On May 7, I participated in the Five Borough Bike Tour. The weather was perfect. It was the first rain-free or dry road Sunday in four weeks. I would have liked it to be a little cooler in the afternoon but who could complain.
It was a microcosm of what is great and not so good about New York City. New York City is a bike-friendly place. Every year there are additional bike lanes. One example is when I rode to Central Park to get ready to volunteer. I was able to ride on Queens Boulevard safely on the separated bike lane. Then I was able to ride over the Queensboro Bridge, First Avenue, and across Manhattan on 71st Street. All of these locations have bike lanes.
The fact that New York City has a bike event on the first Sunday in May, which covers all five boroughs and closes significant parts of the city, indicates its supporting bike riding. Where else could you ride a bridge such as the Verrazano, and highways such as portions of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the FDR Drive? Although there is already a bike lane on the Queensboro Bridge, they opened up the upper level for bike riders. Then, after finishing the ride in Staten Island, I took the free ferry back. You can see the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline.
There were approximately 32,000 riders, which makes this the largest bike ride in the United States. If it’s New York, it has to be big. For me, that’s one of the negatives. At times, I felt like I was driving on the Queensboro Bridge or the Long Island Expressway. Stuck in traffic. Also, even when we did not come to a complete stop, there were riders who rode slow and did not seem to know how to ride. Then of course there were those who weaved in and out like they were in a race. I felt like I was driving a car in the city. One year I signed up for the race as a participant but did not like it because from start to finish it was crowded. I also had to wait forever in Staten Island in line to get back on the ferry. As a volunteer, I have to wait until my area clears out before I can join the tour. At least for parts of the tour, the course was relatively empty until I caught up to the later groups participating in the tour. Also, the volunteers have separate lines at the course conclusion and by the ferry, which saves so much time waiting in line.
For the second year in a row, I volunteered in Central Park near 72nd Street. Like last year, I picked a spot where there was a pedestrian crosswalk. I could have taken an easier location where there was no crosswalk but that would have been boring. My responsibility was trying to manage the location so that the pedestrians could cross the path and the riders could ride the path safely with the least amount of inconvenience to each other. This year I had some help. On the other side was a Parks Department employee with a jacket identifying him as such and listing him as being security.
Despite the fact that I had additional help, it was much more challenging this year. I could blame it on the mini-hill from which the riders were coming. However, something more sinister was at work. My experience was a microcosm of American society. There were more riders than last year who ignored the placing of my stop sign and me calling them to stop, and who kept on riding. Fortunately, they did not hit anyone crossing. Then I had more than the usual riders who were complaining that they had to stop for the pedestrians. Then there were the pedestrians who were cursing out the riders and having to wait to cross in their park. Others would deliberately walk as slowly as they could when crossing the road. This way they could show their power. There was more than one occasion when I had to tell people that the only way that this is going to work is if everyone cooperates. I mentioned to the pedestrians that there was an underpass 100 yards away. Not one was willing to walk there, which would have alleviated the need to stop the bike riders for them to cross.
As bad as the bike riders and pedestrians were, the worst group were the joggers. On the road in Central Park there is normally a portion for joggers. It’s in addition to the walkway next to the road, which has room for people to jog. Since there were going to be 32,000 riders going through the park, the intelligent move was to limit the roadway to riders. It was done for safety reasons and help the flow of bike traffic. But the joggers had other ideas. The Parks Department employee repeatedly asked joggers to go onto the walkway, but the majority ignored him. If I had a dollar for every jogger who refused to go off the path, I could earn enough money to have taken the week off. There was room for them to jog on the walkway. It was the attitude that “It is my park and I want to jog where I want to jog. No one is going to tell me otherwise.” This self-centered attitude with an inability to consider others’ needs, or the ability to cooperate with others or listen to authority, is an example of what is wrong with this country today. This same attitude permeates our body politic in state and federal governments and within the polarized country. It is unfortunate that civility, courtesy, and respect for authority and others has decreased tremendously in this country.
A few times, when I was at my post, the pedestrians commented to me that I have a stressful position trying to balance the needs of the pedestrians and riders. After I was finished, I wanted to ride as fast as I could so I could get on the ferry as soon as possible. I usually enjoy volunteering, but have to wonder if I want to go through this again next year. It was emotionally draining. Maybe I will take an easier post. But I would rather see people change than me having to change my post. However, the way things are going in our country, it looks like a pipe dream.