Take the A Train

Brooklyn Bridge

So we made it to New York and it’s been a full on few days of walking for miles, getting confused by the subway (the trick, I’ve discovered, is to forget everything you know about taking the tube or reading the tube map and instead treat it as a system for trapping unwary tourists into heading the wrong way on the wrong line and that will be $2.75 to turn around and go the other way, thank you very much), and taking pretty much every form of transport available (ferry, the dreaded Uber) except bikes.

the 'A train' pulling in to a Subway station

What’s that, you cry? Not cycling? Isn’t there a bike share scheme? Well, yes there is, but it’s expensive compared to the subway ($15 for a day pass, and then you have to keep under the 30 minute limit or its another $4 per ride, versus $2.75 a trip on the subway), and even with lots of wide and mostly well-protected bike lanes it did all look a bit scary. Had I had a native guide, or been on my own, I might have given it a go, but as it is, of the two people I met up with (other than the other half’s family), one was from Edinburgh

And the only native New Yorker (the lovely Ellen who mans (or womans – and she’s the person to ask if that’s correct) the Grammar Table) admitted she was too scared to ride a bike in the city either, though she does walk everywhere.

Brooklyn Bridge bike lane

That said, it’s clear that the city has done a lot to try and make cycling more attractive. It was impressive to see wide, protected, bike lanes along the main north-south avenues (at least on the west side of Manhattan) and also on some of the cross streets.

Parking protected bike lane

There was enough parking in the unprotected bike lanes to make it a bit hit-or-miss otherwise and the general sense that New Yorkers take no prisoners, whatever their mode of transport, might make for some high stakes mistakes. Even so, had we had a few more days in the city, I might have given it a go once I’d got my bearings a bit more (trying to ride a bike on unfamiliar infrastructure with everything on the wrong side of the road is bad enough, combining it with navigating is almost impossible), if only to give my poor aching feet a break.

High Line Park

What was really nice was the clear commitment to taking space away from cars. I enjoyed the High Line Park, as a nice place to visit, but what I really liked was where they’d turned Broadway into a pedestrian plaza.

Broadway closed off from traffic to make a pedestrian space

There were loads of parklets, some more finished looking than others (New York infrastructure is pretty rough and ready looking – if a large concrete block will do the job, then that’s what they use and you have to admit it’s effective). The little on-street cabins that all the restaurants had been allowed to open during Covid were also a boon. I think at times my companions might have preferred to sit indoors in the actual air conditioning but I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to sit and have a meal in what had used to be a parking space. Apparently there is a debate over whether they will continue, but they seem like a straightforward win to me. Add in the weekly ‘Open Streets’ events further closing off streets to traffic every Sunday, and there’s a clear commitment towards rebalancing the city’s streets towards pedestrians and cyclists.

Parklet in Brooklyn

However, after four days in what to us felt like baking heat (and Ellen described as ‘the last of the cool weather’), the main takeaway for me was the importance of street trees in making a hot and humid city bearable. New York has a surprising amount of them, along with lots of shady little parks with playgrounds and fountains. I note that there are heat warnings again in the UK. If we can’t put bike lanes everywhere – or even if we can – can we at least start planting trees?

shady tree-lined street

And the ferry is an absolute bargain, especially on a hot day. The same price as the subway, but with spectacular views. We’ll draw a veil over the fact that some sort of transport chaos meant we had to wait an hour in the queue (standing on aching feet after walking all the way from Central Park to get to the ferry stop). It still felt a worthy way to end our trip.

view of Manhattan from the ferry

And now we’re in Minnesota in the suburbs, where the driving (and actually the cycling) are a lot easier. Stand by for more adventures of a gentler kind…


2 Responses to Take the A Train

  1. Jane Schofield says:

    I love Manhattan, but would not fancy my chances in the traffic on a bike. American drivers’ attitudes to junctions are rather unpredictable. Its a pretty walkable city fortunately. Would love to see Broadway pedestrianised – hope they keep it. My friend had a bagel shop on 89th & Broadway (i think) back then.

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