31 August 2013

Across The Bay

One of my more memorable one-day bike rides took me across the Golden Gate Bridge.

From Cyclelicio.us

Although, if I recall correctly, there is an ample guard rail on the side of the bike lane, I don't recommend the ride (or, for that matter, a walk across the bridge) to agoraphobics. The span itself is about 2.7 km long, and in the middle of it, you can see only the water beneath and on either side of you, and distant land in front of you.  

I haven't crossed the span in a long time.  But the memory of my ride was still fresh on 17 October 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck California.  If you were watching the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants--the two Major League Baseball teams on either side of the Bay--you saw the quake strike as the two teams were warming up for a game scheduled that day.   

If you weren't paying attention to fall baseball, you saw later images of the quake, including those of the San Francsico-Oakland Bay Bridge, on which a portion of the upper deck collapsed.  The bridge later reopened, but questions were raised.

Thankfully, the Golden Gate Bridge wasn't damaged.  Still, I couldn't help but to visualize myself on it at the moment of the quake. I've been on drawbridges when they opened; I knew that the vibrations from an earthquake would be many orders of magnitude stronger than anything I experienced.  And, of course, had the quake moved in a slightly different direction, a part of the Golden Gate could have fallen out.

I recalled my ride, the day of the 'quake and my reaction when I saw an announcement someone sent me.  The eastern span of the new Bay Bridge will open on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, at 5 am.  The adjacent bike lane will open at the same time. The eastern span of the old bridge will be torn down as the western span of the new bridge is completed.

East Span of new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

I want to bike the Golden Gate again some day. And I'd like to cycle the new Bay Bridge to compare the rides--and, of course, the views.  

(I must say, I feel kind of sorry for both the old and new Bay Bridges.  The new structure looks like it will be lovely, and the old one wasn't bad. But they both have to compete aesthetically with the Golden Gate.  That's not a fair fight for any bridge!)

30 August 2013

Two Views Of Cycling In New York

Guess where I took this photo:

You'd probably guess (correctly) New York, even if you've never been here.  After all, I haven't announced any trips to exotic places or given you any other reason why I'd be anywhere else.

I took the photo today, with my cell phone.  Now that you know what city is the setting, can you tell me which neighborhood?

You probably know that it's not Williamsburg.  I'll tell you that it's not Park Slope, Carroll Gardens or the Upper West Side. 

Actually, it's Harlem:  West 137th Street, between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards.  It's next to a part of Harlem called Strivers' Row and, to me, one of the most beautiful blocks in New York.

Now I'm going to show you another famous New York locale I've cycled many, many times, though not with the guys in the photo:

This photo, I'm guessing, was shot in the early 1970's, given the style of the photo and clothing,  from the blue-on-orange St. Mark's Place street sign--and, of course, the bikes.   

29 August 2013

Always The Same: Revelations And Changes

Parisians and psychotherapists disappear for the month of August.  Sometimes I think of myself as a Parisian in spirit,even though I haven't been in eight years, but I have no illusions of being a psychotherapist.  So what's my excuse for being somewhat conspicuously absent this month?

Well, I've managed to be busy with other things, including writing projects.  Hopefully they'll remunerate me; for now I find them rewarding.  And, frankly, when I haven't been doing those things--or riding or playing with my cats--I've felt drained, spiritually and emotionally exhausted.  The pastor of the church I started attending a few months ago says I'm healing. She's right.

Still, I've managed, in the past week, to ride to Point Lookout (Nothing like a few hours riding Arielle to make me feel lithe!) and to take a few shorter rides--and to record a few things along the way.

I'll start with something I saw on my way home from some volunteer work:

Sometimes I think archaeology is the step between destruction and forgetfulness.  At least, that's how things seem to work in New York. Sometimes, when a building is torn down, a long-concealed sign,  like the one in the photo, is revealed.  

What particularly intrigued me was the bottom inscription:  "Separate Waiting room for women."  Talk about a relic!  My undergraduate college went co-ed only four years before I enrolled in it.  And, boys and girls entered my Catholic elementary school through separate entrances:  a practice that was abandoned a couple of years after my family moved away.

Given that I lived as a male until ten years ago, it's hard for me not to wonder and imagine what my life would have been like had I entered through the girls' and women's doors.  Of course, had I lived in such a world, I would not have attended the college from which I graduated.  In fact, I might not have attended any college at all.

