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NYTimes.com Article: Spin City

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  • rickrise@earthlink.net
    The article below from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by rickrise@earthlink.net. /--------- E-mail Sponsored by Fox Searchlight ------------ I HEART
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2004
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      The article below from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by rickrise@....

      /--------- E-mail Sponsored by Fox Searchlight ------------\


      From David O. Russell, writer and director of THREE KINGS
      and FLIRTING WITH DISASTER comes an existential comedy
      starring Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Hupert, Jude Law, Jason
      Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts.
      Watch the trailer now at:



      Spin City

      October 3, 2004

      OVER the summer I decided that I was going to bike to work.
      I had always been a weekend rider, going on epic loops
      through the city, for 30 or 40 miles in an afternoon. From
      the vantage point of a bike, the city presents itself as a
      savorable panorama passing by at a speed somewhere between
      the blur outside a car window and the plodding pace of

      Most of my favorite bits of city life were discovered on my
      bike - the little smoothie shop I love in Inwood, the
      ghostly side street in Bedford-Stuyvesant that pleases me
      with its distinctly urban stillness. But like most New
      Yorkers, I felt that the streets were probably too
      dangerous for using a bike as serious transportation.

      Now, however, I imagined I would join an intrepid crowd of
      two-wheeled warriors, elegantly swooping through rows of
      stalled cars and past flat-footed pedestrians. Sure, mine
      would be a white-knuckle ride, but it would be worth it.

      On my first day out, my vision of going up against the mean
      streets crumbled. A few blocks from my apartment in Fort
      Greene, Brooklyn, I found myself riding a broad,
      well-marked bike path leading directly to my first
      destination, the Manhattan Bridge. After a smooth East
      River crossing and a dash west on Canal Street, I hopped on
      the West Side Highway bike path, and before I knew it I was
      at my office in Times Square.

      The trip was not just painless; it was relaxing and deeply
      enjoyable. As I locked up my bike, still stunned at how
      easy the seven-mile ride had been, I wondered: Could New
      York be on the verge of becoming a bicycle-friendly city? I
      decided to try to find out by spending one week biking

      The city has nearly quadrupled the miles of bike paths,
      from on-street lanes to greenways, since 1997, and more
      people than ever are cycling. According to the city's
      Department of Transportation, the number of people riding
      through Midtown in 2003 had tripled since 1980, to about
      15,300. Still, New York is no Amsterdam, where bikes have
      not only their own lanes but their own traffic signals, or
      Chicago, which recently opened a bike depot in the heart of
      downtown. New York's relationship with bicycles has always
      been complex, from its apex in the late 19th century, when
      the velocipede set off a craze that spawned 53 bicycle
      clubs, to its nadir a century later, when Mayor Ed Koch
      tried to ban bikes from Midtown.

      Though New York's topography - flat and compact - is
      perfectly suited to biking, temperamentally it has never
      been able to make peace with the bicycle. In the minds of
      many, bikes are at best a toy trotted out on weekends, and
      at worst a human-powered missile, often guided by
      messengers who delight in mowing down little old ladies.

      Since 1973, Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group,
      has fought to improve conditions for cyclists and won some
      big victories, like getting bicycle access on all the East
      River bridges. But Noah Budnick, who runs the group's
      bicycle programs, said the city still had a long way to go.
      "I don't know how you can say the city is
      bicycle-friendly," he said one morning as we dodged
      traffic. "I am riding on a side street in Midtown, and I am
      scared out of my mind. And I have been riding in the city
      for 10 years."

      Iris Weinshall, the city's transportation commissioner,
      sees changing that reality as part of her mission. "It is
      an integral part of our thinking now," she said. "Every
      project we begin, we take cycling into consideration. We
      hope that one day New York will be one of the world's great
      bicycling cities."

      I was about to find out how far it had to go.

      The Commute

      Commuting was the heart of my bicycle plan. I would save $4
      a day, get in shape, and could cover the distance in less
      time than it took on the subway. But the idea raised a host
      of questions. Would I be safe? Where would I keep my bike
      all day? Would I be a sweaty mess when I got to the office?

      Riding a bike in Manhattan traffic requires a peculiar
      combination of patience, persistence and pluck. On the
      first day of my experiment, I would need all three.

      I wanted to try First Avenue, which several messengers told
      me is something of a bicycle superhighway. On a good day, a
      skilled rider can sprint uptown, hitting each light as it
      turns green.

      But this would not be a good day. For starters, it was
      raining. After I crossed the Manhattan Bridge, I missed the
      green light at Delancey Street because a delivery van was
      blocking the bike lane, and a taxi had me boxed in on the
      other side.

      The bike path heading north ends at Houston Street, so from
      there you are pretty much on your own, dodging lumbering
      buses and squealing cabs. The rain and the dull patter of
      traffic lulled me, and I didn't notice when a man with
      gout-swollen legs and a cane emerged from a town car and
      stepped an uncertain foot onto the blacktop. I careened to
      a stop just in time, my back wheel popping off the ground
      as I slammed on my brake, my feet tumbling out of my toe

      Shaken, I got back in the saddle and pedaled slowly to 45th
      Street, where I cut across town. As I turned onto Seventh
      Avenue and saw the steam rising from the Cup Noodles sign
      in Times Square, I felt a surge of relief.

      The Night Ride

      Getting home late at night can be a drag.
      There is nothing worse than that long, sticky wait for a
      train after midnight, or forking over $10 to $15 for a cab.

      Michael Musto, the Village Voice columnist and an intrepid
      cyclist, told me that people laugh when he shows up in
      black tie on his battered bicycle. But, as he pointed out,
      "It is cheaper than a cab and faster than the subway."

      One Tuesday night, I tried it myself. After a Brooklyn
      Cyclones game in Coney Island, full of hot dogs and cold
      beer, I decided to return along the Bedford Avenue bike
      path, from Sheepshead Bay to Atlantic Avenue. Just before
      midnight, I set off.

      As I rolled through Sheepshead Bay and Midwood, I could
      have been in any small town; big houses sat on well-tended
      lawns, and a canopy of huge trees drooped over the streets.
      But crossing Flatbush Avenue gave me a start. Stately
      houses became chock-a-block tenements. The pavement rapidly
      deteriorated, and seamless lawns gave way to liquor stores,
      Laundromats and check cashing shops.

      I crossed Atlantic Avenue, and was minding my own business
      when a woman leaned out of her minivan window and yelled,
      "Bitch!" This happens sometimes when you're riding a bike.
      People hate you for no good reason. I sped up my cadence
      and slipped into the darkness.

      Locking Up

      In 1999, the Department of City Planning conducted a survey
      to find out why New Yorkers did not bike to work. The
      biggest reason was not fear for safety but fear of bike

      More than 10,000 bikes are reported stolen in New York
      every year, and countless more thefts go unreported. Many
      people try to get around this by buying a beat-up bike. But
      any bicycle, ugly or not, has value to thieves. "If you buy
      a bike for $50 and lock it with a $10 lock, of course it is
      going to get stolen," said Will Wood, owner of Spokes and
      Strings, a Williamsburg bike shop. "But if you have a good
      lock and are smart about where you lock it, you will
      probably be fine."

      But having a good lock solves just half the problem. You
      need a secure place to lock your bike. The Department of
      Transportation has a program to install bike racks around
      the city, wherever there is demand and enough sidewalk
      space. There are thousands of racks, but still not nearly
      enough, something I discovered on many occasions, most
      surprisingly around Madison Square Garden, which sits atop
      a transportation hub. I once spent 20 minutes searching for
      a place to lock my bike, but found only lampposts sternly
      warning against locking bikes there. I locked mine to one
      anyway, hoping it would be there when the Prince concert I
      was headed to was over. Luckily, it was.

      To the Beach

      No matter what the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
      says, getting to a quality beach on public transportation
      is no picnic, and driving is lousy, too; there's traffic,
      then parking, then the hike to the bathhouse. One Sunday
      morning I decided to try it on two wheels with my
      girlfriend, Candace.

      We discovered that the ride to Jacob Riis Park is one of
      the city's hidden gems. Completed mostly on flat off-street
      bike paths, it was an irresistible ride through Prospect
      Park's loop, and along Ocean Parkway, which has a lovely,
      shaded lane that is the nation's oldest urban bike path,
      designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and built in 1895.

