Monday, August 08, 2011

Summer Streets, Summer Fun

Cycling down Park Ave.: What a breeze on a
bike! (c) Benepe/ BBB
August 6, 2011
New York City

Summer Streets is back, and so is the pleasure of riding down through the caverns and past gorgeous architecture of New York's Park Ave. without the noise, toxic emissions and danger of motor vehicles.

Cyclists waited at intersections when
told to: Hmm, wonder why?
(C) Benepe/ BBB
Thanks to an initiative started by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the closing of Park Ave. from 72nd Street down to the Brooklyn Bridge for the sole use by cyclists, pedestrians and runners was held on Saturday August 6, and will be repeated next Saturday August 13, and the following, August 20.

It's the fourth year in a row, and clearly no longer an experiment, but some cyclists are wondering, like BBB herself, why not close it the whole weekend with permanent barriers? All summer, too. Drivers can just take buses and trains or bikes into the city.

Rounding the corner at the old Pan Am Building
(c) Benepe/ BBB
New York is so much nicer without cars, and even traveling at a cyclist's snail pace among children and tourists, traveling the whole distance to the Brooklyn Bridge takes less time than if you were riding in a taxi! In fact, your legs don't even notice it, you're having so much fun.

It's also one of the few times in the city that cyclists obey traffic laws, and the reasons are numerous.

First, they don't have to compete with motorists for room, and there is little fear of being hit by one, thus, advancing through an intersection to "get ahead" of dangerous motorists who squeeze cyclists to the curb, is not an issue.

Secondly, they can ride for many blocks without fear, and without having to stop every two seconds to dismount for a red light.

This Saturday's event was a real pleaser with even more activities along the route than last year. We saw (but did not stop at) a major food court on 25th St., on the other side of Madison Square Park. No bikes were allowed inside, but surprise! There was bike parking.

Tommy Tan came from Shanghai to volunteer as part
of the Orientals group, (c) Benepe/ BBB
STOP! in the name of love! on 23rd St.
(c) Benepe/ BBB
Around 50th Street there was a giant dance-in, which seemed to attract a lot of people.

I preferred the bicycle as did many others.

Children of all ages joined in the fun because at all of the major intersections where car traffic was allowed to pass from East to West and vice versa, there were volunteers holding "STOP" and "GO" signs.

Benepe wearing a Hotvelociti bike dress
and Charlie McCorkell,  owner of
Bicycle Habitat where you can buy one
(c) Benepe/ BBB
A major contingent from China had come for three weeks to staff the intersections. We caught up with 13-year-old Tommy Tan from Shanghai who came with a program called the Orientals.  We could not find any information on the organization, but it appeared they provided a very large number of the orange-shirted crossing guards.

One of the major benefits of riding summer streets is that you can get a bike rental or roller blade rental for free, a boost for anyone who doesn't know where they would find a bike for the event.

Waiting for the light at Houston St.: Many children
rode Summer Streets on Saturday, because it's the only
safe place for them to ride other than the
West Side Greenway (c) Benepe/ BBB
Also listed among the activities that make Summer Streets more of a party than a bike ride are sand sculpting workshops and story telling by StoryCorps at Foley Square (near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge, at the bottom of the Summer Streets route,)  rock climbing thanks to REI on Spring Street, and guacamole-making demos by Chipotle, the big restaurant chain, on 52nd St.  

Fashionable helmets outside Bicycle Habitat
(c) Benepe/ BBB
Last year the city put up swimming pools, but despite the sweltering weather of about 90 degrees fahrenheit, we saw no pools this year.

Fashionable helmets were de rigueur with
this crowd, (c) Benepe/ BBB
Still it was evident that most people took the ride for its most basic pleasure, riding up and down Park Avenue when it is devoid of cars. We saw hundreds of New Yorkers decked out in their fashionable best, with the most variation in cycling helmets, especially among hip young women and men. 

