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We The Commuters: 4 Things I Learned From Obsessing Over Bikes This Week

Plus: The MTA could lay off 3,000 people as part of a major restructuring plan that's being voted on next week. Poison ivy keeps showing up in pedestrian areas, partly because the plant is native to the city. And a very talented subway musician performed at our inaugural We The Commuters event, which you can now watch in its entirety.

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A group of 15 adults showed up on Roosevelt Island last week for a free class to learn to bike for the first time. Photo: Amy Pearl

First of all: I acknowledge that mass transit is the lifeblood of New York City.

I know We The Commuters covers bikes and taxis and scooters and ferries and all the other ways people get around that are — compared to the subway — niche.

But the other truth is that we aren't just subway people, or bike people, or car people. We're people who need to get from point A to point B, and increasingly, many of us are including cycling in our mix of options. Which is why We The Commuters dedicated this week to covering all things bikes. And below are a few things that stood out.

1. It's Never Too Late to Learn to Ride a Bike

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Photo: Amy Pearl

A lot of New Yorkers make it to adulthood without learning to ride.
"I didn’t get a bike growing up as a kid," Magdalena Lazare, a 30-year-old Crown Heights native, told me. "Then as I got older, I kind of didn’t want it, because I didn’t want my friends to see me learn to ride a bike at 10, 11, 12. But as I got older, I said, okay I’m a grown-up, I just need to let go of the ego of being a grown-up who doesn’t know how to ride."

Lazare was one of 15 adults I met at a free Bike Skills 101 class, which is put on regularly — and all over the city — by Bike New York.

"We slow ourselves down thinking we can’t do something, and we often think we’re the only ones," Lazare added. "But there’s a group of people here who have no idea how to ride a bike, just like me. When you think you’re alone, just trust that there are people just like you."

2. In New York, There's a Cycling Group For Everyone

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Cesar Jimenez, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he's in the best shape he's been in for years, and truly doesn't think he'd be here if it weren't for his handcycling club. Photo: Skyler Reid

Riding a bike alone in New York City can be intimidating. So can trying to ride with 20 dudes in spandex bodysuits zipping down the Hudson River Greenway.

But there are many cycling clubs dedicated to encouraging, educating and protecting riders of all kinds.

"Commuting to work can sometimes seem like a difficult thing for women cyclists, because they don’t want to arrive to work sweaty," said Becky Hahn, the Director of Operations for WE Bike NYC, a cycling group for women. "So we’ve had workshops where we talk about what you can do — things like carrying a change of clothes in a pannier instead of in a backpack, since backpacks cause sweaty backs."

I went up to Central Park last Saturday for a workout with Achilles, a group that helps people with disabilities get involved in handcycling.

"I think a lot of people don’t know about handcycles," Dominic Romano, a 51-year-old Bronx native, told me. "People with disabilities, a lot of times, they just stay home. They need to get out, and just try it. There’s people who come here who just ride in the park, they’re not looking to compete. It’s good for your health, wellness wise — it’s not just about your arms, it’s about your overall spirit."

3. Drivers Learn Almost Nothing About Cyclists. One Woman Is Trying To Change That.

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Photo: James Ramsay

Until a bill currently sitting in the state Assembly becomes a law, the New York DMV's curriculum for drivers makes no mention of cyclists, or the rules about sharing a road with them.

But this year, cyclist advocate Angela Azzolino received city funding for a four-month pilot program, to teach 30-minute bike safety lessons inside driving courses.

I went with her to a defensive driving class in Sunset Park over the weekend, where she spoke with a group of adults attending a five-hour course to get a discount on their insurance, or points taken off their licenses.

But she acknowledged that educating drivers and enforcing traffic laws has its limits, when cars aren't designed to co-exist in a space with bikes.

"Recently, I got in one of those [car2go] Smart cars to run an errand, and I was immediately going 37 miles an hour, when I had no idea I was going that fast," Azzolino told me after the class. "I just happened to glance down, like, what, that’s crazy! But cars aren’t meant to go 25 — they’re designed to go over 100 miles per hour."

4. I Believe Pedestrians And Cyclists Can Peacefully Co-Exist

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Photo: Shumita Basu

There’s a persistent idea among many pedestrians that cyclists pose a high, fatal risk to them.

But as my colleague Shumita Basu reported this week, the NYPD’s latest statistics don’t support that. In 2017, people driving motor vehicles killed 106 pedestrians. People on bikes killed one pedestrian.

So, why hate on cyclists, when cars are more likely to harm you?

I think Shumita nails it: "New York City pedestrians are a hardened bunch; they’re used to jaywalking, stepping out into street lanes, and weaving between cars. As cycling becomes more popular and normalized, they’ll learn how to co-exist with bikes, too. But it won’t happen overnight."

As for you, cyclists: Put pedestrians first. Gothamist's Christopher Robbins, in his latest bike etiquette guide, makes the case that you'll be a happier person if you don't treat pedestrians like obstacles to overcome.

"Looking out for the safety of pedestrians will help ensure your own," he writes. "Slowing down (or — gasp — stopping!) enough to account for these lovable bipeds means less precious brain juice spent gaming out the increasingly insane array of decisions you’ll have to make in fractions of a second at high speeds. You’re supposed to enjoy the ride!"


NYPD Chief: It's 'Absolutely Insensitive' to Ticket Cyclists After Deadly Crashes

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The Greene Space

Earlier this year, when asked about the NYPD's ticketing blitzes directed at cyclists in locations where a cyclist had just been killed by a vehicle, Mayor Bill de Blasio stood by the practice.

"We need cyclists to obey the law," the mayor said, "and of course enforcement is a part of that."

