In an effort to get western Queens residents to start cycling to work, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer rode his brand-new, electric blue Jamis Commuter 2.0 to City Hall last Friday in celebration of National Bike to Work Day.
In preparation for his commute, Van Bramer purchased his Jamis the day before at Spokesman Cycles in Long Island City. There he met with local cyclists to discuss the surge of cycling in the district, and sharpened his skills by riding up Vernon Boulevard in a matching blue helmet.
Though prior to the purchase Van Bramer had not owned a bike in over 20 years, he “used to bike around Astoria a lot,” where he grew up, “to St. Michael’s field to play baseball.”
When asked what prompted him to purchase the bike, Van Bramer joked that he “needs to get in better shape.” But he also believes that cycling is a “great activity for families,” and a way for “people to connect with city neighborhoods.” “There’s a resurgence of people wanting to exercise in groups,” he said.
According to the city Department of Transportation, bike commuting is the city’s fastest-growing mode of transportation, with a 26 percent growth between 2008 and 2009. “With more than 650 lane miles of routes on streets and in parks and with increasing bike parking options … New Yorkers are discovering that bicycling is a safe, and fun way to get around,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.
Biking in the borough has grown rapidly. According to the DOT, in 2009, 2,926 bicyclists crossed the Queensboro Bridge daily.
However, according to Hugo Guzman of Spokesman Cycles, there are other reasons residents of western Queens may consider hopping on a bike. The lack of legal parking space in Long Island City and other parts of western Queens has led many to turn to cycling as a more convenient way to get to work.
“If you live two miles from where you work, what are you going to do? Waste a half-hour looking for parking, or ride a bike?” Guzman asked.
According to Van Bramer, the lack of parking in Long island City is in part due to the huge population boom.
Crowding on the 7 train and the increase in subway fares have also contributed to the rise of cycling in the borough, according to Wiley Norvell, communications director of Transportation Alternatives.
“People don’t want more cars. If people take bikes it means more space on the streets,” he said.
But Van Bramer also believes that people turn to biking because they care about the environment. Cycling is a means of “moving the city towards being a greener place,” he said.
City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley agrees. “Biking has a tremendous range of benefits,” he said. “… since you don’t burn fossil fuels, you protect the environment and help protect everybody else’s lungs.”
The city’s movement towards sustainability has taken many forms, including the DOT’s distribution of over 28,000 free helmets in the past two-and-a-half years, as part of its Get fit-ted safety awareness campaign. And last week saw the opening of a new car-free, paved half-mile bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan.
Another organization called Bike New York encourages bike safety through free Savvy Cyclists classes, teaching adults tips for riding in traffic.
But despite these successes, it seems that efforts to support biking in Queens are lagging.
Construction on the Queensboro Bridge has created dangerous collisions between workers and cyclists.
According to a representative from Transportation Alternatives, Queens does not have any protective bike lanes like those in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Protective bike lanes offer a physical barrier that segregates bike lanes from traffic lanes making it safer for riders.
In addition, bike lanes on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge simply end when riders reach Queens, while the bike lanes on Skillman Avenue. do not connect to Queens Boulevard.
One of Transportation Alternatives’ main goals is to create a safe lane for cyclists along Queens Boulevard.
“It is a street that connects to so many roads, and is extremely dangerous. A bike lane would slow cars down,” said Norvell. There is also, “no replacement route for Queens Boulevard,” for cyclists, Norvell asserted.
“More people need to ask for it,” he said of the QB bike lane. “It’s the beginning of bike season. Its joyous — it’s time Queens got its share!”
Bike month runs until the end of May with events planned everyday throughout the five boroughs. For more information, visit bikemonthnyc.org.