In those times, I probably would not have witnessed this:

The stretch of Brooklyn waterfront between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges has been turned into a lovely park.  Not long ago, it was off-limits, as the neighborhood around it--DUMBO--still consisted of functioning and recently-ceased manufacturing and warehousing.  This stretch of waterfront, like so much of the rest of New York's shorelines, was used in various ways by those industries.  In fact, most New Yorkers had little or no inclination to spend any time by the water, as it was associated with rough trades and characters.  Fifth Avenue became Manhattan's most-desired address in part because, of all of the island's avenues, it is furthest from the East and Hudson Rivers.

Ah, but some things don't change:

That's one reason why I--and Arielle and, on occasion, Tosca--like to take a spin to Point Lookout.


22 August 2013

Will It Become Lost Art?

Yesterday, while riding to my weekly volunteer stint at Recycle A Bicycle, I chanced upon something I may never get to see again:

Two years ago, David Wolkoff, who owns the property on which 5 Pointz is located, announced plans to raze the building and construct two towers of luxury condos in its place.  The demolition has been scheduled for next month.

Given that 5 Pointz is located just behind the old courthouse (one of the most attractive buildings in Queens, in my opinion) and less than half a kilometer from PS 1 and the Citicorp building.  As much as it pains me to say this, it's actually rather surprising that 5 Pointz has endured in its location in a quickly-gentrifying neighborhood for two decades.

That means, of course, something else that it pains me to say:  Two decades' worth of some of the best graffiti, by some of the best-known graffiti artists, will be lost.  And artists who have studios inside the building (for which they've been paying below-market rents) will have to find new digs.  Some might actually leave New York altogether.

It also means the loss of one of those landmarks that provides cyclists in New York with a vista different from any other.  

21 August 2013

Helping To Keep Citi Bikes On The Streets

Did I work on that bike?

These days, I ask myself that question whenever I see a Citi Bike, whether someone’s riding it or it’s parked in a dock.

When I worked for Michael’s Bicycle Company and Highland Park Cyclery, both of which were located in relatively small New Jersey communities, I would often see people riding bikes I’d repaired or assembled.  Or I would see those bikes parked in front of stores, cafes or libraries. Even if they were common models like the Schwinn Varsity or Peugeot UO-8 or P-6 , I could immediately tell which ones were “mine.”  This was especially true when I worked at Highland Park, where many Rutgers professors and students (I was one!) bought bikes or brought them in for repair.

No matter how generic their bikes, most cyclists did something or another that made their bikes distinguishable from the others.  Sometimes it had to do with accessories—one had an air horn, another a bell; someone might install a Pletscher rack while someone else with the same model  of bike would opt for a bag or not to attach any means of carrying books, groceries or whatever.  And then, of course, some cyclists festooned their bikes with stickers and decals of their favorite political causes, while others striped theirs with reflective tape.

In a way, I guess I was like a pig farmer:  He or she can tell one sow from the other even though they all look alike because he or she notices some mark, blemish or other detail no one else would see.  

Such means of identification are impossible on Citi Bikes.  The only differences from one to the next are the number on the chainguard and, of course, the serial numbers, which are located elsewhere on the bike.  

In addition to the chainguard, every Citi Bike has the same fenders, front basket, lights and bell.  In fact, every part of every Citi Bike is identical.  The only differences between each bike come in the idiosyncracies one normally finds in manufactured products.

I don’t mean any of this to be a criticism of Citi Bikes or the bikeshare program.  In fact, the bikes’ sameness is one of the reasons why the program has been so successful:  It’s easier to create “buzz”—so important in a city like New York—when a product or program has a particular, readily-identifiable “look,” if you will.  Just ask anyone in the fashion industry, advertising or the media.

It also makes it easier to keep the fleet up and running.  Parts can be easily swapped from one bike to another, if need be.  Also, the uniformity of the machines means that there are, really, only a few distinct repair issues.  In turn, mechanics don’t have to spend much time or energy diagnosing problems, as they might in a more polyglot bike shop.  What that means is that, based on my own observation,  each Citi Bike’s “visit” to a repair stand doesn’t take as long as a regular bike in a typical shop.

I worked on this one--I think!

Still, there was a backlog of repairs—mainly flat tires. That’s where I and five other Recycle-A-Bicycle volunteers came in.  We were temporarily recruited (for two weeks) to help get the bikes back out on the streets.

Now, that backlog was not in any way a reflection of the competence or efficiency of the regular Bike Share staff.  Indeed, some of them were working, or had worked, in some of the best bike shops in this city and elsewhere.  The fact that there were so many bikes, most with flats, waiting to be fixed was testament to just how much the bikes were being used.    You might say that, in that sense, the program was—at least for a time—a victim of its success.

