Saturday morning my friend Sacha called with a giddy edge to her voice. She was biking up Park Avenue, closed to car traffic for Summer Streets, and had just passed Grand Central Station.
“It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” she shouted into her cell. “Miles of Park Avenue heading up to the Park, and nothing but bikes and pedestrians. Biking in New York with absolutely no fear!”
Now, I generally don’t mind the adrenaline rush of biking down Broadway, working my way between cabs and buses, but I wasn’t prepared for the euphoria to come when I took Sacha’s advice and started to bike uptown.
Nothing but bikes and pedestrians — and everyone smiling, glad to be alive? Kids on trikes, roller bladers with boom boxes and neon spandex, whole families on tandems and bicycles built for three. “Did you rent that?” I asked about the latter. “Oh, no,” the mother said with the deepest seriousness, her kid perched on the middle seat between her and her husband. “This one’s ours.” It felt like the morning after the apocalypse, venturing above ground and back into the streets with my fellow survivors.
Heading north, I wasn’t sure where I would stop. At the bottom of the Park? No, 59th street came all too fast. At 72nd, where the ride up Park Ave. officially ended, I thought briefly about turning around and heading back downtown, but decided to ride over to the Park paths instead. Once there, I made the entire loop around the Park, something I’ve never done before, and exited again where I entered. The bikers in the Park seemed not to know that just off their hamster wheel was an open artery running straight downtown for miles, all the way to the Bridge.
The route is lined with volunteers warning you of the few upcoming required stoplights, or gently guiding bikes to one lane and runners and walkers to the other. Repair stands dot the blocks along with activities for kids, including helmet giveaways and bike care classes. The whole communal effort gives you something of the feel you get running or cheering for a marathon. But nothing quite matches the rush you’ll feel biking up the taxi ramp in front of Grand Central, heading smack up to the facade, working your way around to the East, then coasting down the hill behind, through the tunnel and into city sunlight.
Summer streets has one final installment Saturday the 23rd. Details here. Do you hear me, Mike Bloomberg? This thing better happen again next year and happen bigger!
Bottom photo via yyoyoni/Flikr
I’ve taken advantage of both Summer Streets sessions so far, by myself the first time, with my family last Saturday. My older son is almost eight, still too young to ride in the street, so it was quite a treat for him to be able to get out there in the middle of the road. Until he got run over by a guy with dreadlocks speeding up Park Avenue and weaving, messenger-style. Luckily, just a little scrape on the elbow (not nearly as bad as the five stitches to the chin that he took when he didn’t clear the side of a pool last week). I’m hoping he’ll still want to ride this weekend. He didn’t seem too fazed by the accident. For the most part though, the bikers were respectful of the fact that the streets were being shared by cyclists, bladers, and pedestrians.