The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Biking Brooklyn after Sandy

Posted by on October 30th, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-29

Bushwick resident Avery Brooks rides past piles of bricks that fell of a building near Kent Ave. in Williamsburg.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

After last night’s dramatic storm, New Yorkers woke up this morning to see what Sandy had left behind. She made a mess. A big mess.

Coverage from New York City
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I was without a bike, so I walked from my hotel in Long Island City south into Brooklyn to see what I could see. The damage is immense: I saw canopies and signs ripped from storefronts; I walked around bricks, marble and other building materials that were strewn about the sidewalk; I saw trees large and small ripped from the ground, roots fully exposed and branches smashed against whatever was in their way (I saw three crushed cars), I saw a towering set of flood lights at a park that had been completely toppled; and I stepped over a gaping fault line between the East River and the Williamsburg waterfront where the tidal surge had submerged the land just steps from swanky high-rise condo towers.

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-6

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-24

Manhattan in the background.
Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-39

Add that to your preparedness checklist: Lock bike above floodwaters.
Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-20

This is really serious damage on the Williamsburg waterfront. A huge chunk of the boardwalk and the earth is falling off into the East River!
Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-2

Greenpoint Ave just south of Long Island City.
Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-32

South Williamsburg’s Hasidic neighborhood was especially hard hit with downed trees.
Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-38

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-34

This is the Clinton Hill neighborhood, right off Myrtle Ave.
Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-1

Greenpoint Ave.

But despite last night’s storm and all the associated headaches for those who live here, many people grabbed their bikes and headed out to see the damage. In a city where most people don’t own cars, right now bikes are the fastest way to get around (bus and subway are still not running). Not only that, but they’re the perfect vehicle to survey all the damage.

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-25

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-16

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-3

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-9

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-11

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-8

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-15

Mike Brown from Greenpoint came out to the waterfront under the Williamsburg Bridge. He snapped photos and surveyed the damage. As we stood on the boardwalk, he said, “Last night this was all under water.” Mike had come out at about 10:30 while the storm raged and said the tide had come up and over where we were standing. About 40 feet inland, a construction site remained completely flooded.

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-19

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-18

Avery Brooks from Bushwick rolled down the protected bike lanes on Kent Ave when a huge pile of bricks that had fallen off a nearby building made him stop and take out his camera.

Cycling the aftermath of Sandy-28

As the morning wore on, the streets filled with people. Without bus or subway service, many people are home in neighborhoods because they have the day off. Bedford Street in Williamsburg was absolutely bustling with activity as cafes and delis opened up for business. There are other parts of New York City and obviously throughout this region that have been much harder hit than what I’ve been able to see.

Judging from all your well wishes, emails, and texts, I think the news is making things seem much scarier than they actually are (at least where I am). The people I met were in high spirits. Neighbors are talking and coming together on street corners sharing experiences and offers of help. Coffee shops and cafes are packed. While life is already getting back to normal here in Brookly, other parts of the Northeast are in much more dire straits. And I still haven’t seen Manhattan.

I just borrowed another bike, so I’m going to head out again. Stay tuned.

— This post is part of my ongoing New York City coverage. I’m here for a week to cover the NACTO Designing Cities conference and the city’s bike culture in general. This special reporting trip was made possible by Planet Bike, Lancaster Engineering, and by readers like you. Thank you! You can find all my New York City coverage here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Alison Graves October 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Apparently, Recycle a Bicycle suffered flooding — especially DUMBO. If you are nearby one of their locations would you check in on them?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      Oh that’s right. that area was hit hard with flooding. forgot to stop there this morning. I have a bike now so i’ll try to stop in. If not tonight than tomorrow morning.

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  • Indy October 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Gotta ask: Is that bike stuck up there after storm or is it decorative?

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    • Sunny October 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      Looks like someone didn’t want the bike rusting in flood waters so lynched it up high.

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    • Scott October 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      I bet it was pushed up there by whomever erected that temporary safety fence.

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    • resopmok October 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm

      According to Bikesnob, the “Hipster High-Lock” is a common occurrence in NYC.

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    • q`Tzal October 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm

      It is much harder to perpetrate a theft when the sneaky bits have to be done at some weird angle, height and/or in full line of sight. I’ve used the combo of Street Cuffs and Fred Meyers decorative light poles to much amusement and security as my lock was just inside the reach of a 6’1″ man/goofball.

      Of course this is NYC: it could just be an art installation.

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  • spare_wheel October 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    i gotta say that these images make me very thankful that i never bike in the rain in my “normal clothes”.

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  • Ethan October 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks Jonathan for turning your lens (or mine I guess, lol) on the resilience of human-powered transportation.

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  • A.K. October 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    You mentioned seeing crushed cars, and I’ve always wondered what happens after that. Does insurance pay for a new car, or is it considered an “act of god” and not covered?

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    • Spiffy October 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm

      that’s what comprehensive insurance is for…

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    • was carless October 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      People who only have “collision” are up a creek w/o a paddle.

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  • Steve B. October 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Bicycles FTW!

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  • Dan Packard October 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Man you’re a great photojournalist ! Your pictures and experiences convey a vivid realism that makes us feel we’re right there in the big apple.

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  • Todd Boulanger October 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    DC update: Sandy left much of the NW and SW (Virginia) Washington in better shape than NYC…other than trees blown down and newspaper boxes a flight. Bikes and shoes again perform transport duty as transit is shut down until 2PM today. [Glad I left NYC and Philly for DC.]

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  • C3 October 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    You can donate as little as $10 to the Red Cross for “Sandy” disaster relief at

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  • was carless October 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Amazing! Not one bike had a real pair of fenders!

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    • Sunny October 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      I see at least two bikes with fenders.

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    • spare_wheel October 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm

      this cannot make cycling in nyc pleasant.

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    • Mr BIke October 31, 2012 at 10:58 am

      That’s a good call, I should get a set. Every time I ride in the rain I end up with a “skunk tail” 🙁

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    • Leo H. October 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      I noticed the fact that almost none of the bikes had fenders too. I know New Yorkers are supposed to be tougher than everyone else, but what does riding a bike sans fenders in a rain occurring locale prove, other than you don’t worry about your laundry for some reason?

      Once again, the strangulating grip of ‘appearance’ in the cycling community spreads its mindless fingers around our throat.

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      • are October 31, 2012 at 7:43 pm

        “almost none” is something of an overstatement. seventeen bikes are shown, of which eight clearly have at least a rear fender and a couple of others cannot be seen sufficiently clearly to determine fender or no. three others have a rear rack, which can serve much the same function. two are folders, for which fenders may be impractical, i dunno.

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  • annefi October 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Love the photos!

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  • q`Tzal October 30, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    I sense a resurgent demand for amphibious HPV.

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  • Joe Adamski October 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    JM .. whooda thunk covering a conference would put you in the front seat for such a big story! Serendipity.

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  • spiderleggreen October 31, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Great Pics! With the transit system in shambles, bikes become a great alternative.

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  • Joe October 31, 2012 at 11:35 am

    NYC riders hardcore! almost everyone no fenders or just a back one..
    peace to you all 🙂

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  • Anonymous October 31, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Enough with NY already!!!

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  • Chris McNally November 14, 2012 at 9:36 am

    I also went out the next day, I think from 10 til 11 it was raining and I was not prepared but it was warm enough that it was not an issue and I had to see Manhattan.

    I do not have fenders or a rear rack because they prevent me from standing my bike up and bouncing it down the stairs from my 3rd floor walk up. So I usually skip riding in the rain. But I might get a snap on fender.

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