Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

31 August 2015

A Comparison Of Bike Share And Subway Systems: Paris And New York

Although I didn't use Velib when I was in Paris, I couldn't help but to marvel at some aspects of it.

For one, it seemed that quite a few riders on Velib bikes weren't tourists.  Now, here in New York, some people ride Citibikes to and from work, while others who don't own bikes sometimes take out those familiar blue bikes for spins around the neighborhood.  But such riders seemed more common on Paris streets.

But what really impressed me is how well-covered the city is:  One doesn't have to go more than a few blocks, even in the outlying arrondissements, to find a Velib port.  Also, one can find those ports and bikes in areas outside Paris proper:  I saw them in Vincennes, and along the way between the famous Chateau and the City of Light.  I also spotted the ports and bikes in several towns along the way to Versailles.

By contrast, the borough of Queens got its first Citibike stations earlier this month, in Long Island City--not very far from where I live.  Critics say that the new port doesn't really represent an expansion into the Borough of Homes because the ports are next to the subway stations closest to Manhattan, and on the Queens side of the Queensborough/59th Street Bridge.  Many people regard Long Island City (and my 'hood of Astoria) as satellites of Manhattan rather than true Queens neighborhoods.

The same criticism can be made, I think, about the placement of Citibike stations in Brooklyn:  Williamsburg, right next to the eponymous bridge that links it to Manhattan, was the first non-Manhattan neighborhood to get Citibike.  Nobody expects to see the blue bikes in the far southeastern and southwestern neighborhoods of the borough any time soon.  And it would be more than surprising if the bike share program ever came to Staten Island at all.

To be fair, Velib started in 2007, while the first Citibikes didn't roll down city streets until two years ago.  Still, the difference in how each program covers its city reflects another pattern in each city's transportation infrastructure.

You see, all of the neighborhoods that have, or are getting, Citibikes, are ones that are well-served by New York City's subway and bus systems.  They have major lines linking them to midtown and downtown Manhattan, and they are the sorts of neighborhoods in which many people (myself included) live car-free.

Official New York City Subway Map
New York City Subway map, 2015.  Manhattan is the island to the left; Staten Island is the one in the inset.  Brooklyn and Queens are to the right, and the Bronx is at the top. 

There are large swaths of the city that have no mass transportation at all.  None of the subways cross the city lines into New Jersey, Long Island or Westchester County, and most of the eastern half of Queens--as well as parts of southwestern and southeastern Brooklyn--have never had subway service.  Kings Plaza Mall, the largest retail area in Brooklyn, is about seven kilometers from the nearest subway stop.  So is JFK International Airport--which, until five years ago, didn't even have a light-rail link to the city's subways or the Long Island Rail Road.

Even in Manhattan, there are transportation "deserts", if you will.  One reason for that is that most of the subway lines on the island run parallel to each other, in  north-south ("uptown-downtown" in Big Apple parlance) routes.  Only two lines run across Manhattan:  the #7 train under 42nd Street and the "L" under 14th Street.  The lines that enter Manhattan from Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx become part of the "uptown/downtown" grid once they reach Manhattan.

Paris Metro map

In Paris, by contrast, the lines are spread in patterns that have been likened to the circulatory system of the human body.  One result is that no point within the City of Light is more than 500 meters (about 1/3 mile, or six New York City blocks) from a Metro station.  Some of the inner suburbs, such as Levallois-Perret, are nearly as well-served as central Paris.  Even so, there are proposals to not only add service within the city and inner suburbs, but to extend several lines further out.

I find it fascinating that both rapid transit and bike sharing systems in New York and Paris reflect the history of planning (or, in some cases, lack thereof) in each city. 

In my hometown, the first subway lines were built by private financiers who operated them, under city contract, in much the same way they would conduct their other businesses.  All of the city's transit lines were not brought under the umbrella of one governmental organization until the 1950's.  In a similar fashion, the city's bike share program, while initiated by the city, is run by Citibank--which can make (or lose) money as it could with its banking, real estate and other businesses. 

On the other hand, the Paris Metro system was centrally planned from the beginning.  That, I believe, is why lines aren't duplicated and, if you want to transfer from one line to another, you don't have to go all the way to the other end of town, as switching trains in New York sometimes necessitates.  And, interestingly, Velib was started by the Mairie  (City Hall) of Paris, which still owns the system although JC Decaux operates it.

Knowing all of this, I don't feel I'm being cynical or pessimistic in saying that Velib will be in Orleans before Citibike comes to Staten Island!


30 August 2015

Seeing The Coming Heat Wave

Every few years, it seems, we get the sort of summer we've been having this year:  Not exceptionally warm through most of June, July and August--until a heat wave comes right around Labor Day. 

Officially, today wasn't part of a "heat wave". But tomorrow is supposed to be the beginning of one.  Today, the temperature reached 33C and the air grew more humid:  a  marked contrast to the dry, almost crisp conditions we'd had for a few days.

I went for a ride anyway, out to the middle of Long Island and back.  I sweated, but no more than I have on other rides, and I wasn't really tired after 120 km.  But tomorrow will be toasty, the forecasters say:  about 35C.  And the two days after that will be hotter, and more humid.

I'll be working, so I'll probably ride late in the day, or the evening, when--at least in theory--it should be a touch cooler, if not less humid.

Even if I hadn't heard the forecast, I think I would have known the heat wave was coming.  I believe I saw it in the slightly reddish hue of the full moon that loomed over the Amtrak trestle that transverses Randall's Island when I was riding home last night:


29 August 2015

Get Out Of My Way!

If you read the post I wrote yesterday, you might not believe what I'm about to say.

OK, here goes:  When I sluicing the glass and concrete canyons of Manhattan--delivering everything from the title for land on which towers would be built, pizza with anchovies and pineapple (it smelled even worse than it sounds!), an Andy Warhol print (to Judy Collins, no less!), payroll documents and little packages with their unwritten, unspoken "don't ask, don't tell" policies, if you know what I mean--cab, truck and limo drivers actually used to back or steer out of my way when they saw me coming. 

Then again, if you knew me in those days, you'd know I'm not exaggerating.  Heck, people used to cross the street when they saw me.  I was young, full of testosterone--and angry, about being full of testosterone as well as other things, real and imagined.

Being a bike messenger was probably the one job (OK, one of the two or three, perhaps) in which being young and angry--and stupid enough to believe that my anger was a sign of how smart and sensitive I was--served me well.  I was quick; I got lots of deliveries and tips and a few gifts.  And, oh yeah, a couple of dates:  I guess it has something to do with what you've heard about sex with crazy people.  (It's true.  The only problem is that, once the act is done, you have that crazy person to deal with.)  It's probably a good thing I was a bike messenger:  It's probably one of the few jobs in which I could physically channel my rage and not get myself into trouble--let alone get paid for it! 

Now, if you've been reading this blog--or if you know me--you know I'm not the badass I imagined myself to be--or, at least, tried to make people believe I was.  I know that and, honestly, I'm happy about it.  Everything in life--including bike riding--is better even if I don't have the physical strength I once did.

Still, I take pride in knowing this guy has nothing on the bike messenger I was back in the day:

From Engadget