BRAVING MANHATTAN TRAFFIC ON A BIKE
My biking mania began in the early 1970s and lasted about five years. Everyone was doing it, partly for environmental reasons, partly for healthy excercise, partly to save subway fares, but mostly for fun. I got on the bandwagon by purchasing an Italian 10-speed racer-type bike at a First Avenue cycle shop — despite the fact that the last time I rode one of these things was around 1945, when I was 11 or 12 years old. They say you never forget how to ride, and this was partially true. My previous bike, almost 30 years earlier, was a heavy no-speed Elgin balloon-tire monster that was practically indestructible. Despite all those years, it came back to me pretty quickly.
At first I used it for weekend riding in New York's wonderful Central Park, whose circular loop road is about six miles long, has gentle hills, and is often closed to motor traffic. There are many places to stop along this route to watch fellow Manhattanites cavorting, to just rest, and to have a hot dog and soda. Getting there was easy as I lived on East 80th Street, not too far from the park. My landlord allowed me to park the bike in the basement garage for free as long as I didn't take it through the lobby.
Then I saw it as a way to avoid the horrors of the overcrowded Lexington Avenue Subway while commuting to our studio on Fifth Avenue and 28th Street. What I didn't count on were the life-threatening horrors of Manhattan traffic. My route was to head west on East 79th Street, then south on Fifth Avenue to 28th. Returning, I went east on 28th, then north on Third Avenue and east on 80th. The biggest problem was with pedestrians indulging in that favorite New York pastime, jaywalking. It was not cool to hit one. And these lightweight bikes have practically no brakes. At least ones that work. Another hazard was car doors suddenly opening right in front of you. And cars that make turns without signalling. But I, and all the other bikers I knew, survived with only minimal scratches.
The ultimate fun, however, came with the closing of the West Side Highway from 23rd Street all the way down to the Battery. On December 16, 1973, an overloaded dump truck decided to avoid city streets and took the rickety old elevated highway north instead. Built in 1929 and very poorly maintained over the years, this road was already falling apart. Around Gansevoort Street the truck fell through (photo, above) and landed on the street below. Miraculously, no one was injured. The highway was closed, and then condemmed to a slow demolition that was not completed until 1987.
What a boon this was for bicyclists! A deserted level road without a single stop for three miles all the way from 18th Street to the bottom of Manhattan. No traffic at all. No police, either. All you had to look out for was the hole where the truck fell through. And those wonderful views across the Hudson and of the World Trade Center complex! You could go just as fast as you could pedal.
Technically the road was closed to everyone, including bikes and pedestrians. But the barriers were easy to get around and the police paid no attention, so it became a popular spot for biking and just walking. Later, as demolition progressed, it was no longer usable — but by that time I was into other things and gave away my bike.
Meanwhile, my interest in biking peaked in 1975 with an interesting ride along the old C&O Canal outside of Washington D.C. and a day-long excursion out of Amsterdam. I'll recount these later and add photos. For the rides in New York I have only Super 8 movies, which I have yet to be able to scan.
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
SO, just what Little Adventure am I up to now in 2013? Why, just the most challenging one of them all! CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT.