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A moment for bikes in New York

Commuter, Utility / Cargo Bike 9 837

Photo credit: Photo: Clarence Eckerson,

I’ll take a break from sharing new bicycle concepts today to reflect a bit on what is happening in New York City this week. According to the NY Times, “in post-storm New York, the bike is having a moment of sorts.” In addition to reports about bicycles being the best (in some cases only) way to get around lower Manhattan and other parts of the city, there are countless other stories about bikes being used to generate power for charging cell phones and more. The Wall Street Journal even reports that a gas station owner in Brooklyn is telling his customers to use bikes during the gas shortage. So yeah, bikes seem to be having a moment… but will it last?

A recent post at Bike Hugger mentioned the industry adage that “bicycles are like the cockroaches of transportation in natural disasters.” That quote is a bit humorous at first, but it is very true. People on bicycles really can adapt very quickly to unforeseen disruptions that cripple other forms of transportation. Gas lines may be miles long, subways aren’t running everywhere, and infrastructure is damaged in places, but a person with a bike can get anywhere they need to in the city. It would seem that more people would recognize the fact that bicycles are incredibly efficient machines in times like these, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. The truth is that many of those angry people in long gas lines are likely to continue to view cyclists as a nuisance, and knowing that they are getting around freely now will only fuel their opinion that bikes shouldn’t be on the roads. In the wake of the storm, you would think that many people would realize that the bicycle can be a simple solution to many of our country’s transportation (and health) problems, but until the average American’s attitude about driving and road use changes, that simply will not be the case.

Maybe attitudes are slowly starting to change though. New York Mayor Bloomberg is one influential person who gets it. During a ribbon cutting for a 20mph ‘slow zone’ this summer, he said “our roads are not here for automobiles. Our roads are here for people to get around.” The blog Roads Were Not Built for Cars reports that he later said at a press conference, “the streets were there to transport people. They are not for cars…Cyclists and pedestrians and bus riders are as important, if not, I would argue more important, than automobile riders.” Perhaps other Americans are starting to come around to the idea that streets are for people, not just people in cars, but I just don’t see that attitude shift in large numbers yet.

I am sure that there will be some people who ride a bike out of necessity in New York this week, and realize that it is just a better way to get around. Some of them will continue to ride a bike once things are “back to normal”, but the vast majority of people will settle back into old habits of driving (and ignoring the everyday cyclists they do see). I would love to see the bicycle’s ‘moment’ last, but it won’t be long before the streets of New York are clogged with ‘normal’ car traffic again. Change happens slowly though, so I just hope that the usefulness of the simple bicycle sticks in a few people’s minds after this latest storm becomes a distant memory. Maybe someone whose cell phone was charged at a  free bike-powered charging station in desperate times will keep that in mind when they are tempted to honk at a cyclist who they feel is slowing them down. Maybe this ‘moment’ will change a few people’s attitudes about bikes and cycling. I am not as optimistic as I would like to be, but I certainly hope it will.

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  1. MarkB November 2, 2012 at 6:03 pm -  Reply

    The people who are riding ‘temporarily’ now, and will resume driving, have never experienced the euphoria of the ride, and they never will — until they let go of the mindset that dictates “do as little as needed to get by”. They will look back on this, as they did the transit strike, as a moment when they ‘gallantly rose to meet adversity’, but no more.

    I wish it was just “their loss”…..

  2. ian in hamburg November 3, 2012 at 2:53 am -  Reply

    Face it, most people who drive in the city still consider cycling to be the realm of freaks and weirdos. It will always be so.

    • PeterAnker November 4, 2012 at 4:02 am -  Reply

      Not only that, but they consider that cyclist shouldn’t be alloud on roads among cars.
      Honks, and swearing, and they just don’t give you space when they overtake. It’s like you are sign post or something.

      I’m atalking about my home town, wich is in a 3rd world country.
      I’m hopping for a beter future thoug…

  3. Kay November 4, 2012 at 3:33 pm -  Reply

    Great blog! Well said!

  4. siklistang mambuleno November 6, 2012 at 1:06 am -  Reply

    you will notice the necessity of a bicycle when there’s no more fuel to be sold or trade, and this could happen into your nation someday…

  5. Geoffrey November 7, 2012 at 9:30 am -  Reply

    I live in Berlin, and happily and willingly ride for errands, commutes (with children in tow) as well as sport….. I lived in NYC for twenty years +, and rode sporadically — the traffic felt too hostile and unpredictable…. when I was single it was ok, but as a father I felt irresponsible. I left at the beginning of 2011.

  6. smalghan November 7, 2012 at 9:38 am -  Reply

    I’m more optimistic that this is an opportunity for people to feel out the distances and routes they cover in their daily routines with less traffic around and discover how convenient and flexible a bike is for getting around the city. A little of the shine will wear off as more cars come back on line but a point will have been made. A place like NY is so much better lived and experienced on a bike than in a car.

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