With subways shuttered in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, residents across New York City are taking to the streets – on bike, on foot or via carpool. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, volunteer cycling groups are banding together to help commuters navigate the post-hurricane terrain, where fallen trees, flooded streets and downed streetlights are making travel difficult and dangerous.
In the more distant Bronx, where people are finding it harder to get into the city, cyclists are assuming the role of unofficial safety patrollers, surveying damage and reporting back to family and friends at home.
Bikers headed for Manhattan, where traffic lights were still off Tuesday evening, rode in groups to stay safe. “The bigger groups we can get together, the safer we’ll be,” said Liz Jose, a group cyclist who started organizing rides from Brooklyn on Monday.
Jose founded cycling group WE Bike NYC as a way for women and transgender people to build self-esteem through social biking. In the aftermath of the hurricane, the group is using Facebook to help organize group safety rides among riders. More experienced riders are posting their location on the group’s Facebook wall; beginners are encouraged to call or text their current location and destination in response.
“We see this as a good opportunity for riders who might not normally take the train but have to bike to get to work this week,” said Jose.
At Red Lantern bike shop in Fort Greene on Thursday morning, riders from a similar cycling group called Bike Train met for coffee before heading to the city via the Manhattan Bridge. Molly Fair, a first-time bike commuter, said she got word from her office that she was needed back at work. Fair, who normally takes the subway, said friends warned her that people taking free busses into the city found themselves in lengthy lines. “If I have to go in,” Fair said, “I’m not going to waste three hours getting there.”
Laura Solis, a WE Biker from the Bronx who works closely with Jose, said she was planning to bike to work at the YMCA in Manhattan on Tuesday, but changed her plans when she got word that her building had flooded and bridges had been closed. “Everything seems okay up here, but down there, things are pretty bad,” Solis said. Solis, who has become very active in WE Bike since joining the group in April, said she was planning on laying low in the wake of Sandy. “I’m going to stick around here and see how everyone is doing,” she said on Monday afternoon.
Samelys Lopez, co-founder of bike group VeloCity, which teaches young people from underserved communities about bicycling and urban planning, rode from a family member’s home in Concourse Village, in the Bronx, to her house near Lehman College. On the way, she surveyed the area for damage.
“Some parts were hit really hard,” Lopez said, “but in other places it looks like nothing happened.” Lopez said some of the borough’s southern areas, like Concrete Plant Park and Starlight Park, were flooded by the storm, while its northern regions suffered merely a few downed trees.
Lopez said she was surprised at the number of bikers out on the streets after the storm. “The city didn’t stop,” Lopez said. The Bronx native, who started biking three years ago with VeloCity, said the aftereffects of the storm encouraged riders to bike in groups for safety reasons. “The group of bikers acts like a little car,” Lopez said. “We protect each other and keep each other safe.”