Experiencing the greatness of NYC - for 3 short hours
I love New York City. In the decade plus that I have lived here I have seen many friends leave the City for ‘greener pastures’ even as most days I could not imagine living anywhere else. The food, the culture, the cycling community all keep me in love with calling New York City home. That said, there is rarely a day goes by where this city’s choices with transit policy doesn’t drive me completely insane.
Yes, there is the sheer anger, violence and terror that so often characterizes being a pedestrian in this so called ‘greatest city in the world.’ But deeper than that, there is the simple fact that despite living in one of the densest urban environments in the country, New York City chooses to allocate nearly all of its surface streets to the supremacy of the motor vehicle. Protected bike lanes are woefully rare and protected bus lanes are essentially non-existent, as we have collectively deemed free street parking and the flow of single occupancy vehicles to be more important than pedestrian safety and mass-transit.
New York City features some of the most expensive real estate in the world - a recent report indicated that it takes almost 40 years at the median household income to save enough for a down payment on a home. And yet rather than allocating street space for parks, playgrounds, restaurants or any other number of potential beneficial uses for residents, we worship at the alter of free street parking for any metal box with four wheels. In so many ways, I see transit policy as the easiest possible route to improve both the quality of living and equality in New York City - giving streets back to the people, the vast majority of whom do not own cars, while improving mass transit and walkability for all.
The thing I find most depressing is that we are given small glimpses of how amazing New York City could be with a more reasonable allocation of street space. It comes in the form of small block parties, and for just one evening per year, one giant block party at the Museum Mile Festival. Museum Mile is just three short hours out of the entire year, but for one evening the street that I use to commute to work trades the aggressive drivers and free street parking for an incredible party featuring bands, children chalking the streets and so many smiles that it’s hard to describe. In many ways it my favorite night of the entire year. And yet, when 9pm strikes the pedestrians are forced back onto too small sidewalks, the police barriers are lifted, and 5th Avenue goes back to being a car sewer.
One day I hope that will change, and these scenes will become a permanent occurrence in the city that I call home. But until then, a few images from the 2019 Museum Mile Festival, which we enjoyed via bike.
Full disclosure: I wrote this immediately after the museum mile and before the horrific week that saw three NYC cyclists lose their lives in just seven days, underscoring that transit policy in NYC has yet to address even the most basic safety standards for anyone not in a multi-thousand pound metal box.