[Note: The BSNYC Friday Fun Quiz has been fun-postponed--for fun!]
On Sunday, September 13, 2015, Transportation Alternatives will present the 26th annual NYC Century Bike Tour:
There are various route options, but the full century covers 100 miles without leaving the city limits, and only Staten Island will be spared the indignity of this Lycra-clad procession:
Which I'm sure comes as a great relief to Diane "Find a Fucking Bike Lane and Get In It" Savino:
(The censored word is "Fucking.")
Ironically, she doesn't even need to yell at us, because getting into a bike lane is all most of us are trying to do.
You can register for the Century here--and the price will increase on August 18th, so be sure to register before then. (Unless you like paying more for stuff, moneybags.)
Anyway, Transportation Alternatives recently asked me if I'd help spread the word about the event, so I agreed to go preview a section of the course for two reasons:
1) I took part in the NYC Century once back in the '90s (you know, before cycling was cool), and I have very fond memories of the event--apart from the overzealous Fred* who rear-ended me when I had the temerity to stop for a red light at a busy Queens intersection;
2) The course goes right by where I live, so I figured I could just take a stroll around the corner, snap a few shots, and get right back on the couch. I wouldn't even need to bother with the bike--or shoes and pants for that matter.
*[Yes, I realize "overzealous Fred" is arguably redundant, as Freds are by definition overzealous.]
However, TA had their own ideas, and instead they suggested I do some reconnaissance of this section in eastern Queens, which starts over 20 American miles from my home:
So on a morning that was so absurdly lovely it was almost a parody of a perfect summer day, I embarked upon my journey to Queens, which I attained via Randall's Island and the Triborough Bridge:
Technically it's been the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge since 2008, but it will always be the Triborough to me.
Robert Moses's bridges generally offer one of two types of non-motorized access: either wildly inconvenient, or else completely nonexistent. The Triborough features the former, and the pedestrian path (assuming you're able to find it) is enclosed in this chainlink hamster tunnel:
Which as you enter it evokes either the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon:
Or else that rat cage Richard Burton put over John Hurt's face in "1984:"
There's also this sign:
Yeah, right. I'll walk my bike across the bridge when the drivers are also required to push their cars. Until then I'm riding.
Keen readers will also note the prohibition against photography, which means I've already violated two laws and I haven't even made it to Queens yet.
By the way, see that massive bridge span way in the distance? The one vanishing into the distant horizon? That's how far the Triborough Bridge And Tunnel Authority expects you to walk your bike:
That's the funniest thing I've heard since Bicycling magazine declared us America's Most Bike-Friendly City.
I do admit though that as I rode across the span my defiance backfired on me, because that guardrail is pretty low and I'm kind of afraid of heights:
Indeed, I was tempted to dismount and walk--or, if I'm to be totally honest, crawl--but there was no way I was going to succumb to the will of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. It would take more than a sign, a rat cage, and a perturbingly low guardrail to get me off my bike. Instead I pressed on, stopping only briefly to take in the Manhattan skyline:
And the Hell Gate Bridge:
And it wasn't long before I was kissing the ground in Queens.
Queens is the largest New York City borough by land area. It's also famously diverse. Certainly all the boroughs of New York City defy easy categorization, but this is especially true of Queens, where you'll find everything from urban density to lazy beach towns, as well as representatives from pretty much every culture on the planet. Therefore, it's difficult to find a single iconic image that embodies the essence of Queens, so I had to make do with the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park:
("I will crush you.")
The Unisphere was built for the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair, and it embodies the endearing undercurrent of Jet Age optimism that still runs through the borough.
A few miles past the Unisphere is Kissena Park, home to the Kissena Velodrome, where my century preview route would begin in earnest:
There wasn't a race underway, but there were some riders stretching their legs:
By the way, the track at Kissena Velodrome is 400 meters long, so if you want to do the NYC Century while skipping all the fascinating neighborhoods and scenery then all you have to do is ride around it 402 times:
East of Kissena Park the landscape becomes decidedly suburban:
Complete with basketball hoops mounted to utility poles:
I'm guessing the Honda's there to reserve the court, and when you want to play you just yell, "MA, MOVE THE CAR!!!"
Here's some vintage New York City bicycle infrastructure:
Note the bike route sign says "Dept. of Traffic" on the bottom. As far as I know, the "Department of Traffic" changed its name to the Department of Transportation in 1977, probably because someone finally realized using "traffic" in the name was defeatist--like calling the Department of Health the Department of Barfing. If so, this would make the sign at least 38 years old, and therefore evidence that human beings actually rode bicycles in the 1970s.
When they weren't cowering in fallout shelters, that is:
Back then, all that Jet Age optimism was augmented by a healthy dose of Cold War paranoia.
Here's some decidedly more contemporary bike signage:
And here's the Long Island Motor Parkway, which is a highlight of this portion of the route:
The Long Island Motor Parkway, also known as the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, survives today as a bicycle path, but began as America’s first limited-access road for cars.
Originally started in 1908 by the railroad mogul and financier, William K. Vanderbilt Jr. (1878-1944), the parkway was the prototype for today’s superhighways. It was the first long-distance, concrete highway, utilizing bridges and overpasses to eliminate cross traffic, super-elevated curves for safety and speed, and was the first high-speed route from Queens to Suffolk County. The parkway’s history is filled with extraordinary racing cars, bootleggers, public controversy and historic preservation efforts.
