2011 is off to a great start owing in part to my having been on vacation for its first week. And although I’m bursting with plans and resolutions, I’m not quite ready to let go of 2010. More to the point, last week’s break gave me time to reflect on some of my favorite memories of cycling in NYC last year, the ones that resonate as I look ahead to the potential and promise of a new year. Here, my highly subjective and utterly biased Top 10 List. (Plus a must-read concluding caveat.)
1. Bike Lane Bonanza – Last year, I crossed some cosmic threshold whereby the number of bike lane miles reached sufficiency to give me the courage to ride for transportation, not just weekend sport. I’m one among many who made the leap. The NYC Department of Transportation reported a 13 percent increase in bicycle commuting in 2010, the fourth consecutive year of double-digit growth. Since 2006, the city has added 250 bike lane miles in the Five Boroughs — almost 50 in 2010 alone. (List of installations here.) The Bloomberg Administration’s PlaNYC calls for completion of an 1,800-mile bike lane network by 2030. In need of our support right now: The promised extension of the First and Second Avenue bike lanes to 125th Street in Manhattan.
2. Bike Share Breaks Through – NYC will finally join the ranks of other major urban centers throughout the world that have adopted bike share programs in an effort to help reduce congestion and pollution. In November, the DOT announced a request for proposals from private companies to develop and operate a program that will provide 24-hour availability of secure bike sharing at “publicly accessible” prices via centrally located kiosks. The Brooklyn Spoke blog suggested naming the system, meant to launch in 2012, Mike’s Bikes. (But that was before Snowpocalypse ’10 hit.) In the mean time, bike share testing could begin this spring.
3. Women in the Bike Lanes – Female riders who embrace city cycling not only for fitness, eco-friendliness and efficiency, but also as a means of personal expression, emerged as the focus of “cycle chic” features such as these in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. In fact, a NYC Department of City Planning report found that, in the bike lanes, “the number of female cyclists is increasing faster than the number of male cyclists and the male to female ratio has dropped every year since 2003.” With consistently improving infrastructure that helps attract women to commuting, could it be only a matter of time before NYC catches up with major European cities where greater parity in urban cycling exists between male and female riders? Related and worth pondering: Why can’t “cycle chic” and bicycle helmets be on friendlier terms?
4. Car-Free Park Avenue – For the third year in a row the DOT closed NYC streets to motor traffic on three consecutive Saturdays in August, creating a summertime playground for cyclists and pedestrians along a route that extended from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park along Park Avenue. Most remarkable to me as a first-time Summer Streets participant, even beyond the celebratory good vibe and multitude of cool activities, was the singular sensation of riding on a Park Avenue free of motor vehicle congestion, fumes and noise. More please.
5. Pop-Up on the Bowery – For three months last summer, Rapha, the British maker of luxe cycling apparel and accessories hosted a pop-up shop and club house on the Bowery in Manhattan where bike lovers could view the Tour de France on flat-screen TVs, catch a cycling film, cheer mechanics competing in a bike-building race and more. Rapha’s ”glory through suffering” ethos may not be everybody’s, ahem, cup of tea, but the allure of a friendly bricks-and-mortar meeting spot for cyclists was undeniable.
6. Bespoke Bicycle Show – A different sort of glory was on display last spring and summer in Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle, an exhibition of 21 dreamy custom-built bikes by six renowned contemporary artisans at Manhattan’s Museum of Art and Design. It opened a window on the world of one-of-a-kind bicycles meticulously crafted to the exact specifications and desires of individual riders. And yet, one doesn’t have to own a costly handbuilt to appreciate the pride and satisfaction that most bike owners take in making their rides uniquely their own.
7. Urban Cycling Summit – In recognition of urban cycling’s widening popularity, the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives sponsored a summit on urban cycling culture last May. It aimed to foster discussion of how the NYC cycling community looks at itself, how others perceive it and to place this into historical context. Bringing together proponents from NYC’s various cycling “tribes” to exchange points of view was a good idea then, and may be an even better one now.
8. Remarkable Rise of Female Pro Cyclist – Evelyn Stevens was a Wall Street banker in 2007. Then she discovered a love of cycling and an inborn gift. In 2010, her unprecedented and inspiring ascendancy was chronicled by Bicycling Magazine and Stevens finished the year in the top ranks of women’s professional cycling. I can’t wait to discover the next chapter in this cycling Cinderella story.
9. Urban Bikes in Fashion – From bicycles in Madison Avenue women’s and men’s boutique windows, to editorial fashion spreads in Elle Magazine, to perfume ads in Vogue and Equinox’s exclusive pre-holiday deal with Derringer Cycles, city bikes were front and center in about every medium imaginable. Was it just a passing fashion fancy? Or is cycling securing a permanent foothold in popular culture and imagination as a viable urban transportation alternative?
10. Bike Shop for Women – Ah, a breath of fresh air. With the springtime launch of Adeline Adeline in Tribecca, NYC gained its first bike shop catering specifically (but not exclusively) to the city cycling needs of women. A broader question for the future: Although progress has been made, as urban riding continues to gain favor among women, how will an industry that has long been focused principally on male road cycling enthusiasts respond?
Now the caveat: In a salutary year, urban cycling seemed to attract more public discussion and debate than ever before, even among people who heretofore cared zilch about bikes. However, tensions among motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, plus media glare seem to be contributing to a whiff of backlash. Among picante ingredients in the brew of discontent are controversy surrounding installation of bike lanes along Prospect Park West; grumbling among some merchants about the impact of protected bike lanes on their businesses; questions from the City Council to the DOT about public buy-in of alterations to infrastructure, as well as scofflaw behavior among some cyclists. On the horizon: a public campaign to promote courtesy in the bike lanes, as well as calls for stricter enforcement of traffic and safety laws among cyclists (with an apparent crackdown underway according to posts this week to the #bikenyc twitter feed).
What the past year showed us was that urban cycling is big — it’s happening right now and much depends upon how the community responds to the challenges and opportunities ahead. As cyclists, each of us can play an active role in furthering a positive trend by advocating, communicating, educating, setting a good example. What will you do in 2011 to help support bicycling for a healthier population and a safer, more liveable city?
Top: Reflecting growing popularity, 2010 saw city bikes displayed in shop windows all over NYC. Photo: velojoy