That was in February. Since then, 11 more cyclists have been killed in the city. And when pressed last week at a We The Commuters event in The Greene Space, NYPD Chief of Department Terrence Monahan said he'd end the practice of going after cyclists following a fatality.

"You're right, it is absolutely insensitive of us to go back to a scene where a bicyclist has just been killed, and go summons bicyclists," Monahan said.

"Moving forward, the enforcement is not going to be on bicyclists," he added. "We may do education for bicyclists — if we see one doing something dangerous, they'll be stopped and educated — but it'd be insensitive to give summonses. The enforcement for 72 hours [after a cyclist is killed] will be strictly on vehicles."

The entire event, which also featured a conversation with Democratic State Senator Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn and a performance by frequent Midtown shuttle musician Priceless, is available for viewing on demand. (And, in my opinion, it was a great event and you should definitely go back and watch it!)

Best of the Week From Gothamist and WNYC

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In the bowels of Columbus Circle. (Adwait Patil/Gothamist)

When it's hot outside, it's also hot on subway platforms. We went around the city yesterday to see how subway platforms were responding to the coming heat wave, and at Columbus Circle, it was a full 10 degrees hotter on the platform than it was above ground.

Reminder: If you encounter a broken MetroCard vending machine, you're entitled to a "courtesy pass."
When MetroCard machines across the city temporarily stopped taking credit cards during rush hour Wednesday morning, many commuters were unaware they had another option besides paying cash.

Citi Bike announced this week that it's putting docking stations in the South Bronx and Upper Manhattan next year, and moving deeper into Brooklyn and Queens by 2023. This comes after a report from McGill pointed out that Citi Bike has mostly been serving white, wealthier New York City commuters.

A new MTA restructuring plan recommends laying off 3,000 employees
, mostly from the agency's headquarters (as opposed to union transit workers). The plan, which was put together by an outside consulting firm, will be voted on by the MTA board at next week's meeting.

More poison ivy is protruding onto a busy sidewalk, this time in the Bronx
. The Parks Department confirmed that the poison ivy — which is a native species here in the city — is growing at Concrete Plant Park, and will be trimmed this week.

What Else We're Reading

On Tuesday, two men grabbed the front of a woman's Citi Bike and wouldn't let her go, accusing her of scratching their SUV. A video of the altercation brought out a lot of responses from women about the deep misogyny they face while biking in the city. (Streetsblog)

The influential founder of Riders Alliance, an advocacy group that popularized #CuomosMTA, is stepping down. John Raskin, a veteran political organizer, told the Daily News that his goal with Riders Alliance was to turn the 8 million transit riders in New York City into a powerful political constituency. (New York Daily News)

Google Maps now tells you how crowded certain subways and buses will be
. The app update was announced a couple weeks ago, but we somehow failed to mention it in this newsletter. (AM New York)

New York City's Uber and Lyft ridership dropped after lawmakers passed a minimum wage law for drivers
, which in turn pushed up prices. Uber said its biggest decline was in "pool" rides. (Bloomberg)

There's now a cocktail bar in the Columbus Circle subway station
, and the Times is on it. (New York Times)

Quiz: Can You Name All 12 of These Biking Essentials?

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Brigid Barber

Okay, you know what a helmet is. But what on earth is number 6?

Follow WNYC on Instagram — we'll be posting the answers shortly.

Best of the MTA's Lost & Found

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Clarissa Sosin for We the Commtuters

Over the course of my Bike Week reporting, multiple people have recommended folding bikes for their ability to go on the subway without getting in people's way. Obviously, some people prefer to bring giant bikes on the train — and somehow lose them, as evidenced by this rack of bikes that have passed their claim-by date.

If you recently lost something on a bus, subway or the Staten Island Railway, stop by the MTA's Lost and Found at Penn Station. If you don't claim your property in time, you may get a second chance to buy it when it goes up for auction.

Weekend Service Changes: Night of July 19th - Early Morning on July 22nd

This is a partial list of major service disruptions scheduled for the weekend. For a complete list of the MTA's Weekender updates, check here.

1 train service between 96 St and 137 St in Manhattan will be replaced by A and C trains and free shuttle buses.

5 train service between E 180 St and Dyre Av in the Bronx will be replaced by free shuttle buses.

Saturday morning through Sunday night, Hudson Yards-bound 7 trains will skip 111, 103, 90, 82, 74, 69, 52, 46, 40 and 33 Sts in Queens.

L train service between Broadway Junction and Lorimer St in Brooklyn will be replaced by free shuttle buses.

Saturday morning through Sunday night, N train service between Ditmars Blvd and Queensboro Plaza in Queens will replaced by free shuttle buses.

R train service between 95 St and 36 St in Brooklyn will be replaced by the N train and free shuttle buses. Late night R service will not be running.

Check here for complete details about the Long Island Rail Road.

For NJ Transit, check here for the latest service advisories.

Upcoming Meetings and Events


Monday, July 22nd

Joint Metro-North & LIRR meeting - 8:30 a.m.
NYCT/MTA Bus Meeting - 10:00 a.m.
MTA headquarters, 2 Broadway, 20th Floor

Tuesday, July 23rd

Riders Alliance Bronx Bus Meeting
Bronx River Community Center - 6:45 p.m.

Wednesday, July 24th

MTA Board Meeting - 9:00 a.m.
MTA headquarters, 2 Broadway, 20th Floor

For official MTA committee meetings, registration for two-minute public speaking slots opens 15 minutes before the start time. To speak at a board meeting, you must register 30 minutes early.

We the Commuters is a weekly newsletter about transportation from WNYC and Gothamist. Sign up for essential commuting coverage delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

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