Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Central Park Biking

Biking in Central Park is one of New York’s special pleasures and part of the challenge of making the most of this magnificent metropolis. It is both freeing and constraining at the same time, much like New York itself. Following the main roadway that circles the park, one time around the park equals 6.2 miles. Two circuits gives you a good workout. Do it three times and your neighbors may think you’re in training. Riding in Central Park is delightful, in part, because Central Park itself is so wonderful. Its mix of small forests, open fields, picturesque ponds, and lots of decorative additions, from public sculptures to beautifully wrought bridges, make it a kind of magical place. As Caleb Carr has said, life in New York is made possible by the constant, reassuring presence of Central Park.

But in another way, the bike path around the primary street that encircles Central Park is really not that remarkable. There are cities that offer bike paths of 20 or 30 miles that are better paved and better maintained, with far fewer interruptions and perils. Central Park's 6.2 miles requires you to keep a constant lookout for baby carriages, park touring groups, skateboarders, runners, joggers, walkers, strollers, roller bladders, other bikers, vending carts, pedicabs, horse and buggies, and occasional maintenance trucks, not to mention roaming police cars. And that’s only on the weekend when cars are banned. It’s a completely different story during the work week, when the rules for what vehicles are allowed seem to change hourly. Furthermore, especially on the weekend, you never know when there might be a bike race scheduled. And believe me, there are few things as scary as a swarm of huddled racers hissing toward you at top speed.

No, what makes Central Park so great for bikes is the fact that compared to all other provisions for bike riding in New York it is, by far, the best. On a good day, you can ride all the way around the park without stopping or even slowing down much. Every other "bike path" that I know of, and this definitely includes the much heralded path that runs along the Hudson River, requires you to stop periodically for intersecting traffic, and to remain unfazed when some speeding driver inevitably careens wildly into an unseen driveway past which you are innocently trying to steer your beloved Trek Hybrid. I’m afraid, too, that because other bike paths in New York are so much narrower than the roadway in Central Park, the difficulty of navigating around pedestrians, skateboarders, and runners is far greater, resulting at times in so much congestion that a dead stop is necessitated.

It's a jungle out there, and even more so for those who want to travel by bicycle. And although Central Park poses challenges for cyclists, they are nothing compared to the dangers that lurk around every corner in the rest of the wilds of New York City.

1 comment:

  1. New York, NY, it's a wonderful town! Central Park is the exclamation point. Today's post is pure NY.