the end of my visit, it went home with me! See me with my new helmet outside the store (how did I know this would end up being a cycling shopping trip too!)

Doyle had to take off to get back to Philly in time for a meeting, so I meandered my way back up town to 72nd St.


On the way I passed a set up for TimesUP! at Cooper Square and snapped this picture of a woman with her two little dogs carried in a cage of sorts behind her.

TimesUp! were blasting Barry White through portable speakers and I couldn't stop humming the tune as I made my way up towards 14th St. Could it have been "I am never ever going to give you up?"

I continued further up towards 72nd St., and the traffic crossing guards were already warning us that the road would soon become car-full again, but the way one woman said it was really confusing: "Park Avenue will open at 1 pm".

"But I thought it already was open," I said to one rider next to me, when I realized what she meant was OPEN to cars, CLOSED to us. Darn!

I made my way back to 72nd st. narrowly missing a few pedestrians who were walking aimlessly, and two, three and four abreast in the middle of the cycling side of the street, and then over into Central Park again, stopping for food at the Central Park Boathouse.

It's one of the very few eating establishments in the city where you can actually eat outside with your dog sitting next to you instead of being tied up outside a fence. The food is decent and affordable, and finding a table doesn't usually take too long. Ana finally got to walk around, but refused to eat any of my turkey burger, the pieces of which were snatched up by hungry pigeons. I was shocked that they would eat the meat of their brethren, but down the hatch it went.

We made friends with Pettina and her dog Malcolm who is a therapy dog for children. Malcolm wore a cute Lilly Pulitzer scarf around his shaggy brown neck, and he eagerly drank the water that Ana had left behind.

Two children came up to pet and admire Ana Banana, and then the day was over and we headed home. Too bad Ana could not have run a little next to me--we'll have to save that for the next trip!

And my only other regret: that the Summer Street course wasn't longer and bigger.

Next time it should start in Washington Heights and go all the way down to the Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. I also think they should reserve Fifth Avenue for traveling south, and Park Avenue for traveling north--two avenues closed, for the whole day. Now that's not too much to ask for, is it???

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