Here's what it looked like then:
And here's what it looks like now:
By contrast, here's the nearby Long Island Expressway:
Even Old Man Vanderbilt would have plotzed.
Maybe one day the LIE will become a bike path too.
The Long Island Motor Parkway runs though Cunningham Park, and it was at this point I took a little detour from the official century course:
Because Cunningham Park happens to contain a network of mountain bike trails:
And so I headed in for a couple of laps.
After my crime spree on the Triborough bridge I felt bold and invincible, and so I went right ahead and violated three (3) of the Parks Department's dire warnings:
That's right--no glasses, no friends, and an inappropriate non-mountain bike:
(Rider is a semi-professional bike blogger, do not attempt.)
Cunningham Park is perhaps the most fun place to ride a bicycle inside the New York City limits. There's something for everybody. If you want you can hit the dirt jumps and launch yourself out of the forest canopy, but if you prefer your offroad cycling to be a bit more genteel there's also plenty of flowing singletrack:
I'm sure some baggy-shorted doofus out west is saying, "That's not real mountain biking." But is your mountain bike trail accessible by both subway and LIRR and fully within the boundaries of one of the greatest cities on the planet?
I didn't think so.
Once I'd finished "getting rad" I returned to the century route, following the Long Island Motor Parkway for awhile and then heading north along the western edge of Alley Pond Park:
Between the quiet neighborhood and the newly paved street--complete with freshly striped bike lane--it's easy to forget you're still in New York City. Yes, New Yorkers love neighborhoods that feel nothing like New York, which proves that we're crazy to live here. See, in other cities the inhabitants actually like their city for what it is, whereas in New York City we're constantly looking for a way to escape without leaving. This explains much of what's happened in Brooklyn over the last couple of decades--it's basically a bunch of people trying to delude themselves into believing they live in Berkley.
Before long the smell of low tide filled my nostrils, and I headed onto to the "Joe Michaels Mile" along Little Neck Bay, another highlight of the route:
According to this congratulatory sign, I was technically starting at the end of the trail:
As for the bike, I can only assume someone was so happy to be finished working out that they simply abandoned it and swore never to ride again.
Either that, or someone's hiding a spare bike for the Century.
Here's another sign explaining that the salt marsh is "Nature's Water Purifier:"
Though I suspect all the emissions from the Cross Island Parkway have voided the warranty:
It's like pouring Gowanus water through your Brita filter.
Still, even though you're about two feet from the Cross Island, his particular stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway is extremely pleasant:
And before long I spotted a pier in the distance:
I was still shy of the NYC Century designated "pit stop" area, but I figured this was a good place to pause for refreshments:
So I allowed my bike to mingle with the locals' rides:
("Where are your reflectors? You're not from around here, are you?")
And sat down by the fishing and crabbing pier to enjoy some food, sea air, and harbor views:
Though I couldn't fully relax as I was being watched:
I figured these were agents for a rival century and they were trying to steal the route from me. This seemed like a waste of time and resources on their part since it's right there on the website. Then again, I do always carry my cue sheets in a suitcase handcuffed to my wrist, so I can't blame them for thinking it was all a big secret.
After a protracted gunfight (my assailants escaped on jet skis) I returned to the greenway and pressed on to Little Bay Park, where I ventured out onto a jetty offering sweeping views of the Throgs Neck Bridge (no pedestrian or bike access, thanks Robert Moses):
And Fort Totten:
I also poked around on the "beach:"
Where I observed egrets fishing in the background and pigeons feasting on a pile of trash in the foreground:
Here's the undercarriage of a dead horseshoe crab:
Horseshoe crabs are considered living fossils, like Dorothy Rabinowitz and Denis Hamill.
And here's the Throgs Neck Bridge again, like a necklace strung across the throat of the Long Island Sound:
After that I bid a reluctant adieu to the greenway and its colorful fauna:
And took up the optimistically named Utopia Parkway:
Where it should be noted that you are allowed to make a right turn on red at the intersection with Willets Point Boulevard:
This is important to know, because New York City motorists have few legal opportunities to make a right on red, so if you deprive them of one by inadvertently blocking them while you're waiting for the light to change they will go ABSOLUTELY FREAKING INSANE.
So spare yourself the honking and subsequent agita and make sure you leave these people plenty of room to turn.
Hey, it's all they have.
Of course I'd hate to have to report that a street named Utopia Parkway doesn't have a bike lane, but fortunately it does:
It's also lined with tidy side streets evoking that Unispherian sense of optimism, and where you'll find such bits of Americana as picket fences (albeit vinyl ones):
Three Stooges lawn ornaments:
And sweet, sweet rides parked in front of tidy Tudors:
Damn right it's got the fuzzy dice:
In fact I was tempted to buy my own slice of the American Dream™ right there on the spot:
Except all I had in my jersey pocket by way of a down payment was $14 bucks, a mini pump, an EpiPen® (or its generic equivalent), and a half-eaten energy bar.
Finally I left Utopia and reached the end of the preview route:
Yep, that's Queens--just turn a few corners and you're out of suburbia and back in the city:
And halfway around the world at the same time.
[Click here to register now for the NYC Century, and beat the price increase on August 18th.]