I ride my bike almost every day here in New York. It's getting safer to do so, but I do have to be fairly alert when riding on the streets as opposed to riding on the Hudson River bike path or similar protected lanes. The city has added a lot of bike lanes in recent years, and they claim they now have more than any other city in the United States. But sadly most of them are not safe enough that one can truly relax, as is possible on the almost completed path along the Hudson or on many European bike lanes. That's changing, bit by bit. As new lanes are added some of them are more secure, placed between the sidewalk and parked cars or protected by a concrete barrier.
Between 2007 and 2008 bike traffic in New York increased 35 percent. Hard to tell if the cart is leading the horse here--whether more lanes have inspired more bicycle usage or the other way around. I happily suspect that for the moment at least, both the Department of Transportation and New York City cyclists are on the same page. As more young creative types find themselves living in Brooklyn they bike over the bridges in increasing numbers. Manhattan Bridge bike traffic just about quadrupled last year (2008) and the bike traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge tripled. And those numbers will keep increasing as the city continues to make improvements to bike lanes and adds bike racks and other amenities. In this area the city is, to some extent, anticipating what will happen in the near future--a lot more people will use bikes for getting to work or for fun.
On a bike, being just slightly above pedestrian and car eye level, one gets a perfect view of the goings-on in one's own town. Unlike many other U.S. cities, here in New York almost everyone has to step onto the sidewalk and encounter other people at least once a day--everyone makes at least one brief public appearance. I once had to swerve to avoid Paris Hilton, holding her little doggie, crossing the street against the light and looking around as if to say, "I'm Paris Hilton, don't you recognize me?" From a cyclist's point of view you pretty much see it all.
Just outside a Midtown theater a man rides by on a bike--one of those low-riders. He's a grown man, who seems pretty normal in appearance, except he's got a monstrously huge boom box strapped to the front of the bike.
I ride off on my own bike and a few minutes later another boom box biker passes by. This time it's a Jane-Austen-reading, sensible-shoe-wearing woman. She's on a regular bike, but again, with a (smaller) boom box strapped to the rear... I can't hear what the music is.
David Byrne is a member of T.A.'s Advisory Council.
The preceding is excerpted and reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from BICYCLE DIARIES by David Byrne. Copyright © David Byrne, 2009.