Of all the ways to get around New York City, nothing will give you a better appreciation of all the comings and goings of each particular neighborhood than riding a bicycle. While caution (and a helmet) are always needed, more and more areas of the five boroughs are being adapted to safely accommodate those on two wheels. More than 300 miles of bike-friendly paths have been established across the city in the last five years alone, and these four neighborhoods stand out among the best places for cyclists to set up shop in the city.
Considered a haven for young families with strollers, this neighborhood has made great accommodations in recent years for people riding on half as many wheels. Picturesque Prospect Park West’s dedicated 2-way bike lane, guarded against traffic by a parking lane, is one of the best stretches of Brooklyn for both weekend riders and daily commuters. Not to mention the 3.35 mile loop inside Prospect Park itself, great for exercise loops or slower treks to admire the scenery.
Battery Park City
This young neighborhood, despite being near one of the city’s worst areas for car traffic, actually offers a peaceful calm during the daytime, along with easy access to the Hudson River bike path. One of the most popular routes in the city, this path leads riders up the entire length of Manhattan’s West Side, making BPC a great staging area for your two-wheeled adventures. Most buildings in the neighborhood offer dedicated bike storage, meaning you won’t have to lug your ride on any stairs or elevators.
On the other side of the island, this locale east of the East Village boasts calm, quieter streets perfect for pleasant bike outings far from sometimes-worrisome crowds. There may not be too many subway stations around, but seasoned bike riders may consider that an advantage. Alphabet City’s proximity to the protected bike paths running along 1st and 2nd Avenues means your trips uptown won’t require a Metrocard, just your trusty bike and your own two legs.
Bike lovers will find themselves right at home in Brooklyn’s northernmost neighborhood, where a low number of train stops and long bike lanes along Kent Avenue and Franklin Street give bike riders a distinct travel advantage over straphangers. For jaunts into the city, the Williamsburg Bridge is a short ride away. If you’re ever in need of a fix, local spot B’s Bikes serves the neighborhood with notoriously knowledgeable but friendly service.
So you’ve decided to join the ranks of the bicycle commuters. Now, job number one is to prepare and take some precautions to be sure to avoid any potential pitfalls, especially if you’re in a big city like New York.
It should go without saying that you need to have a helmet and reflectors. Rear-facing mirrors and a knowledge of hand signals won’t hurt, either. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are a few tips and tricks to help get you started:
Act Like a Car
Even though you’re a lot smaller and more vulnerable, if you’re running with the big boys, you’ll need to fit in. This means recognizing that you’re a part of traffic and not some rolling observer. In the absence of bike lanes, you can ride in the normal traffic lanes like a car would. Just don’t forget, this means following all traffic laws, too. Riding around like red lights, stop signs, and one way streets don’t apply to you is asking for trouble.
Do a Dry Run
Even if you ride all the time, there may be some idiosyncrasies of your planned route to work that you won’t be expecting. Before setting out at commute time when the most cars will be on the road, consider taking a few hours during the weekend or any other off-time to ride the route and get used to it. You might even find a better path than the one you’ve mapped out.
Prepare for Changes
This might seem obvious to most of us, but for the sweaty 1% out there: you are probably going to stink. At the least, keep some deodorant in your desk. You might want to consider a gym membership close to your office, even just for the showers. You’re already getting a great workout with your commute, so if the gym fees aren’t too high, just think of it as paying for a daily shower. Your coworkers will appreciate it.
Take Your Time
You know how stressful it can be to push through a crowded subway station to get to work when you’re late. Now imagine instead of commuters, it’s trucks and taxicabs. Budget yourself more than enough time to get to work so you won’t have to speed through traffic just to make it in by 8:59. Your safety is more important than staying up late the night before.
Yes, you want to whip yourself into shape and bring down your carbon footprint. But that doesn’t mean you need to transform yourself into a riding warrior on day one. Start slowly, because even biking one day a week is better than nothing at all. The last thing you want to do is overexert yourself and get hurt, and have to take substantial time away from the road.
Know Your Ride
You won’t have to break down and rebuild your bike, but knowing how to change a flat or replace a broken chain can be a godsend if you’re stuck out on the street by yourself. The better you can do it on your own, the less you’ll have to rely on an expensive technician’s help. Plus, the grease stains on your hands will give you something to brag about when you get to the office.
There is a renaissance of cycling across the country, and New York is no exception. More commuters than ever are choosing to bike, a shift that collectively cuts down fossil fuel emissions and keeps urbanites active, if not a bit sweaty. To encourage biking and make room for its growth, many cities are implementing projects to become bike-friendly. In New York City, these have been more divisive than you’d expect.
Car-centric Manhattan has never been biking mecca like Denmark’s Copenhagen and likely never will be. While it did have its boom back in the late 19th century, at which time some major streets in Brooklyn were constructed with bikes in mind, the fad died out before long. After cars became affordable, most of the decades following streets were designed strictly for motorized vehicles. The main island’s narrow streets and heavy traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, have since made cycling a hazard.
Since 1990, biking in NYC has increased by 320 percent, and 68 percent between 2010 and 2014. Now that biking is returning in a big way, the trend has to reckon with cars’ legacy in an increasingly crowded city. Depending on who you ask, modern bike lanes are either a blessing or a curse, as balancing the needs of different types of commuters has proven more difficult than anticipated.
Veteran taxi drivers and residents will tell you how different city streets were just 20 years ago, and their opinions are by and large the same: bike lanes make things worse. While helpful for bikers and good for energy efficiency, they complicate the rules of the road. Drivers get confused, slow down, and traffic gets backed up. Smooth sailing? Not unless you’re a biker, and even then, you might still get hit: biking fatalities number in the hundreds each year, and even spiked in 2014.
Bike lanes should in theory make things safer, but anti-bike advocates have called their implementation “monstrous” and “truly offensive”, with some claiming that the Department of Transportation has vastly overstated their benefits. They take up valuable road space, cut lanes of car traffic from three to two and make it difficult for taxis to pick up customers without getting ticketed. Drivers say that in spite of lanes, many bikers don’t follow the rules.
Those in favor of bike lanes, including Mayor Bloomberg, who made them part of his legacy, argue that they don’t increase congestion and actually stimulate the economy, since pedestrians and bikers are likely to patron local businesses. Further, the implementation of Citi Bikes across the city has enjoyed immense popularity in spite of some problems.
It seems like drivers and bikers will never agree on the merits of bike lanes, but one thing is for sure: the city’s many pedestrians are neutral as long as there are no bikers on the sidewalk.