Bikes in NYC: Are we becoming European?
Wherever my travels take me, I always enjoy observing, if not directly experiencing, the myriad ways in which the locals get around town. The family of 6 on one scooter in Thailand, the shepherd with his flock riding on top of an Indian bus, and the over-flowing psychedelically painted Jesus-themed Guatemalan chicken bus are just a few examples. But nothing is more inspiring than seeing the ways people use bicycles.
I guess you could say that the bicycle is a fairly established means of transport in most places around the world. Much more so than in the majority of the US. On a few occasions I’ve witnessed how the use of bicycles abroad has inspired wayward American travelers. Upon return to the states, they become loyal bike commuters or avid bicycle advocates. In his recent blog post, ‘Gern Blanston’, the marketing honcho at the Surly Intergalactic Headquarters, admittedly writes that a visit to Paris inspired him to forego his auto and take up the good life on an iron horse. One of my former coworkers bought a bike almost immediately after his plane landed from a trip to Japan. The infection is spreading.
Before hitting up the bike and beer wonderland of Vermont, we stopped in NYC (aka the Center of the Universe, the Capital of the World, or Gotham, depending on your point of view) to take in America’s greatest metropolis for a couple of days. I have always loved New York because sometimes it actually feels like you are in another country. You can walk down the street and hear 5 languages being spoken simultaneously or travel from Italy to China just by crossing the street. I hadn’t visited the city in over a decade, and, of course I am slightly biased, but the first thing that took me by surprise are the amount of bikes—parked, being ridden, broken down, in pieces chained to lamp-posts… everywhere. Much more than I remembered.
It may be that it’s a bitch to drive in NY. There are indeed a mad number of people crammed into a relatively small area. Maybe it’s the result of our bike culture evolving past clicks of spandex-clad white guys to something that is approachable for everyone. Or, maybe it’s the addition of bike lanes, a massive greenway or the Summer Streets promotion where the city blocks off 7 miles of NY city streets for everyone to bike, walk or run. Of course, it’s not just NYC… Portland is probably the bike capital of the US. Either way it’s nice to know that nowadays, right here in the good-ole US-of-A, people can get inspired to ride bikes without even cracking open their passports.