Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dreams can come true -- we can get somewhere

I grew up with a New York where it just seemed nothing could get done. There was no money for anything. The crime was the worst in the country. The political process was paralyzed by special interests and a widespread NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) attitude that was so often rooted in ignorance, irrational fears and racism. As a young adult living in Brooklyn and then Manhattan in the late 80s and then the 90s, I sometimes thought of my feelings for New York as an addiction: I so deeply loved the City and was always, as a person who once thought he would become an architect or urban planner, thinking -- dreaming! -- about how it could be even better. This was the place -- maybe the only place in the United States -- set up in such a way that an automobile-free life was possible. The pollution and the sprawl that highways and the cars on them had wrought across the nation -- and the racism and segregation that they helped enforce -- could be countered here. I dreamed of a life full of beautiful public spaces, of streets and plazas without cars and, instead, filled with people of all shapes and colors getting around on foot, on bicycles and on abundant public transportation.  But it seemed like none of those dreams could come true; this "lover" that was the NYC of my young adulthood always disappointed me.

So, riding through the Hudson River Park this morning on a CitiBike
Minna on the CitiBike
was so exhilarating for me not just because of the intrinsic greatness of being able to just pick up a bike anywhere in lower Manhattan with just the swipe of an electronic key. It was the culmination of dreams that I had once thought could never come true. It was hard to even dream that the rotting piers of the West Side could be turned into a park. And not only had that come to pass, but the city was full of bike lanes. And now a bike sharing system, following the incredible example that was pioneered in Paris beginning in 2007.

Today was the first time I've gotten a chance to ride the CitiBike extensively (Minna and I started using it on the program's opening day on Monday, but Minna mostly rode the CitiBike while I rode my old mountain bike).

I love the bike itself. It takes a little getting used to -- especially getting used to how its heavy weight has to be held up when you are stopped at a red light -- but it mostly feels great. And it's so great to be able to ride a bike in New York without having to worry about its getting stolen or about having to fix a flat tire or about locking it up somewhere overnight. You just return the bike to the station nearest your destination and you're done. You don't even have to think about CitiBike until you need it to go somewhere. And going somewhere is what this system is really built for -- it's not just for recreational biking. The stations are everywhere and they're right there on the street where parked cars used to be. You can really use this system to get all over lower Manhattan (and the rest of Manhattan and more of NYC soon as the program expands). It just makes being in New York better -- it feels like the whole city opens up for you. In Manhattan, I'm used to thinking that going crosstown (ie, east-west) is almost always hard -- the Subway pretty much only runs north-south. But with CitiBike, suddenly crosstown trips are just as easy as uptown-downtown ones.

It's awesome!