January 2, 2012
Biking the Bronx

Never a fan of the uniquely American strain of the gospel of self-improvement, I rarely find myself making any New Year’s resolutions on December 31. But this year I’ll go ahead and make one: spend more time biking the Bronx in 2012.

Living as I do, a 5-10 minute walk to the Bronx, it’s a little ridiculous that I don’t make it over the bridge more often. I also find it a little ridiculous that major events like the marathon and the Five Boro Bike Tour include the very smallest amount of Bronx turf they can possibly get away with and still claim to have covered the 5 boros. I know parts of the Bronx were, to understate the case, pretty rough in the 1990s, but I wasn’t living here in those days, so I’m going on my experience to date: there is some great urban and greenway biking to be done in the boro. Take a look at the city’s bike map (9 MB PDF): there are plenty of greenways as well as surface street infrastructure in the Bronx. I’m not sure how this compares to Brooklyn or lower Manhattan, but eyeballing it, I’d say the Bronx is doing better than most other parts of the city (I suspect much of this may be do to the early efforts of local organizations like Sustainable South Bronx, which got the transportation access and equity thing a long time ago).

One of my very first rides since getting back on a bike was up B’way through the greenway in Van Cortlandt Park that runs into a greenway up to Yonkers. It was a chilly March day, and my friends were leading me on an easy recreational ride as I reacquainted myself with the nuances of cycling, taking in the forest and the creek that runs along sections of the greenway.

And my few other Bronx rides have been pleasures. Once, en route to volunteer for Bike New York, I found that while the greenways of the Bronx could use some maintenance and have some flooding issues, they are picturesque and barely used even on nice summer days, and you can put on some pretty good mileage. More recently, on the way to meet friends, I took some extra time to try some of on-street bike lanes, from Macombs Dam Bridge to Gerard and then over to Grand Concourse. It’s built like sections of Riverside Drive, with separate (median- buffered) frontage style roads that have much lower traffic volume than the central lanes. The bike lanes are wide and often have the 2-3 foot striped visual buffer. One delivery bike passed me, while, alas, several more salmoned past — but this was along a few miles of barely-used lanes. Then I was off to the greenway for points north. I also rode some sidestreets back to Arthur Avenue, and the worst thing I can say is that I got the sense that people are not used to seeing bikes around that aren’t delivery bikes. I had a great night ride back to Manhattan via the greenway and through VanCortlandt Park and Manhattan College. It was a chilly winter weekend, far from weekday rush hour, so it’s hard to say whether the bike lanes of the Bronx are underutilized. Its greenways certainly are.

Since I used my bike to “portage” refreshments to my friend’s place in Kingsbridge (in the Bronx) on New Year’s Eve and stayed the night, the very first trip I made in 2012 was to ride home, on a bike, through the Bronx. Sure, it was just a few blocks, but I’m still counting it as a good start.

I plan to organize a few casual, leisurely Bronx rides beginning in the early spring, maybe sooner. One that mostly sticks to greenways, and one that is a mix of greenway and surface streets. If you’re interested in getting a heads up, send me a message with your e-mail and I’ll be in touch.

On the subject of biking the Bronx, I leave you with one of my favorite Streetfilms of 2011.

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