The biggest fashion accessory however was no helmet at all, even though free helmets were being given out along the course. 

Or no helmet at all, which was often the case
 (c) Benepe/ BBB
That might come in handy, for example when at 12:50 p.m., ten minutes before the close of Summer Streets, when thousands of cyclists were still on the course, a volunteer crossing guard had abandoned their post on the east side of 59th Street, and a child went barreling towards the intersection before I screamed STOP! three times.

None of us were really aware that car traffic was about to pass because the now familiar orange-shirted guard was gone.

I mentioned this to a New York police officer standing at the next corner with his hands in his pockets, and he shrugged in a bored way and did absolutely nothing. 

Needless to say, a helmet would not help much in the case of a full car slam, especially for a small child on a small bicycle, whose height doesn't even reach the top grille of an SUV.

So word to the wise, watch the intersections yourself, and don't place all your trust in crossing guards, especially if you are traveling with children.

Serving up amazing dark coffee at La Colombe in Soho
(c) Benepe/ BBB
Speaking of helmets, we caught up with Russell Meddin and his son Alex who came in from Philadelphia to enjoy the ride and pass out cards about Bike Philly which is to take place on Sept. 11, 2011 (for some odd reason Transportation Alternatives would not help Meddin by putting his cards on their display.) We shared a flavorful cup of dark and fragrant coffee at La Colombe in Soho, and spoke to a woman who was visiting from Australia and reading the Wall St. Journal while just outside the doors was a world of bicycles.

She said bike share was not popular there because of a new mandatory helmet law that has been passed which had the negative effect of decreasing bike use. "What do we do, rent a helmet? That's gross," she said. "Or carry it around?" 

An Italian made coffee cup at
La Colombe (c) Benepe/ BBB
Meddin agreed, quoting a recent study published in the British Medical Journal that argued that bike share in Barcelona saved 12 lives due to reduction in pollution, an increase in physical activity, and the replacement of cars with bicycles for a number of Barcelonians through the Bicing bike share.

We also stopped by Charlie McCorkell's shop Bicycle Habitat, where employees were providing free tune ups for cyclists (tips appreciated!)

We visited their gorgeous Trek Concept Shop where you can price out a new Trek, which BBB is predisposed to, having used a Madone 5.9 women's specific design to win many triathlons before the bike was run over by a motorist.

These bikes are fast, fast, fast (like lightening), but you can also get a tool around Trek bike for as low as $300, and it will be light and flexible.

Rosie knows how to travel in style in her mom's
Dutch contraption, (mom does all the pedaling)
 (c) Benepe/ BBB
Yes, full disclosure, we are NOT subsidized or sponsored by Trek in any way, though Bicycle Habitat does carry Hotvelociti, those gorgeous bicycle jerseys for men and women, and bike dresses for women (or men as it may please you,) which are made by the same company that owns and publishes BBB.

In the photo above we are modeling one of this year's gorgeous bike dresses with matching shorts which you can find at the store. (Next week we will be wearing the Red Leopard backless bike-to-dinner-to-disco number which you can also find at Bicycle Habitat along with a big selection of men's cycling wear and bicycles.)

Morene Bangol outside Bicycle
Habitat and NYCC booth
(c) Benepe/ BBB
Outside of Charlie's shop we ran into Rosie and her mom on a fantastic little Dutch number--along with doggie too! What a way to go! Go Rosie, go Rosie, go Rossssiiiiieeeeee!
Charlie Collins bike-fixer extraordinaire outside
of the NYCC booth (c) Benepe/ BBB
And right next door, Ellen Jaffe president, and Charlie Collins, member of the New York Cycling Club had their booth next door to Bicycle Habitat's. Charlie was dutifully doing bike repairs too, and member Morene Bangol dropped by, fresh from a ride to Piermont in her purple jersey and matching sunglasses.

A great day had by all: We'll see you next Saturday when Summer Streets are open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

1 comment:

kole said...

Looks like you guys had a lot of fun.