I missed posting from the panhandle last week because I was far from it. I was off instead on a sojourn to a place that might be considered the antithesis of rural north Idaho—New York City.
There are a lot of things to like about New York, but a lack of crowds and traffic is not one of them. This being the case, I was amazed at how comfortable I felt riding a bike in Manhattan. Okay, maybe not comfortable—the temperature was in the 90s and the humidity was about 300%–but at least safe.
The original idea was to rent bikes and ride along one of the city’s waterfront bike paths. The path along the southwest corner of Manhattan is part of a collection of exceptionally complete streets. There being so many people conveying themselves in such a variety of ways, there were separate lanes for motor vehicles, for cyclists and roller-bladers, and for people on foot. Each of these lanes was again divided into lanes for people traveling opposite directions, and the upshot was traffic that moved well.
But even as we moved off the bike path and headed across downtown streets to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, it was not too intimidating. Bike paths are painted onto one-way streets that are narrow and carry little vehicle traffic. We followed them to a plaza by City Hall, where bike symbols were painted onto the pavement, and then onto the bridge, which has, again, separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians on a walkway above the vehicle lanes.
Construction provided for some challenges in one block at the foot of Fulton Street in Brooklyn, and the designated bike route from Brooklyn back into Manhattan suggested we ride one block in the midst of three lanes of vehicle traffic. (Not a chance I was going to do that; I rode the wrong way back through the plaza and walked the bike one block on a sidewalk instead). But in general, it felt safer than riding in downtown Sandpoint.
New York has planned for cyclists and pedestrians. Although many of the paths and lanes for cyclists were added within the past couple of decades, New York has never assumed that driving a car will be the primary mode of transportation for most people. Streets, houses, and neighborhoods were not planned with cars and parking in mind. Driving (not to mention parking) is a bother there relative to the ease with which one may travel in the subway, on busses, on foot, or on a bike.
In Sandpoint, by contrast, it takes significant effort to backfill bicycle and pedestrian routes into a street grid and neighborhoods that are focused primarily if not exclusively on cars. It’s assumed one must take a car most places, because there is no subway or bus, and most people aren’t willing to take the time to walk or bike. Although cycling is easy in many parts of town because of bicycle lanes and little traffic, in the downtown core—with its denser traffic and concentration of parked cars preventing travel on a shoulder outside a vehicle lane—a cyclist can feel particularly exposed.
I can’t say New York drivers were more courteous to bicyclists and pedestrians than Sandpoint drivers are. Most Sandpoint drivers are quite deferential–they make it easier for a cyclist or a pedestrian to cross the highway into downtown than it is for a car. But still, New York has places where bicycles are supposed to be, and cars don’t go there.
Sandpoint Bicycle Advisory Committee member Jared Yost says that the city has great plans for making Sandpoint a better place to bike, but nobody knows about them. It would be best, of course, to find out about them on the pavement, suddenly discovering that traversing downtown Sandpoint on a bicycle feels as safe as traversing New York City.
But it’s good to know that we are at least on the way, and that some day our peachy little town may feel as good on two wheels as the Big Apple does now.