Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Tales from a post-Sandy bus commute

Posted by on November 3rd, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Bikes next to bus line

Huge lines formed for subway replacement buses, while bike traffic streamed by.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Coverage from New York City
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Having a bike while I was in New York was a lifesaver. Thanks to BikePortland reader Jacob Mason, I had a reliable road bike that took me all over the city without ever missing a beat. But on Friday after I returned the bike, I found myself on foot, facing the reality of hauling myself and my bags from Brooklyn all the way up to West Harlem.

The subway I needed wasn’t running, and neither was regular bus service. My best option was to try one of the new shuttle bus lines the MTA and DOT had set up to respond to the transit emergency. For transit geeks, what they did on such short order was truly amazing. The essentially created a bus rapid transit line in 24 hours. They took a major arterial (Flatbush Ave), reallocated the lanes with traffic cones, and gave buses dedicated lane access all the way across the bridge and into Manhattan.

emergency bus rapid transit on Flatbush

Voila! Bus rapid transit (as seen from the 27th floor of Avalon Fort Greene housing tower at Flatbush Ave and Myrtle).
NYC bus commute

Buses only.

The only problem, from a rider’s perspective, is that the line to catch one of these buses was monumental. Imagine a line with 7-8 people standing shoulder-to-shoulder (in the cold) the width of an entire city sidewalk. Now imagine that line wrapping around two blocks. And that’s only what it was like at 10:30 AM, which was far off the morning commute peak.

The good news was that morale improved once folks realized the line was moving at regular intervals. The bad news was that once the line reached Jay Ave, people on bikes streamed by! They were so carefree and untethered! I swear the people on bikes were smirking as they rolled by, which created quite a contrast to the dour countenances in the bus line.

NYC bus commute

And I think people waiting in line noticed…

NYC bus commute

The bus ride itself wasn’t that bad. Yes, we were packed in like sad sardines, and it only went to 54th Street (my final destination was 139th); but at least it was a ride. And it was free.

NYC bus commute

My bike is never this crowded.

As I stood at the front of the bus, snapping photos of people on bikes passing us in traffic, the closing argument on biking after Sandy became clear: When disaster strikes, ride a bike!

Bikescapes nyc-6

The lanes were wide open for people on bikes (photographed from inside a bus).
NYC bus commute

— 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.

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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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Bike Me, Twice. November 4, 2012 at 2:26 am


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  • K'Tesh November 4, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Welcome Home!

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  • Ben November 4, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    uhh, is this or!
    I am confused!

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  • grumpcyclist November 4, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    The cyclists were smirking at the folks standing in line for the bus? They sound like jerks to me.

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    • Hugh Johnson November 5, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      I could see that happening here in Portland too.

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  • Jeff Bernards November 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I can see the shortfall of my E-bike, no electricity. It still pedals (but heavy) Thankful to have other bikes too. But Sandy really made me look at my 1st choice in transportation.

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  • Joe Rowe November 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Awesome story and week of coverage. It takes a horrific situation to wake up America to the significance of transit and bike funding. If the Democrats would take a stand against military funding, the “heath” insurance lobby, and war we would have a subway that would be working a lot sooner in NYC.

    The picture of the year: Bike riding swiftly past the cop guarding bus riders waiting and ” packed in like sad sardines”. This is the future if we ignore transit and bikes.

    One photo speaks a thousand words.

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    • Chris I November 5, 2012 at 8:19 am

      The problem with our country is that half of us look at the picture and see what you see, and the other half sees something completely different. They think “this is why no one should live in cities” or “everyone would be better off if they had a car”. This is the problem with America right now. This is why we can’t get anything done.

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  • Paul Smith November 4, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    “My bike is never this crowded.” Ha! Classic.

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  • Todd Boulanger November 4, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Yes it brings up a critical item … transit it good but given what it costs in operations and construction cycling can do so much more for local trips (1 to 3 miles)…there should be a greater balance in most local investment. Cycling is about 50 cents per trip vs. $5 per transit trip ($35 per para transit trip)…

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  • Rob November 5, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Seriously, these people waiting in these huge line for the bus can’t get on a bike?

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    • Kristen November 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Maybe they couldn’t– physical limitations do limit some people, as does lack of skill (riding in general, or riding in traffic in particular). Fear of the unknown is a big motivator for people to stay in their same rut instead of breaking out and trying something new.

      Bottom line, don’t be so quick to judge. There are as many reasons why these people don’t get on bikes as there are people. For instance, the need to haul a quantity of luggage without a bike trailer handy.

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    • Jamie November 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Possibly the biggest barrier would be 1. not owning a bike and 2. not prioritizing a bike purchase the week after a tropical storm hit?

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  • Jonathan Gordon November 5, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I think the coolest thing about the first photo in this series is you can easily imagine anyone on the left (bus) line atop a bike in the right (bike) line. I wonder how many of them were thinking the same thing.

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  • CaptainKarma November 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Those lines look like voters trying to vote in a swing state with crooked election commissioners.

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  • karen wertheimer November 6, 2012 at 7:17 am

    Maybe they are all going to re-evaluate this biking riding thing… wouldn’t that be lovely?!

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  • Rebecca Heywood November 6, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Great show of how bikes can fit into urban transportation (particularly if there aren’t subways…).

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  • Herbert Curl November 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    There are no cars in these pictures. Try biking in New York City when the streets are filled with delivery trucks, cabs, buses, and cars. It’s possible of course but the vast majority of commuters won’t because they work in offices or shops and are dressed appropriately. It snows (or worse) in winter and has thunderstorms in the summer. Bikes are a niche tranportation in most cities.

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    • michweek November 6, 2012 at 6:04 pm

      Well, that’s silly. I’ve ridden my bike in Thundeestorms & through the snow. I’ve ridden squashed up between cars, delivery trucks, buses and cabs (broawdway downtown). And sometimes! Gasp! I ride in heels and dresses and arrive all well and good. But I am in Portland not New York? I’m more impressed with folks who ride year round in St. Paul Wisconsin, talk about snow! And long suburban commutes! I don’t think bikes are a niche, they should be dominant. Especially when people routinely travel to a majority of locations sub 5 miles.

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  • Patrick November 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Odd that the first story I read on cycling during Sandy is on a PDX site rather than NYC but whatever. To give some further insight there was an enormous increase in the amount of cyclists out on Monday morning here in NY. As an every day rider here (it’s not a niche – it’s a lifestyle @HerbertCurl) I was both greatly enthused to see that and enormously dismayed at the distinct lack of skill I saw in cyclists that morning. Biking here takes nerves of steel, a fair amount of strategy (stick to the rivers when possible) but probably most important is the ability to keep a straight line. I’m constantly braking to accomodate people who can’t manage to pedal without swinging their bodies and bikes wildly in the direction of their pedalling. I’m horrified at the prospect of more unskilled riders if this CitiBike fiasco ever arrives here.

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