So, for nearly two weeks the other RAB folks and I set out to clear away the logjam.  Not to boast, but we did so slightly ahead of schedule:  Each of us went home early on the last day of our two-week commitment.

In addition to flats, we tackled other repair issues.  For example, I trued some wheels, which I actually enjoy doing more than other bike repair work.  (I’ve built wheels.)  I also adjusted bearings, gears and brakes—and removed graffiti!

In all, I enjoyed the experience:  The people, including the mechanics and the Bike Share office staff, are friendly and diverse.  But, I must say I realized that all of my cycling hasn’t done much to improve my upper-body strength whenever I lifted a Citi Bike into a repair stand:  Each one weighs twice as much as any of my Mercians.  Also, I was reminded that nearly two decades have passed since I regularly worked in a bike shop:  Volunteering once a week at Recycle-A-Bicycle simply can’t compare to that.  At least two of the RAB volunteers who worked with me weren’t even born the last time I worked daily in a bike shop.  When they got the hang of things, I simply could not keep up with their pace.  

Still, I would like to think that I can look back and think that, in whatever small way, I have contributed to the success of a program that, I hope and believe, will see even further success.  That gives me some hope about the future of this city and society, and about young people.  If more are like the ones with whom I worked, all is not lost.  As long as they are working, and more people ride bikes (which is one of the real values of the bikeshare program), this city and country can be more liveable, and the economy more sustainable.

20 August 2013

A New Zealander Gets It

I found it interesting to read this New Zealander's take on cycling in New York City.

Author Stephen Lacey came before the launch of the Bike Share program, but he identifies some of the things that will be necessary to its success--and to make New York a more generally bike-friendly city.

The greatest hazard, he says, are pedestrians.  The problem is that they sometimes wander into bikelanes or try to cross them at mid-block. Also, runners as well as skateboarders and rollerbladers often use bike lanes as their tracks, where they indiscriminately step, turn or flip in front of cyclists who have no room to maneuver.

He attributes this state of affairs to something I've mentioned on other posts in this blog: the lack of what I like to call "the human infrastructure" of cycling.  We can build all of the lanes we want and expand bike share programs, but they won't make this or any other city more hospitable for cyclists if pedestrians, drivers and others who share public spaces aren't aware of, or choose to disregard, cyclists.  That awareness and courtesy is the real difference, I believe, between the more bike-friendly capitals of Europe and cities like New York. 

Finally, Lacey noticed another difference that I have also seen as a result of having traveled:  New York cyclists, he says, don't have the "cafe culture" that cyclists in his home country (and, I've noticed, much of Europe) enjoy.  "We didn't see any road riders meeting in groovy espresso shops in Manhattan or Brooklyn for an apres-ride caffeine fix, " he says.  

While there are a few bike shops that include coffee and snack bars, and some "groovy" cafes that try to attract and accommodate cyclists, I think he's right in noticing that there isn't a culture around such things, just as people don't grow up with an awareness of how to interact with bicycles.  

Hmm...Could having more cycle cafes--or more cyclists congregating in cafes--be the thing we need to create a human infrastructure of cycling?

19 August 2013

A Ride To The Dancing Girl

Most of you will probably never see me dance.  Consider yourselves lucky.  Trust me.

Of the things I can't do, dancing is probably the thing I most wish I could.  An actual dancer may beg to differ, but I always had the impression that dancers come closest to creating a jeu d'esprit with the human body.  

Probably the closest I come to that is when I ride my bicycle, however gracelessly and (these days) slowly.   

Dancers. as we know, often perform solo.  However, at their best, they're always dancing with someone or something.  Often, I think, it's with the audience, at least figuratively.  Also, they're performing duets or in concert with their surroundings, their memories and the temper of their times. 

The other day, I danced with Arielle.  We traipsed across bridges, rolled through tenement valleys in the Bronx and waltzed, it seemed, across fields and woods that lined the roads just beyond the suburban sprawl of Westchester County.  It also felt as if we were leaping across brooks and streams and along the coastline of Long Island Sound.

I had no destination in particular, but about three hours later, we ended up In Stamford, CT.  Look at what welcomed us to the city:

 Stamford sculptor James Knowles created Dancing Girl in bronze.  In 1987, a local businessman and his wife donated it to the city,where it was displayed in front of the Old Town Hall for fourteen years. Fourteen years later, it was "temporarily" removed for a renovation to the plaza.  For the next nine years, the girl languished in captivity, I mean, storage.  Finally, three years ago, it was re-dedicated.

