a car-free, care-free manhattan bike ride

New Yorkers, northbound on Lafayette Street, enjoying the car-free route during Summer Streets '10. photo: velojoy

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of riding the Summer Streets route with a group of fellow cycling enthusiasts. If you haven’t biked, run, skated, strolled, scooted or skateboarded the 6.9-mile Summer Streets stretch of motor-vehicle-free Manhattan, I highly recommend it — not only for blast that it is, but also for the possibilities it suggests for a more bike-friendly city.

I confess that I hadn’t planned to attend on this particular Saturday; my morning began in a car bound for Long Island.  However, as we were halted at 9th Street and Lafayette, a Summer Streets nexus, here’s what I saw: Grinning cyclists on road bikes, cruisers, tandems and compacts pedaling freely through the usually traffic-clogged intersection. A few blocks north, on Third Avenue, I pulled the car over and bailed out to retrieve my bike in time for the #bikenyc tweet-up.

As our group spun up Lafayette and then Park Avenue we were enveloped in the collective energy of New Yorkers enjoying an extraordinary outdoor celebration. Think summer camp as giant block party — minus the Italian sausages and tube socks. Along the route: free bike and skate rentals, fitness classes, dancing, tennis instruction, children’s activities, live entertainment and, my favorite, Dumpster swimming pools near Grand Central Terminal.

Last chance: the Summer Streets finale is next Saturday, Aug. 21, from 7 am to 1 pm. Details.

But here’s what really captured my attention: Despite the extraordinarily high level of human activity, the streets were remarkably quiet. Because there were no cars. In fact, the experience reminded me of how Manhattan feels when heavy snow limits automotive traffic.

Beyond recreation, contemplation of a future in which the city is less tied to cars, and in which sustainable forms of transportation contribute to energy efficiency and improved quality of life, is in large measure what Summer Streets, which is sponsored by the NYC Department of Transportation, is all about. Cycling along Park Avenue with fellow New Yorkers under an open sky on an almost perfect summer morning, I found myself hopeful about the possibilities, and perhaps even more committed as an individual to helping make them a reality.

Summer Streets NYC dumpster poolsSummer Streets NYC Viewing Sign

Summer Streets young riderSummer Streets NYC jump roping

Clockwise from top left: taking a dip in a Dumpster; viewing the Summer Streets route map; double-Dutch jump roping; and taking a training ride on Lafayette. (photos: velojoy)

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