Sunday, August 17, 2008

From 72nd St to the Brooklyn Bridge, and not a car in sight

That, my friends, is Park Ave
closed to vehicles.

Ever since Mayor Bloomberg announced the Summer Streets program I have been counting the days. Seven miles of city streets closed to vehicles? Bikers, skaters and pedestrians welcome to take over? Count me in!

You see, I would totally would bike to work except there is no safe route. I am not crazy enough to bike on New York City streets. And unlike my co-workers on the west side I don't have the safety of the West Side bike path here on the East Side. So I walk home sometimes but no biking. And on top of that, there are so many cool buildings on Park Ave that I've never taken proper photos of because you can't just stand in the middle of a busy street aiming for the right photo.

Someone must have heard my whining, because for three consecutive Saturdays in August the NYC DOT is closing Park Ave south of 72nd St and Lafayette to the Brooklyn Bridge to vehicles and opening it to cyclists and pedestrians. And it is nothing short of awesome. I missed out on the first Saturday but went this weekend with three buds.

The beginning of the street closures at 72nd.

My friends are all regular cyclists and I am...not. So I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up with them for too long. Asthma and all that. They all came from Brooklyn and met up with me at 72nd and Park. I was impressed with the police effort -- police at every block uptown with barricades on all side streets. You really get a sense for the lay of the land on a bike. Who knew NYC had hills? Not me, until I was biking up them. We had to stop a few times for designated car crossings but for the most part it was smooth sailing into midtown. The DOT had helpfully coned the middle of each side of Park. Bikes on the left and runners on the right. Of course, not everyone was listening. But for the most part it was quite pleasant.

Biking up the Park Ave overpass
Grand Central.

God bless my friends; they stayed with me all the way to Union Square even though I stopped every couple of blocks to take pictures. I kept myself mostly in check until we got to Grand Central. It was just such a riot being able to bike the underpass under the Helmsley Building and then around the Park Ave overpass that I had to take tons of photos. I heard a bunch of people remark that it was like "I Am Legend." Only, you know with way more people. No sign of the mannequin in front of the station. I'd give the mannequin a name drop but his role went unlisted on IMDB...ha.

We also made a pit stop in the 20s at one of the rest stops set up along the way. On the downtown side we grabbed free bike maps and signed a petition to make the program an annual event. Then we got free (badly needed, in my case) water bottles and filled them up on the uptown side. Once down at Union Square, I could tell my friends were itching to go and I was starting to tire. So I told them to go off with out me. After some slight protesting we agreed to call each other in 1 hour to decide what to do. I wasn't sure how much further down the course I could go anyway.

Union Square was the end of Park Ave as well and the course moved onto Lafayette, which was narrower and without an island between the directions. It also seemed a lot more crowded down there. I met up with several large packs of runners that were hard to maneuver around. I'm sure they would have complained about the crazy bikers, but they were taking up both lanes even though they only were supposed to be in the right hand lane.

This one group of about 15 or so runners kept catching up with me. By that point I was taking breaks every few blocks to catch my breath and by about the fifth time it was almost funny. I say almost because the runners were giving me a hard time about it. I decided to take a longer break to let them get a good distance in front of me. When I first started the course my goal was to make it to Union Square. Then I wanted to go 5 more minutes. Then 5 more. Well those damn runners really lit a fire under my ass and I decided to go the whole way.

The Brooklyn Bridge walkway
was very crowded.

A little while later I surprised myself when I realized I'd made it to the Brooklyn Bridge. At that point the traffic pattern narrowed from two wide lanes in each direction to a very narrow one. But I pressed on as far up the ramp as I could before I felt like my lungs were on fire. I dismounted and walked the rest of the way, pausing to take pictures along the way.

The view of NYC from the Brooklyn Bridge.

At the second tower I was taking shots of the skyline when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was friends J and J. They had passed the rest of my group a little while before and congratulated me on making it all the way down the bridge. They were going to brunch on the Upper West Side and invited me and my group to join. Ha, if I made it that far! Truth be told I had no idea how I was going to make it home.

Rested a bit, I started back. I was determined to bike the whole way back home even though I knew I faced a long ride with some uphills. Toughen up, sister! Downtown was rough but once I made it back to Union Square I felt re-energized. At least I was until that damn running group from my downtown plight caught up with me again. I was slightly mortified. But this is New York, so when they started giving me a hard time again some guy came to my aid, saying "Every time a jackass runner gets run over an angel gets their wings." That shut them up. The voice sounded familiar, and I turned around and it was my friend H who had come to my aid! Like a corny movie or something.

I paused at the water station in the 20s to refill my water bottle. My friends had biked around Brooklyn for a bit but decided to take the Js up on their brunch invite. What the heck, I was in too. We were about to get started again when two guys came running up to me. "Your tires are low," they said. "Can we help you pump?" Awesome. Turns out they were with the Five Borough Bike Club and they were pretty amazing. One guy took my front tire and the other took my back tire. They gave me their spiel ("Do you offer rides for severe asthmatics?" I asked half-jokingly) and a couple of minutes later I was ready to roll again.

And wow what a difference. I realized I was an idiot for not checking my tires before I left that morning. Suddenly it was smooth sailing. I kept up with my friends (though I'm sure they slowed for my benefit too) all the way up to 72nd. Then it was decision time: bike to the west side or drop our bikes off at my place and bus it?

Bike it was the consensus. We cut across the loop and met up with the girls at Cafe Lalo. We were not the only bikers there and we traded stories with another group that had also just finished the tour. Then we had to bike back...oy. When I finally got home, I calculated that I'd biked close to 20 miles. I collapsed on my bed and I don't think I moved for a couple of hours. That is until my lovely neighbors started crashing around. This is NYC, after all.

I made a slideshow in my flickr account of my best shots from the day. Enjoy! Also, a big thank you to all of the volunteers who manned the intersections. It was a safe and fun day and I cannot wait to do it again.

1 comment:

jg said...

So bummed to have left town right before this started. Great post... it sounds GREAT. Hopefully it will be very successful and Snick and I can enjoy it when we move home in a few years!