      From there we took Neptune Avenue east, and were soon back
      on a bike path, the Shore Parkway Greenway. At first the
      path was not promising, with scrub brush to the right and a
      clogged highway to the left. Then, a twinkling vista of
      sailboats and glittering waves appeared, and the Marine
      Parkway Bridge beckoned. Before we knew it, we had crossed
      Rockaway Inlet, and the ocean air washed over us.

      On the way home, Candace had a flat tire, and we discovered
      that we had left home without some urban-cyclist
      essentials: a spare inner tube or a patch kit and a pump.

      Candace flagged down a cyclist who turned out to be a
      firefighter. He gave us a tube and even installed it, but
      it magically deflated near the A train at Rockaway
      Boulevard. We were deflated, too, and took advantage of one
      of the great benefits of cycling in the city, the ability
      to bring your bike on the subway.

      To the Bronx Zoo

      On the last day of the experiment, only one borough
      remained unvisited, the Bronx. (I disqualified Staten
      Island because it is not possible to reach solely by bike;
      the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge has no bike path.) I had never
      been to the Bronx Zoo, which is a good 18 miles from my
      apartment, so that seemed a reasonable destination.

      First, Candace and I stopped at Spokes and Strings to make
      a minor repair on my bike. There we met Nita Zackson, Ann
      Hall and Joan Redican, three women from Bellerose, Queens,
      who were deep into a long ride that would take them over
      several major bridges in the city. "It is amazing how easy
      it is to ride a bike in New York now," said Ms. Zackson,
      59, a Y.M.C.A. wellness coordinator. "It just seems to get
      better and better. Now you can go practically anywhere."

      Inspired, we set off despite threatening clouds. We started
      at the Williamsburg Bridge, which has a terrific path
      except for one problem - huge bumps that have caused
      several cyclists to crash.

      The East River path in Manhattan is a sorry mirror image of
      the Hudson River path. It is rutted, impossibly narrow in
      spots, and in Midtown it ends abruptly, spilling riders
      into a chaotic intersection off the F.D.R. Drive. Though
      the path continues uptown after 59th Street, we never got
      back on because the signs were confusing. Instead, we took
      First Avenue to the Willis Avenue Bridge. Here again, signs
      were sorely needed to help a cyclist cross the bridge
      safely, and it took considerable trial and error to figure
      out which side to use.

      The bike lane system in the Bronx, as in the rest of the
      city, can charitably be described as incomplete. We
      followed a bike path on Prospect Avenue until it ended just
      past Boston Road, then muddled our way through Crotona Park
      and over to the zoo.

      As we passed the polar bears, it started pouring.
      Determined to make it home on our bikes, we took Fordham
      Road to the University Heights Bridge into Inwood, barely
      escaping being mowed down at the bridge entrance, where
      again no signs indicated where the bike path was.

      Candace gave up when we got to the A train in Inwood. But I
      pressed on. At first it seemed I had made a terrible
      mistake. The rain intensified, soaking me as I ground my
      way down the deserted West Side path. But there were
      compensations. Sure, I would have been dry on the subway.
      But I would not have seen how New Jersey floated like a
      shrouded outline, ethereal across the Hudson, nor the way a
      blanket of clouds muffled Manhattan's spiky skyline. I had
      the path to myself, and I sped up.

      As I exited on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge,
      my cellphone rang. It was Candace, who had just arrived
      home. I checked my odometer: I had traveled 42 miles, more
      than 200 total for the week. I was sopping wet, chilled to
      the bone and exhausted. I had never felt better. I stashed
      my phone in my backpack, threw my leg over my bike, and
      rode home.

      Though calling New York bike-friendly would be a stretch,
      the frosty relationship between city and bike has thawed.
      Adrian Benepe, the city's parks commissioner and a lifelong
      cyclist, told me that one day he hoped to see ribbons of
      green joining the city's neighborhoods, a seamless network
      for cycling and nonmotorized forms of transportation.

      This is a cyclist's dream. Clearly the city isn't there
      yet, but it has progressed. Or, as Mr. Benepe put it, pun
      perhaps intended, "We are on the right path."



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