(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
On Thursday night, when almost all of Lower Manhattan was still without electricity, I walked around the darkness to see how bike commuters were handling the conditions. Back on Tuesday I documented the blackout in the financial district on the southern tip of Manhattan. But since that was just one night after the storm and most people hadn’t yet returned to work, bike traffic was minimal.
By the time people began commuting again two days later, the NYPD and MTA were in full force on major thoroughfares trying to keep traffic safe while dealing with the daily exodus of tens of thousands of people. Bowery Street, which has been turned into a bus rapid transit corridor while subways limp back to life, was shrouded in total darkness. To give bike riders, walkers, and bus, car, and taxi operators some sense of awareness, NYPD officers had lit flares at every intersection. This disaster has obviously strained the NYPD, but they managed to go deep enough into their org chart to find officers to capably direct traffic at nearly every major intersection. Amid the potential chaos, these workers definitely earned their keep. Their mere presence offered a sense of relief, security, and order on the streets.
While packed buses roared down Bowery in platoons of 7-8 at a time; people on bikes made their way in the margins. I was aghast at how many of them rode in complete darkness. For some reason, I found that bike riders in New York use front and rear lights at a much lower percentage than we do in Portland. I don’t like riding at night without lights in regular conditions. In a blackout? In Lower Manhattan? I would rather walk.
In addition to the people who were riding home, I also noticed several groups of friends, who had met up specifically to “ride the blackout.” They swooped and swerved through the streets, enjoying the eerie, rare calm and lack of traffic signals.
By the time I get home to Portland (at the airport now), the electricity will be back on for much of Lower Manhattan; but I won’t soon forget what it was like with the lights out. Next time you’re commuting home at night, just imagine what it would be like without any streetlights, no signals, and no lights from homes or businesses.
— 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.