Last month, I borrowed a bike and commuted to work in Chelsea from Ridgewood. Never having ridden a bike in the city before, my trip was an experiment to see if a bicycle commute was a realistic option (for other people who had never ridden a bike in the city before) in the face of the L train shutdown.
My conclusion was that it is viable for city-riding newcomers. I found it not only viable but enjoyable, and promised myself that I’d finally get a bike, like I’d been thinking about for years, and start making the trip on the daily.
Well I did exactly that. I picked up my new bike on May 1 and, since then, I’ve been pedaling my ass to work and back every day (except yesterday and today — I skipped them on account of commute-time thunderstorms).
Do I still find it both a realistic option and an enjoyable one?
The kinds of things I wrote about last month — people parked in the bike lane, drivers hesitant to give a cyclist space to avoid an obstacle — are still an issue. They’ve been an issue for bike riders for years and, unfortunately, I’m sure they will continue to be for years to come.
But over the course of even just two weeks, a tiny amount of time, I’ve gotten more comfortable on the road. I spot bike lane parkers sooner, I’m more assertive in making a space for myself in traffic when necessary, and I’ve gotten better at timing my entry into the flow.
Like anything else, time and practice go a long way toward your comfort level. Don’t let not having done it before stop you from ever doing it.
As for the hardware, I’ve been riding a Brilliant Bicycle Company L Train. As the name suggests, it was designed explicitly in mind of the L train shutdown and the new bike riders it will create.
It’s a sexy bike, it’s design sleek and classic. To me, the Brilliant L Train is an ideal cross between a road or racing bike and a much more casual cruiser. It’s got elements of comfort like the latter, the capability to put the speed on when you need it like the former.
The brakes — while they’re strong enough to throw you right over the handlebars if you’re not careful — have developed a bit of a squeak, but it’s fading so I think it’s safe to chalk that up to new rubber. With that exception, I’ve been exceedingly happy with it.
(Full disclosure: Brilliant provided me with my L Train but had no editorial input on this piece.)
A Note to M Train Riders
I also want to address the M train riders in the crowd.
Most people have been addressing bicycle commute advocacy to L train riders, who will be losing their primary Manhattan artery. M train riders just got their line back, so they’re all pretty happy. But what happens when the L train goes down?
As recently reported by the Village Voice, the MTA currently anticipates that the M train will take the brunt of misplaced L train riders, as many as 85,000 a day. That’s on top of the M train’s existing 164,000 daily riders (this is a ballpark based on the MTA’s estimate that the M is running at 90 percent capacity of its 3,800 “max riders per half hour” loading guideline, assuming trains run at regular 7.5-minute intervals).
Basically, they expect a 50% increase in ridership on a train line that’s only got 10% free capacity. The MTA has been promising “increased service” on the M line, as well as the J and Z lines, since they first broached the topic of the L train shutdown. They have not released any specific numbers, but how much can they increase service by?
Between the J, M, and Z lines, 16 trains cross the Williamsburg Bridge per hour during peak rush hours. In comparison, the L runs 20 trains through the Canarsie Tunnel during the same time, and the MTA claims that they physically cannot increase that frequency any further.
Are we looking at a maximum of four more M trains per hour? That math works out to about 8,000 additional riders per hour, or a roughly 4.4 percent capacity increase. You don’t need to be an Einstein to see that that’s hardly sufficient.
If you do the math, this all adds up to an obscenely cramped and uncomfortable commute on the M train come April 2019. Perhaps you should be thinking about a bike as well, M train folks.
Growing up, I lived around the corner from a hill. Not just any old hill, but a world class incline. The altitude change was about 100 feet over the course of an easy, straight half a mile (as compared to the Williamsburg Bridge’s roughly 40 feet). World class to a middle school kid, anyway.
Every chance I got I would ride my bike up that hill. Pumping furiously, standing on the pedals, in that never-tiring way kids have. I’d get to the top, hardly having broken a sweat, where there’s nowhere to go but back down. And back down I would go, pushing those pedals as hard as I could until gravity and speed overtook me and my legs couldn’t keep up.
Then I’d coast. Crouched down as low as I could go, the wind howling so loudly passed my ears I couldn’t hear my own blood pounding through them. I’d look up and the whole neighborhood, practically the entire world as I knew it, was spread out before me. I felt powerful, then. Powerful and free — there was nothing that could stop me and nothing I couldn’t do.
Riding my bike to work, I get to relive those times, if only for a minute, as I sail along the downslope side of the Williamsburg Bridge with all of Manhattan or Brooklyn before me.
It’s a shame I waited to long, and it’s a shame more people don’t do it.
But with the L train going down and the M train facing an onslaught of ~85,000 cranky new commuters, this is your chance. I recommend that you don’t miss it.