Buzzing freewheels, clicking gears, and the whirring of tires from roughly 7,000 bicycles echoed through the city in this year’s New York City Century Bike Tour on Sept. 9. Packs of riders sporting colorful spandex wove briskly through Brooklyn and Queens, but lamented that the Bronx portion of the route was poorly planned and clogged with pedestrian traffic.
The 100-mile loop has in some form or another been in use since Transportation Alternatives (TransAlt) started the ride in 1990. Starting in Central Park and weaving south into Brooklyn, the ride meanders down closed-off streets through Queens and into the Bronx, where it circles Van Cortlandt Park before heading back to Manhattan. Many stretches of this year’s route featured elements from the updated 2012 NYC Department of Transportation Bike Map, but also included riding through two simultaneous street fairs in the Fordham and Belmont sections of the Bronx.
When Manhattan resident and Century participant James Lim rode down 187th Street through Belmont, he stopped in confusion. The Ferragosto Street Fair on Arthur Avenue drew crowds that blocked that stretch of the route, so Lim was forced to get off of his bike and walk to get through. “I find if kind of strange that we have to ride through a street fair,” said Lim as he navigated the crowd.
The route continued down a closed 188th Street where cyclists ran into more crowd overflow from the Fordham Road Renaissance Festival. Fordham Heights residents said they were frustrated at the road closures for both the Century and the street fair, a frustration echoed by cyclists having to pass through pedestrian traffic despite police barricades.
On the NYC Century Facebook page, five participants in a feedback comment thread expressed discontent with obstacles in the Bronx leg of the route. One Bronx resident who said his name was Jerry Scheer said on Facebook that he was surprised the greenways in the Bronx were not part of the route.
Bronx resident and longtime cycling activist Rich Gans said in a Sept. 12 TransAlt Bronx Committee meeting that riders “saw what is possible in New York City today and glaringly absent in the Bronx.” Gans has been doing the Century since its first year, and said this year’s route was worse than last year’s.
Sharon De La Cruz, a Fordham resident and Century participant, had a similar take on the shortcomings. “I don’t blame them for not having a perfect way across the borough,” she said. “To be honest there is no perfect way.”
The Bronx boasts several miles of bicycle-only paths that TransAlt organizers did not include this year, although they have in the past. TransAlt volunteer coordinator Alanna Feinsod said most of the route planning is done in cooperation with the city to ensure closed roads and easier policing, and ride logistics often rely on this.
The ride is supposed to encourage more cycling in the city, so a high turnout and positive feedback are important. Elizabeth Hamby, a Bronx resident and co-founder of a weekly group ride through the borough called Boogie Down Rides, said this year’s ride wasn’t all bad. “People are getting out there and riding somewhere they haven’t before,” she said. “That’s all that matters.”
While TransAlt can’t help the less-than-ideal route conditions in the borough, response from riders and local community members could help improve next year’s route through the Bronx. Avoiding street fairs would be a good start.