In this fantastic short film from Streetfilms, filmmaker Clarence Eckerson brings us to the city of Groningen in the Netherlands. The effectiveness and efficiency of the bicycling mode in Groningen speaks for itself. Cars are not banned; they’re just strongly discouraged by a city that simply doesn’t embrace them as part of the culture. The result, in terms of transportation and livable streets, is one extremely functional town.
One will also notice how the bicycle in Groningen is not an athletic vehicle used for sport. It is transportation – often rather chic transportation. No carbon fiber razor blades, no speed demons or daredevils, no road-rage entitlement, no scuba shorts with taint padding, no logo-splashed catsuits, no TRON helmets… just civilized, enlightened, happy people using one of the great wonders of engineering to efficiently maneuver around town. This is urban bicycling at its best.
It’s Bike to Work week, with the official Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17. This means more cyclists on the streets of New York City, which we love. And hopefully, after NYC Bike Share officially launches later this month, we’ll have even more people getting around the city more efficiently.
After tweeting out some photos to promote the idea and perhaps encourage and inspire city guys to get on a bike, some followers posed a couple of important questions about getting and arriving to work on a bike with their style unscathed. Here is my video response…
Dressed for work, I pedaled at a leisurely pace up a very busy 6th Avenue at the height of the congested work day. I wanted to see how hard/easy/fast/slow the bicycle felt as a legit way to commute around midtown. Even though there is no protected (or even designated) bike lane on 6th or 5th Avenues in midtown, I managed to blow past cars stuck in traffic, getting where I needed to go, without breaking a sweat in my lowest gear, observing all traffic signals and cycling with courtesy and respect. We all know that bicycles create a minimal physical footprint and a non-existent carbon footprint, unlike cars or, especially, SUVs. On the bike, I’m getting to my destination more efficiently, inexpensively, in a better mood and several calories lighter. The car-in-the-city model is expensive, dangerous, spatially inefficient, impractical, dirty and broken. With the population of New York City expected to increase by another million in the next couple of decades, the time is ripe for change if NYC is going to catch up to other European cities as a more livable city. Better buses, better subways, better bike lanes = better city living.
Earlier this summer, I was contacted by a media partner whose services include providing good cars for people who need them for a short term, like journalists or celebrities visiting a city. The idea was to give me a car for a week so I could write about the experience. Since I had yet to make my annual summer trip to Cleveland to visit family – a trip for which I usually rent a car so I can bring the dog – I figured this would be perfect. It was.
My week with the car came with a lot of good, a little bad and a touch of ugly…
The Good Kia generously provided me with a fantastic brand new 2013 Kia Optima hybrid sedan, which was delivered fully-fueled by an extremely courteous and friendly guy who took careful time to show me all of the car’s features.
The car itself made for a smooth, comfortable and easy ride to and from Cleveland. As someone who’s been out of the car loop for a long time, I loved the Bluetoothiness of the whole affair, controlling my iPhone via the touch pad in the dashboard. I was able to seamlessly answer calls (hands-free, of course) and resume play of the music and podcasts I had arranged in a “Road Trip” playlist. And the mileage was fantastic. In the span of a week driving a total of around 1,000 miles, I spent less than $75 on gas. And the heated and cooled seats and steering wheel? Very nice touch.
The drive along Interstate-80 in the mountainous parts of Pennsylvania is absolutely gorgeous, and something to be enjoyed in broad daylight. I would imagine that the drive during the fall foliage is stunning.
My destination was the suburbs of Cleveland, where a car is absolutely necessary. I’ve made many trips home over the years, being picked up at the airport by members of the family. In those situations, one is sort of trapped and at the mercy of other people’s car schedules. Having the use of one’s own car, whether by rental or other car service, is the way to go.
From the perspective of a guy who has navigated around his New York City home for nearly twenty years on bicycle, subway, taxi, bus or foot, a car is kind of a pain in the ass.
