Commuters!! To the Bikes!!!(updated)

my commute bike. stable in all sorts of weather, fast, and fun to ride. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

Day two of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and the lack of official talk about the recovery of the New York subway system is getting a bit annoying. You might recall that I reported a few days ago that state and federal authorities had estimated a worst-case scenario would leave the subways and other critical systems down for weeks if not months.  If your plan B is going to work by car, be prepared to sit in traffic–a close relative spent two hours plus going the 12.5 miles  from Brooklyn to her office in Manhattan.

What else can a commuter do?

My office is still closed (no electricity, lots of flooding around the building). I am considering a test ride on my bike to see if it’s doable and safe. If it doesn’t work, I’m not sure what I’m doing to get to work. I have commuted to work by bicycle before, of course. The question is whether it’s a bigger energy drain than it is under normal circumstances–and how the weather interacts.

If you’re contemplating this option, here’s a worthwhile article. Other caveats:

* You need to be in somewhat reasonable shape before you attempt this. If you haven’t been on a bike in 20 years, now is not the time to try to schlep 10 miles.

* Do not be seduced by the dark side of the Hipsters–track bikes, fixed gear bikes and road bikes have a fairly high center of gravity which makes them more vulnerable in high winds. If you don’t already own a bike, I’d recommend you look at hybrid bikes or comfort bikes with big, wide tires and spring suspension.

* buy fenders or you’ll have a coating of mud down your back.

* Other purchases when you buy the fenders: Helmet, bicycle clothing for cold weather, gloves, tire patch kit and emergency pump. and lights–it’s getting dark early these days, and putting lights on your bicycle is as much about seeing as it is about being visible to others. Shop at your local shop as much as possible (you need them to stay in business for those times when you don’t want to change a tire on your own).

* Figure out a way to stow work clothes at work. I’ve seen people riding bikes while wearing business suits–I assume that either they’re on photo shoots for European fashion magazines or they lost a bet.

* get a really good lock (even two!) or you’ll become a pedestrian in short order. Hal will help you figure out how to lock properly.

* While you’re at your local bike shop getting clothing that will keep you warm and dry, pick up the latest copy of the free Transportation Alternatives Street map. Sure it’s online, but you should get acquainted with TA anyway–lots of useful information on bike commuting.

I will post on this after my test ride. Stay tuned!

UPDATE (10/31/12 4:00pm)

So… took the test commute bicycle ride (map is here).  Started at Foster Avenue and Rugby Road in Brooklyn, and headed toward my job at First Avenue and 33rd Street in Manhattan. Time was 1 PM. Here’s what you need to know if you want to do this:

* Lots of street debris in any part of the trip where there are trees. There are crews going through neighborhoods and sawing up the trees that were knocked down, but even the trees that stayed up were stripped of leaves and branches, and it’s all over the streets. Victorian Flatbush (the nabe that stretches south from Prospect Park to Cortelyou) and the Bergen Street bike lane northbound from Flatbush through Smith Street are treacherous going.

* Lots of vehicle traffic in Brooklyn. Bergen Street looked as bad as it ever does during rush hour, and downtown Brooklyn is just as trafficked as any workday.  Lots of folks waiting at bus stops. Drivers are testy.

* Didn’t try the Brooklyn Bridge, but I suspect the crowds on the pedestrian promenade are going to make it impossible to ride across. Manhattan Bridge has lots of folks walking on the bike (north) side of the bridge but was passable. Everyone was behaving themselves.

* Then you get to Manhattan…

No traffic lights and lots of drivers playing chicken with each other and pedestrians. No electricity, didn’t see many stores open.  I did not finish the ride once I looked north from Delancey Street and realized that there were no working traffic lights.

So… tomorrow is a doable commute for me by bike. Again, this is a commute I have done over 100 times in the past year or so. Total estimated time on the bike would have been an hour and ten minutes, for approximately 12 miles (which to be fair includes my stopping at my gym to shower). That compares favorably to friends who were in traffic over two and a half hours (or more) when attempting to go into the city by car.

And there is no subway service tomorrow south of 34th Street. No lights, no subway service. Limited bus service.  Larger point: how long are people going to put up with this? Understood that this was a century storm, but this contingency was not foreign to the planners for the city and state.

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