Who says art has no effect on anything?  I felt lighter as I started to pedal home, even though I was, within a few minutes, making a fairly long (though not particularly steep) climb.  Oh, yes, I had a breeze at my back.  But I think the girl was guiding me and Arielle, in spirit.

18 August 2013

You Never Know Where You'll Find One

Here's another example of a bike that, as I rode by it, caught my eye for a reason I couldn't discern until I stopped to look:

It's a Motobecane mixte from the early 1980's--the "Nobly" model, I believe.  I assembled and sold a few of them back in the day. This one is a basic model, made from carbon steel tubing and with stamped dropouts that don't have a threaded "ear" to mount a derailleur.  If I recall correctly, it came with a Huret Eco derailleur, mounted with a "claw", as derailleurs often were on low- to mid-level ten- and twelve-speeds.

One thing I know, though, is that it didn't come with this component:

By the time this Motobecane was made, very few (if any) off-the-shelf bikes came equipped with the Specialtes TA Vis-5 (commonly called the "Cyclotouriste") crankset.  By the 1980's, even European touring bikes were coming with more modern triple cranksets from Stronglight, Sugino and Shimano, which didn't require as many mounting bolts--and, by which time, offered just about the same range of gears--as the TA. 

It's also incongruous to see the crank on this particular model because it was intended as a "sport" or "ville" bike.  While a few Rene Herse city bikes were equipped with TA Cyclotouriste cranksets (particularly if the owner lived in a hilly city), a bike like the one in the photo was more likely to have a double or single chainwheel in front.  

(For the record, I'm almost entirely sure that the bike in the photo originally had a Japanese-made Sakae Ringyo (SR) crankset.)

What I find really incongruous, though, is the fact that the TA crankset, which is intended for triple and wide-range double chainwheels, used as a single-speed.  It's a bit like using a Swiss Army knife to open a candy bar wrapper.

I wonder whether the bike's owner, or whoever installed the crankset (the same person?), realizes that he or she could sell the crankset on eBay for more than what he or she could get for the rest of the bike.

15 August 2013

Sunset In The Afternoon

Yesterday I rode to Sunset Park, in part to take in some of my favorite views in this city.

I half-jokingly refer to the eponymous neighborhood around the Park as "Brooklyn's San Francisco."  Just a block away from the park, 45th Street begins a dramatic descent to New York Bay.

Most people think of the waterfront area as part of Sunset Park.  I guess it is, technically, but I think of it as Bush Terminal, after the complex of factories and warehouses that line Second and Third Avenues.

A few businesses have left the area, but the area looks much as it did during my childhood, when two of my uncles worked on the piers.  

They were "longshormen", a job that has all but disappeared.  But with its factories and warehouses, Bush Terminal is one of the last blue-collar waterfront areas of New York.  It's something like the Williamsburg and Long Island City waterfronts about twenty years ago, when the last factories (including the Domino Sugar plant that had been operating since the 1850's) were winding down.

As you can see, the old industrial buildings, in various states of disrepair (and none of which stand taller than five stories) provide a vista of open sky and water that can be found only at the beaches.  But, I think that an urban photographer or other artist will find the light--an almost surreal combination of metallic reflections and diffuse mist--a most accomodating canvas.

I wonder how much longer those factories and warehouses will operate.  When they close--which, eventually, they will, given how a developer would salivate at the sight of such real estate--I hope those weathered brick facades--as worn and useful as a coat that has survived yet another season--won't be torn down to construct condo buildings, faceless in spite of all of the glass that lines their exteriors, that now line much of the Williamsburg shoreline.



13 August 2013

The Ultimate Guide To Bicycle Safety

Amidst the chaos that has been my life during the past couple of weeks, I received an interesting request from reader Courtney Fettu.

She has worked with the law offices of Jay S. Knipsel to create "The Ultimate Guide To Bicycle Safety".  She wanted some feedback on it, which I gave.  She then sent me a revised version, which I am going to reproduce here.

Even if you've been cycling a long time, I think you'll like the guide and find it useful.  It goes beyond the usual "rules of the road": In addition to giving safety tips for children as well as adult riders, mentions some of the laws regarding bicycle safety and what a cyclist should do if he or she is involved in an accident.  The information is presented in an engaging format, which should appeal to visual learners as well as those of us who are readers.  

Please share it with fellow cyclists, school and youth groups, and anyone else who might benefit from it:

Bicycle Safety

Here is a link to the guide I will list it on the sidebar of this blog.  

12 August 2013

Why Discounting Memberships Isn't Enough To Get Public Housing Residents To Join The Bike Share Program

Sometimes I wonder what's being taught in journalism schools--or, for that matter, in a lot of other schools--these days.

