Exploring New York by Bike
By Senator Charles Schumer
Huffington Post, June 22nd 2009
Exploring New York City and particularly Brooklyn is my passion and my pastime. As the great Brooklyn author Thomas Wolfe once famously quipped, "It'd take a guy a lifetime to know Brooklyn t'roo an' t'roo. An' even den yuh wouldn't know it all." I have lived in Brooklyn my entire life, and I couldn't agree more. I find that there is no better way to learn about what is going on in New York than by riding my bike through the neighborhoods and stopping and talking to people.
I've loved riding a bike as long as I can remember. I can still recall every inch of the green Elswick racer I was given for my 10th birthday. Hopping on my bike as a kid was the definition of freedom, whether I was pedaling six blocks to the local basketball court, or roaming around the neighborhood looking for spontaneous fun.
Many things have changed since I was a kid. The streets are busier and my hair is grayer, but to me, spending a few hours riding my bike through New York still feels like freedom No matter how busy my schedule, I try to spend a few hours on my bike each week.
Without a doubt, the best bike routes have great food at the end. I like to go from my house in Park Slope to Breezy Point, on the Rockaway Peninsula, to find Kennedy's, a restaurant right on the beach with a fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline. Sometimes I head out through Sunset Park, with its world class Latin food, en route to Bay Ridge and the sublime Shore Road Bike Path, when my reward awaits at Gino's on Fifth Avenue.
Perhaps my favorite route, I love heading toward Williamsburg, up the Eastern Parkway bike path, through Bedford-Stuyvesant, eventually ending up at Carmine's on Graham Avenue. There is nothing better than a Genoa salami hero after an afternoon on a bike!
When I can, I'll bike to events in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx or Brooklyn, combining a bit of work with a bit of pleasure. (The only place I don't ride frequently is Staten Island, because the Verrazano Bridge still doesn't have a bike path). One of the best rides recently took me across the Brooklyn Bridge and straight up Manhattan through the East Village, Midtown, Harlem, and into the Bronx to a Little League Baseball parade in Pelham Bay.
I love biking to Ridgewood on a Sunday morning, stopping by St Mathias' Church. They hold services in five different languages every weekend, German, Polish, English, Italian and Spanish. It is a beautiful church. I am certain that if it were in a European city, it would be visited by thousands of tourists every year.
But often, the best rides are those with no destination. I like to pick a neighborhood or two and set off in that general direction with no time limit and no set route, that way, it is easy to get lost and explore places I've never been. What I like about these rides is that I never know where I am going to end up.
It is on these rides that I often discover the city's newly developing and rapidly changing neighborhoods. And on each trip to my parents house in Floral Park, as I get purposely lost, I get to watch our inner city neighborhoods come back - each trip reveals fewer empty store fronts on Sutter Avenue than the last trip through East New York.
Starting in Brighton Beach and riding north through Brooklyn, always reminds me what makes this borough so special. As I watch the neighborhood go from predominantly Russian, through a veritable rainbow of ethnicities, to Polish in Greenpoint and the northern tip of Brooklyn, I feel like I've been around the world.
But this journey is not one that can be undertaken in a car - you'd miss the details, the human scale, and the pace of life as you fly by. Even walking won't do - you won't be able to cover nearly enough ground. To really get to know New York, you've got to ride a bicycle.