Bike Odyssey
North America 2004

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Journal for 17-August-2004 : New York City

At last some nice weather. We started off nice and early, and this proved a great strategy for the first 15 minutes. After that, we were battling the peak hour commuters.

Cycling was something of a nightmare on the 9. Parts of it has 4 very narrow lanes, and the traffic came in burst (the effect of traffic lights) where everyone races everyone else to work. I thought we were coping with it quite well, pulling into the occasional driveway to let the bursts through, then cruising along a briefly deserted road.

Bang, thud, crash! While safely up a side street we watched one SUV too big for the inside lane swerve to make it thought a set of lights without collecting it's neighboring dump truck. The car behind swerved, bounced high into the air off the gutter (amazingly in such a way to avoid wrapping around the nearby telegraph pole). The car behind that guy braked in panic stop, however the SUV driver further behind tried to combine his panic stop with an overtake, and THUMP! Did I mention this all happened in front of a police car?

We found a few slow but welcome back streets, then some surprisingly nice cycling through the mansions of suburban Yonkers, where the 9 widened up, and the traffic eased off. Plus, we took a wrong turn and got quite lost for a while, which seemed to help quite a bit!

At one point we crested a hill, and the distinctive shape of the Empire State Building came into view, barely visible above all the smog.

Had a stop at a pizza/bakery in what is technically the Bronx.

Found our way back to Broadway (highway 9) in time to spend a few Ks cycling under the L (elevated railway). This was quite an experience. As you might imagine, the noise was unbelievably intense, even for New York (which is exceptionally noisy, even for America). And on an otherwise perfectly good wide roadway there are massive poles every 10m jutting out of the road to hold up the train line.

Past the L New York's legendary traffic came to the fore. The first discovery was the prevalence of J-walking. Just riding along next to the kerb seemed to invite someone to step out in front of us. To start with yelling at these people (“watch out, I'm about to kill you!”) worked, but as we got closer to downtown even if our yells were heard they were completely ignored. Secondly, on a wide six lane road, two lanes are devoted to long term parking, two more are devoted to delivery van drop offs, leaving just two for through traffic, unless someone was getting in or out of a cab. Finally, road rules are just a few loose suggestions. On New York's streets it's everyone for themselves!

After a while we seemed to get the hang of riding. It seems everyone *expects* cyclists to just wobble out in front moving cars if there is something blocking the kerbside lanes (which there always is). And once we got a bit more assertive cabs were less frequently cutting into our lane. It might sound it but never seemed particularly dangerous riding in New York. That is because the traffic flows so terribly that no-one ever gets above 20km/hr, and *everyone* averages about 5km/r. In New York every intersection has a set of lights. And when the lights turn red, the traffic queues across the intersection so the traffic with the green light can't move. At least it can't move until the lights change again. The result is quite often the traffic only proceeds through intersections when the lights are red. Most of the time everyone is trying to short cut everyone else, and no-one goes anywhere. It really is spectacularly funny.

I'd never have believed it if I hadn't seen it, but New York has 11 million people who all drive like my dad!

We reached the unlikely green haven of Central Park, and cycled around the car free access roads amidst the thousands of joggers, bladers, stollers and cyclists. For the most part we trundled along at a pedestrian 15km/hour admiring the greenery, but covered 40 New York blocks in the time it would have taken to cover 4 on the other roads.

Every now and then we got a glimpse of the Empire State Building. But at one point I looked back and realised we'd past it. Linda was disappointed, as she wanted us to meet at the top as in an “Affair to Remember”. I consoled her truthfully that the most likely outcome was one of us would be run over by a taxi.

We made it to Times Square, the world's highest naturally occurring concentration of Neon gas. Standing on the corner was the Naked Cowboy, one (more) prize wanker wearing nothing but white undies, white cowboy boots and a silly hat (certainly no body hair) strumming a guitar while posing for lewd photographs with the female tourists. For some reason his guitar was decorated with stickers showing his support for one G. W. Bush. I presume that's so he doesn't get arrested.

Cycling the rest of Broadway seemed to take forever. It took a lot of concentration too, so much that we missed the turnoff to see the remains of the World Trade Centre, and I missed snapping a photo of the street sign for Wall St.

I was starting to feel completely lost, so we stopped at a convenient spot and checked our maps. We learned we were at Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan Island, our target destination!

We walked thought the swathe of tourists down to the foreshore where the Statue of Liberty would impress on us the enormity of our accomplishment in cycling across the length and breadth of America. It was tiny!!! Talk about the ultimate anti-climax. The bloody thing was only half the height of my thumbnail, and our commemorative photos that prove we've done it need a visit to photoshop.

We cycled the bumpy bike path up the East River (after we eventually found it), thinking this would be much faster than the roads. It would have been if we hadn't stopped just as often, but this time to snap photos of the Brooklyn Bridges, the New York skyline and just about everything else that doesn't move.

We picked up a bunch of passengers (inexperienced cyclists following the us on the official bike route) cycling the congested streets to the Queensboro bridge. I was astonished New Yorkers thought we knew what we were doing.

Cycled across the cycle lane on the Queensboro bridge, a converted traffic lane. In many ways New York is a *relatively* bike friendly city. Relative to driving a car in this town! The other thing in New York streets are either hopelessly undermaintained, or being “repaired” (ie dug up and relaid just as bad as they were before).

We got lost in Queens. Finding 14th street shouldn't have been harder than finding 15th or 13th streets, but where the numbers went straight from 21st to 12th there were a pair of Aussies looking dopey scratching their heads!

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