The free streets program that allowed cyclists to travel untrammeled by cars last year will be replicated this year by Mayor Bloomberg's administration. You can expect to see me riding behind mommy in my wagon or in my little carrier, stuffed in like a sausage.
However, though the program is widely applauded by New Yorkers, it still falls far short of other European and South American free street programs.
Still, the initiative called Summer Streets means cyclists, children, (and doggies like me in carriers) will be able to ride along 6.9 car-free miles from about 96th Street and Park Avenue down to the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge in lower Manhattan.
The dates for this year's Free Streets are on three Saturdays in August, the 8th, 15th, and 22nd from 7:00 am - 1:00 pm, and will start in Central Park and Fifth Ave. Recommended routes peeling off to theHudson River Greenway, Harlem and Governors Island will be posted along the route said the city's Department of Transportation site.
The free streets concept was initiated last year under the leadership of DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn who has been hailed by cyclists and advocates as a progressive pro-cycling administrator.
The biggest weakness of the program is that it doesn't go far enough. Three Saturdays from 7 am to 1 pm is hardly adequate to service the large population in New York that wants to use the streets without fear of being hit, maimed or killed by drivers.
Children (and doggies in tow) in particular have no safe place to ride, and that includes the pathways along the Hudson river which have become the domain of racer cyclists, runners and skaters who habitually run through the very obvious (though frequent) red lights, and buzz in and out of slower riders and walkers. Getting to those pathways along busy streets for the innocent and unprotected classes of riders is sheer madness.
In other cities like Paris with even smaller bicycle populations, free streets that operate all summer long on Sundays--semi-permanently. To suggest that the Paris population is more amenable to having their f
avorite car routes closed off to cars would be folly--drivers every where are always aggressive in voicing their opinions.
The other issue with free streets is the access to the city by people from outside Manhattan. For one, bridge crossings are still ridiculously difficult for families with babies and dogs in tow, with one and off ramps resembling more 18th century construction than the modern-day conveniences the DOT and Port Authority have continuously been building and upgrading for motorist traffic.
In fact, this is now the third summer in a row that the PANYNJ has had the absolute nerve to close the one easily accessible path for cyclists and pedestrians on the George Washington Bridge during weekdays. Every year is another B**S** excuse about painting this and that, making the cables terrorist-proof, etc., etc., mouth diarrhea. Oh sure they open the south path on weekends, big deal. What about incentivizing commuters to come by bike? Horse trash.
Last year mommy and I watched a couple on two bikes with a baby in the back of one trying to ascertain whether they would be able to climb the five or six sets of vertiginous, extremely dangerous open steel steps (for someone carrying a bike with baby attached, or even a bike.) They wisely turned around.
Though that restriction is only operative on weekdays, there are no signs posted for casual riders to suggest that the accessible paths are open on the weekends. The closures are prejudicial, because such inconveniences would never be expected of motorists. (Can you imagine having to stop your car, load it onto an elevator, six times, in order to get over the bridge? That's what it is like.)
So I am afraid you won't be seeing much of me in in the city this summer, except on those three mini-windows of opportunity when all New Yorkers will be smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves with a car-free Saturday!!! I'll be up in the country, wiling away the hours on safer trails, like Piermont's old Erie trail, or riding along the Hudson in one of the local state parks.
In the meantime, check out DOT's cute videos.