Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

29 October 2015

A Crusader's Bike Lane

Some people have streets named after them.

For the longest time, I hoped to have a bridge named after me.  That dream began during my childhood when, from the roof of the building where my family lived, I watched workers pull cables and link girders that would become the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Sometimes I'd still like to have such a span named after me.  But now, if I were going to have anything named after me, I wouldn't mind a bike lane.  Not too many people have that, at least not yet.

One member of that club is a heroine of mine.  If you weren't living in New York during the 1990s, you probably haven't heard of her:  Julie (J.A.) Lobbia.

Every day, clad in bike gear, she'd roll her wheels into her office, where she'd change into one of the vintage dresses she found in flea markets.  At her desk, she'd write the stories she found while pedaling all over New York City, from the streets of Bed-Stuy to the avenues of Astoria, from East New York to the Upper West Side.

One of her rides uncovered a path of arson that predated the wave of gentrification that spilled over Williamsburg and other parts of Brooklyn. On other rides, she found everything from eviction notices to shards from construction sites led her to her stories.

But she was not a mere reporter or even just a researcher; she was a crusading journalist in the tradition of Jacob Riis, one of her idols.   She was also a kind of Sister of Mercy, if you will:  When an X-ray technician lost his job and home, she got him mattresses, pillows and blankets.  One day, she saw an eviction notice on a Chinese-speaking neighbor's door.  She spent a workday having it translated and later left a note under the door, in Chinese, explaining what that neighbor should do.

At least one of my commenters has said that cyclists have a stronger sense of justice than most people.  In my own unbiased view ;-), said commenters are right.  J.A. Lobbia was proof. 

In 2001, at the age of 43, she died of ovarian cancer. She asked to be buried in her favorite dress and bike shoes.

The sign in the photo stands at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street, just a block east of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.

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