We all know the famous New York saying: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. The irony of this is that as time goes on, New Yorkers struggle more to make it anywhere in this city.
Even the commute to work is painstakingly difficult. The city is congested, subway cars and buses are packed, and there is never parking. We are constantly surrounded by the bustle of our city, and we lose touch with the world around us. As the concrete jungle rapidly expands, we put the natural habitat and species native to the land at risk. There is a solution that actually brings us closer to solving these issues: bicycles.
The start of Covid-19 was followed by a surge in bicycle sales. This has been a common trend in the aftermath of similar crises, such as the 1918 flu. Cities across the world responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by making their streets accessible to bikers. New York saw new walking spaces open up, to allow us to get out of the house during the pandemic in a safe way. New Yorkers have been fighting for years to revamp active transportation, but 2019 was the deadliest year for cyclists since 2000. Bike lanes are abused, not just by regular New Yorkers, but by our law enforcement. Memorials to cyclists who lost their lives mark our streets.
Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si reminds us of the dignity of humans and the natural world. We and the life of the Earth deserve to be treated with dignity, not pushed out of their own homes and driven to extinction. Laudato Si reminds us of the urban chaos that results from the disorderly growth of cities. We are victims of transport problems, pollution and insufficient green space. Pope Francis warns that if we keep going down this path, we will soon meet a deep dissatisfaction in our interpersonal relationships and reach a point of dangerous isolation, one we became all too familiar with during the pandemic lockdowns.
The infrastructure bill of 2021 increased funding for walking and biking trails, as well as active transportation. It also created a new program to connect the nation’s trail and active transportation system. This would make it easier for New Yorkers to bike and walk recreationally, but also as a means of transportation. This change would result in less crowded streets, the preservation of our parks and happier people. Humans need to connect with nature and experience other forms of life and the infrastructure bill made some good strides for bikers. We cannot stop there. The Recreational Trails Program funding has been stagnant since 2009. People of all ages learning to ride bikes need safe spaces to do so. We should especially be encouraging the children growing up in this pandemic to spend time outside and experience nature: We cannot let the pandemic rob them of the basic joys of being a kid outdoors.
Moving forward, we look to the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program, which requests $500 million annually for active transportation networks. This would allow people to travel safely between home, work, school and everyday destinations. It also reconnects communities that struggle with their transportation needs. Bicycles should be a symbol of hope for New York. They are a symbol of our youth and a greener means of transportation. They have become a symbol of protection and change. Protesting New Yorkers in the summer of 2020 were protected by hundreds of brave cyclists guarding the front, sides and rear of the crowds.
If we make cycling more practical and safe for New Yorkers, our roads will clear up, our parks will be prioritized, along with the natural habitat that comes with it, pollution rates will soften, and we will raise a new generation of active, in-tune-with-nature New Yorkers.
Sarah Quisbe is a St. John’s University student from Richmond Hill.