The biggest ass pain involves parking. I wonder if there is a statistic somewhere that lets us know how much time the average American driver spends looking for a parking space. If there were, I’m willing to bet that most people would gasp at the number. And I’m just talking about the free spaces. I’d love to know how much money the average driver spends on paid parking.
Another pain is just the general expense involved. The car is expensive. Gas is expensive. Insurance is expensive. Parking is expensive. Maintenance is expensive. Repairs are expensive. Oh, hell, I’d love to see the amount of money the average American blows in a year on everything related to his car.
The worst part of my week with the car was the re-entry into Manhattan. The car was scheduled to be picked up on a Friday morning, which meant I had to return to New York on Thursday evening and park it in a garage overnight (there’s that parking expense pain in my ass).
The mess of cars and the go-for-broke drivers operating them on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel was astounding. I have long harbored a belief that non-essential vehicles contributing to an already congested Manhattan should pay a premium upon entry. Though I was not armed with an EZ-Pass and had to pay tolls in cash (pain in the ass), I still think the $14 toll to get into Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel is about half of what it should be. As far as I’m concerned, anything that discourages more cars on this island is a good thing.
By the time I passed through the frustration funnel and entered Manhattan, my temperament was turning sour. I pulled up to the side street next to my building, unloaded the car, and brought the dog upstairs. The parking garage in my building charges $25 for overnight parking (pain in the ass). But that night, the garage was full (pain in the ass), which necessitated a six block trip up Tenth Avenue to the garage in the Skyline Motel, which gets $35 for overnight parking (bigger pain in the ass). By the time I unloaded the car, got the dog upstairs and parked the car six blocks away for $35, I was done.
In essence, the “ugly” in this story was me, or what I had become by the time the car was safely tucked away in a parking garage. This was a small taste of life in the city with a car.
I can only assume that any Manhattanite who keeps, parks and insures a car in the city is a masochist with a black belt in excess and money to burn. Otherwise, a car is at the top of the list of absolute non-essentials for a Manhattan resident.
When a very nice young man came by the next morning to pick up the car, I was relieved to be rid of it.
The experience with the Optima was terrific. I’m extremely grateful to them for the week with the car, and their service was perfect for a guy like me who has no reason to permanently own an automobile. If I had an assignment in another town, I’d do it again in a New York minute. But as long as I’m living in Manhattan, I’ll remain a walking, bicycling, cabbing, training or busing man.
Below is a video playlist of three videos I recorded during my road trip…
It’s no secret to anyone who knows or reads me that I love my bike. It’s my way around town. Upon acquiring a Brooklyn Cruiser last year, everything changed. I sat upright, relaxed my shoulders and took out the headphones, taking in the city around me as I pedaled around town.
One of the best parts of this new bicycling model (at least new for me) was that I no longer needed a separate uniform for taking a ride. In fact, I no longer needed to change clothes at all. A city bike, i.e. a non-racing, Dutch-style bike that allows the rider to sit upright, has a very “ride as you are” je ne sais quoi about it. I ride in suits, jeans, chinos, sneakers, brogues… whatever.
Just when I was about to start exploring aspects of bicycling with style in a new section of this blog, I was approached by Ryan, founder and head honcho over at Brooklyn Cruiser, who graciously invited me on board as “Contributor-at-Large” for the Brooklyn Cruiser blog. I was humbled, floored and honored.
And the timing is perfect.
With all the press about hundreds of miles of added bike lanes and increased ridership in New York City, it sounds like this old-school way of getting around is being embraced as the modern way to maneuver about the metropolis. And with the coming bike share program here in the city, the launch of which has been unfortunately pushed to March, bike lanes and ridership is bound to increase further. It’s an exciting time for urban bicycling, and a great time to be writing about it.
I’m absolutely thrilled about this new adventure as contributor-at-large, and I invite everyone to join me in the dialog at the Brooklyn Cruiser blog, where I plan to share ideas, stories, anecdotes, frustrations, joys, photos and more about the smartest way to get around.
Here is a link to my first post, which was published on August 21st, 2012: