Knights at Night: A Zero-Carbon Ride in the City
This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.
By Kuntian Yu, C+S ’15
“Chapter 1. He adored New York City, although to hit it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. How hard it was to exist in a society desensitized by drugs, loud music, television, crime, garbage…”
– Woody Allen, Manhattan (1979)
To the eyes of the self-righteous black-rimmed comedy writer Isaac Davis (played by Woody Allen), the appropriate way of spending a night in New York was to be bathed in the sparkling neon lights and chocked by secondhand smoke. New Yorkers who lived in 1979 would never consider stepping foot across the boundary of the Central Park West Street after dark. During that time, the Park was considered a “virtual dustbowl by day and a danger zone by night” according to Douglas Blonsky, a president of the Central Park Conservancy. Due to managerial neglect and insufficient funding, the park entered into a decline where vandalism and drug use thrived. It was where nightlife turned into nightmare.
However, things have changed. After the second renovation was finished in the 1980s, the park was converted from the “neglected city backyard” to the “distinguished urban garden,” and is now an ideal place for a recreational bike ride at almost any hour of the day.
The summer internship at City Atlas granted me the opportunity to explore New York-based environmental organizations bottom up and promote sustainable lifestyle to urban dwellers through articles and photo stories.
Among them, a grassroots environmental group called Time’s Up caught my attention. Established in 1987, Time’s Up has long been dedicated to building a city with less greenhouse gas emission and educating people about climate change by promoting human-powered zero-emission vehicles.
One of the feature activities of Time’s Up is the Moonlight Ride, which happens at 10 p.m. on the first Friday of every month. When the time comes, a group of cycling enthusiasts will gather punctually at Columbus Circle under the moonlight. Under the guidance of professional riders at both the front and the rear, the troop will safari on the Loop Road and some gravel paths of the park, then return to the starting point before midnight.
With street noise shielded by dense tree patches and distant city lights shimmering through, it feels like you have retreated from the roaring streets but are not totally cut off from the prosperous and glamorous urban life. You can enjoy the tranquility of country life even while the amenities of New York are within reachable distance. Spinning by lakes, hillocks and bridges at a mild pace, there is nothing unsafe to worry about — except dodging the horse-drawn carriages that occasionally roll by.
Since the Park has become bike-friendly, what about other places of the city? Has bicycling become a pervasive way of daily commute or is it still an occasional recreational activity contained within limited area? As one of the most sustainable vehicles, can bicycles take us wherever we want to go whenever we want in New York?
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has started counting regular cycling in the city since 1985 and has demonstrated a dramatic increase in bike ridership. According to their most resent report, the commuter cycling number of year 2014 increased 4 percent over the previous year.
The U.S. Census showed that the number of bike commuters in New York doubled between 2007 and 2011, which indicated a convincing future of more motor vehicle riders converting into cyclists. Based on the Copenhagenize Index — named for what some consider the most bike-friendly city in the world —New York made its way to the top 20 bicycle-friendly cities in the world.
However, compared to Copenhagen and Amsterdam — the world’s second-most bike-friendly city — the Big Apple still has a long way to go in order to catch up. Glimpsing the NYC Bike Map, it is good to see that nearly all the waterfront is covered with bike paths or greenways, which enables cyclists to tour around the city. However, within the island, there are still many bike-lane free areas, meaning that cyclists might have to take the risk of sharing motorways.
The good news is that the city’s administration is making an effort to expand bike lane network, especially in the neighborhoods with limited bike infrastructure, according to the OneNYC Plan.
Hopefully, with more secured access to bike lanes, the knights on bikes can not only enjoy the tranquility of night within parks, but also a convenient commute anytime anywhere.