This article about New York City's Bike Share program (a.k.a. Citibike) seems to have been written by the  cut-and-paste method.  In recent years, I've seen any number of student papers--and, sadly, professional documents written by people whose credentials and pedigrees are supposedly superior to mine. 

OK.  Enough of my ranting.  The article, in spite of itself, raises some interesting and important questions about, not only the Bike Share/Citibike program, but of the nature and demographics of cycling--not to mention other social phenomena-- in the Big Apple.

According to the article, the 58,000 annual memberships sold as of mid-July include only 500 discounted memberships to residents of New York City Housing Authority apartments.  

NYCHA residents can purchase a membership for $60 instead of the normal $95 fee.

Citibike and the Department of Transportation distributing free helmets in New York City Public housing project. From The New York World

Notice that I wrote "residents" in the plural and "a membership" in the singular.  That, according to the article, is what seems to be happening:  NYCHA residents are sharing membership, which the Bike Share program forbids.

If they are indeed doing so (which I don't doubt), I can understand:  After all, NYCHA residents tend to come from lower on the household income spectrum than people in private housing.  Also, families who live in public housing are more likely to have family members or friends staying with them for a few weeks or months after arriving from out of town or the country, or during a bout of unemployment or other difficulties.  I imagine such long-term temporary residents (Is that an oxymoron?) are using their hosts' passes. 

Even if, say, five or six people are using each NYCHA Bike Share membership, residents of public housing are probably using the Bike Share program less, proportionally, than other people in New York.  

One major reason is, of course, that the shared bikes are less available to residents of public housing.  For example, the Bronx, eastern Brooklyn and southeastern Queens, which have large swaths of public housing, do not yet have any Bike Share ports.

Whether those areas of the city get ports any time soon is an open question, as they include some of the highest-crime neighborhoods (and most dangerous streets, traffic-wise) in New York.  Also, in talking with residents of those areas, some express concern or outright fear of cycling in their neighborhoods,  whether because of gang activity or other crime, or traffic, so one has to wonder whether they would ride.  

I don't know exactly which parts of which public housing projects are controlled by which gangs.  But I'm sure that significant parts are controlled by Bloods.  Their arch-rivals, the Crips wear blue:  the color of Citibikes.

Perhaps even more to the point, though, is the paradoxical resistance, and even hostility, one finds to cycling and cyclists in lower-income communities.  In Portland, people of color refer to bike lanes as "the white stripes of gentrification."  Though not articulated in quite the same way, many poor and working-class people of color--who comprise the vast majority of public housing residents--hold such attitudes.  (I know:  I've heard them.)  

So, if membership is indeed low in New York City's housing projects, I think  Bike Share/Citibike administrators will need to address the cultural as well as physical barriers to renting and riding bikes in the neighborhoods in which the projects are located.  Now, if people are sharing memberships, well, I don't know what to say.



11 August 2013

A Ride Into The Memory Of A Storm

Life is slowly returning to normal, some eight months after Superstorm Sandy.

I saw evidence of this on my ride to Point Lookout yesterday.

A stretch of the Rockaways Boardwalk has been reconstructed, and another part has reopened.  What's interesting is that you can see both of them together:

Concrete and composites are being used to reconstruct the sections that were destroyed.  Of course, that fact begs the question of whether such a structure may still be properly called a boardwalk.

Then there were parts that were merely fixed.  You can tell these parts by the new guardrails:

It's hard to tell just how powerful the storm was when the sea looks so calm.  However, when I got to Point Lookout, the tide was in:

The water tumbled against those rocks just a few moments after I took that photo.  Although skies were clear and gave nary a hint of even a shower, it's hard not to remember the storm.

04 August 2013

The Past Week--And The Future?

If you've been following this blog for some time, you know it's not like me to "disappear" for a week.  But I have good excuses, er, reasons for not having posted during the past seven days.

You see, I have embarked on some research and other projects.  They're not related to my "day" job but they are related to some of my deeper passions and inclinations, as well as to developments in my life during the past few years.  It's a bit early to discuss them at any depth; the fact that they've taken up so much of my mental (and, at times, physical) energy makes it difficult, if not impossible, to talk about them in any event.  However, I trust that I will have some interesting things to describe and discuss.

(Also,the recent heat wave broke for a stretch of some pleasant weather, so I've spent the little free time I've had on my bike!)

At least one of the experiences is bike-related and a direct result of previous volunteer work; another is related to things I've discussed on my other blog.  

I think I'm living in interesting (for me, anyway) times, and hope to make them interesting for you, dear readers.  Might the course of my life be changing yet again?