Photo: Time's Up/Facebook

Here Are 6 Bicycle-Powered Movements in NYC That Are Creating Positive Change

New York City Cycling
by Vanessa Nirode May 12, 2016

1. Time’s Up

Time’s Up is a nonprofit and New York City’s direct action environmental organization. Their ongoing campaigns include Auto-Free Streets and Parks, Bike and Pedestrian Memorials, and Community Garden creation and defense.

Both Central Park and Prospect Park still allow car traffic at certain times. Not only is this unnecessary (there are many alternate routes) but inherently dangerous, as most drivers seem to view the parks as a ‘shortcut’ and an excuse to drive faster. Time’s Up continues to put pressure on the city to permanently ban cars from all parks.

Time’s Up offers bike repair classes and bike calming rides. Perhaps their best-known ride is Critical Mass, which occurs the last Friday of every month at 7:00 p.m. During the ’90s, bicycling was an extremely dangerous undertaking in the city and so bicyclists had to look for places where they could ride together in order to be safe. Bikers of all types began meeting on the last Friday of every month to ride through the city en-mass.

In the beginning, Critical Mass Riders were attacked by some short-sighted individuals who threw lawsuits, tickets, and arrests at some of the riders. The slogan, “Still We Ride!” is a result of this time and today stickers with the slogan can be seen on many of the bikes of regular commuters.

Since then, NYC has had a bike-friendly Department of Transportation commissioner who has helped our city become a greener and safer place. There is still resistance, but new bike lanes are being added all the time and more and more people are on the streets on two wheels.

Just this past weekend, I rode over the newly complete bike lane on the Pulaski Bridge. I cannot even describe the joy of not dodging pedestrians along a narrow two-way shared ‘sidewalk.’

2. Bike Club at The International High School at Union Square

The International High School at Union Square (HIS-US) is a small Title 1 public school in Manhattan for recent immigrants. It has an after school bike club where students can practice their English while also learning how to repair bicycles. HIS-US students come from more than 49 countries, each with diverse educational backgrounds. Many of them have had their formal education interrupted by political unrest or economic instability in their home countries. Every student is an English Language Learner and many of them are passionate cyclists. So in many ways, bicycles have become a common, shared language.

For some, the bicycle is a symbol of power and a wish fulfilled. For others, it is an environmental responsibility. For every student, it is a way to become a part of the community.

3. Bike New York

Bike New York, a 501c nonprofit, is one of New York City’s leading proponents of cycling. They offer free bike education programs across the five boroughs, teaching kids and adults alike how to ride a bicycle. The history of Bike New York is very much the history of the Five Borough Bike Tour, which has been held annually since 1977.

The first tour was a rather audacious plan to take a group of high school students on a bike tour across the city. The tour was born when Sal Cirami of the American Youth Hostel Bicycle Committee met Eric Prager, a member of the NYC Board of Education. Prager was working on developing a bicycle safety program and Sal invited him to the next meeting of his Bicycle Committee. Prager outlined his plans, consisting of clinics, workshops, and ultimately a 50-mile bike tour around the city at the meeting. This was the birth of the Five Borough Bike Tour.

Today, on the first Sunday in May, Bike New York welcomes 32,000 riders from every state in the nation and countries across the world to take part in a tour through the city on car-free streets. This year, rain fell the entire day but the streets were still filled with enthusiastic riders.

During a cycling trip in France last summer, I found myself cycling with international British DJ, Will Power Smith. As we pedaled, he told me about this time last year when he was in New York and coming home by Citibike after a night of DJing.

“It was surreal,” he said, “I was on the freeway on a bike with thousands of other people biking and there were no cars! I had no idea what it was at the time, but all I could think was that maybe I had died and gone to some trippy bike friendly heaven.”

4. Recycle A Bicycle

Recycle A Bicycle fosters youth development and community engagement through the bicycle. They hold classes on bike maintenance among other things and have created a kids ride club. Students in their school-based programs can even earn their own bicycle if they volunteer for enough hours building bikes for their family and friends.

The Kids Ride Club is an 18-week program that hosts community rides. It’s meant to get young people cycling while also encouraging a focus on nutrition and healthy living. You can find Recycle A Bicycle at its two storefronts: one in Dumbo and one in the East Village. Both stores offer used bikes for sale as well as repair services. The bicycles they sell start out as donations and are refurbished at the shops.

5. This Team Saves Lives

This Team Saves Lives (TTSL) is a women’s cyclocross racing team that’s partnered with This Bar Saves Lives. For every top ten place achieved by a rider on the team, This Bar donates food aid to help a child in need. The women also host clothing drives and clinics for their local communities.

New York City has a supportive and vibrant women’s cycling community. TTSL members can often be seen out riding and training on the roads around the city, spreading good cheer and vibes as they go.

6. Local Spokes

Local Spokes is a coalition of nine diverse non-profits based in New York City’s Lower East Side and Chinatown. They advocate for the community’s various perspectives on cycling through multilingual outreach and public participation activities. A few years ago, they published a neighborhood action plan that’s available in English, Chinese, and Spanish. One of the key findings of the 28-page plan is that low-income residents own bikes at a lower rate than other residents, while also living further from public transit. They also found that 6.5 in 10 low-income residents would like to own a bike if they could.

The local economy in the Lower East Side and Chinatown relies heavily on cycling with a job sector that includes delivery personnel, couriers, and facilities workers. Most everyone who lives in NYC orders delivery food at some point and more often than not that food arrives via bike. Thanks to Local Spokes, more people are becoming aware that owning a bicycle is in many ways a privilege that not every NYC resident can access. Now the community can pull together to bring bicycling and safety education to more people. Local Spokes also offers a toolkit if you’re interested in beginning a similar initiative in your own community.

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