Sexy Cycling NYC?

On Saturday night I attended The New Yorker Festival: David Byrne Presents How New Yorkers Ride Bikes courtesy of Fuseproject who had invited me along. I love cycling and bicycles: I revel in the freedom of spinning around the city on my bike and I also feel very sexy doing so.

Yes, it's true, I think cycling is sexy because there's nothing better looking than a beautiful bike gliding along the road with a beautiful person on it*. And it could be more so. I think a city that puts people first, pedestrians and cyclists, is a healthy, cool, sexy place to live (how many times can I put sexy next to cycling!).

The other night cycling felt very sexy. David Byrne attracted an audience of 1,500 or so — a smart, good looking, young New Yorker crowd who love cycling and can see that this city is actually a brilliant place to do it. (I was expecting a hard core of road racers and cycling geeks).

So I thought it only fair to share some of the take-out from the event. I won't do it much justice though because it was the combination of content, music, a great audience, and wonderful auditorium that made the night and made me think that this city needs to make its people king, not cars.Jan Gehl is an architect in Copenhagen. He presented a 'New City Life' — showing the audience the transformation of Copenhagen over time to a city that "makes people king". It's not even an inspirational story because when you look at the work done in Copenhagen it just makes so much sense. Having cars pilled up one after the other on our roads then seems like insanity.

It has taken 30 years to put Copenhagen road infrastructure in place. I think it could be done faster in any city if it was made a fundamental priority: the essence is simply to put people and not the over sized metal shells we like to sit in, at the heart of the city. There every road has two bike lanes, two pedestrian lanes, a pedestrian island in the middle of the road and two car lanes.

Everyone cycles (33% commute on bikes) or walks or takes public transport (38%). What does this mean? It means that people move quickly around a flat city; it means EVERYONE can take a bike and feel good about it — it's ike a fashion, you're out if you are not in; it means the city people are fit and healthy; it means the streets are nicer to be on — less noise, less pollution, many outdoors cafes; it means that the city is placed firmly on the world map for its cycling obsession; and as cycling is sexy, it means Copenhagen is sexy. Why on earth would we not want a city like this?

Josh Benson, director of New York City Dept of Transportation Bicycle Program, showed us that New York is biting on the cycling buzz. Cycling has increased a third since 2000. Numbers are at an all time high and continuing to rise. 70 out of 200 miles of cycle network planned has already been implemented and people are using it.

Cycle parks are being built at strategic points in the city, like at the Bedford L train stop in Williamsburg where riders can now tie up their bikes to 30 or so bike racks. The minute these go up they are full of bikes. Josh gave the impression that cracks were opening and every time a new one opens more and more cyclists appear Does this mean we are on the edge or heading toward a tipping point in the city? I have watched this happen in London, my home town, where cycling has increased exponentially because more cyclists came out on the road after the July 7th bombings and for other reasons like congestion charging. It's swell thing: the more cyclists on the road the more they come out. The more cycle racks the more bikes appear.

Next Lorna Thorpe, deputy commissioner at the New York City Department of Health, presented the facts. It's official, New York is statistically no more dangerous to cycle than any other city in the U.S., which means there's a perception issue to deal with here. Lorna presented the summary findings of a study done on cycling deaths in the city from 1996-2006.

Even amongst the swelling numbers of cyclists on the road the favorite chime of those who don't cycle is that New York is the most dangerous place in the world to cycle ever, amen. Apparently an urban myth.

The good news is that New Yorkers walk and cycle four times more than any other city in the U.S., which is sort of an achievement but sort of not when you think that most people are in cars most of the time in the U.S. There are three deaths per million people p/a in NYC, the same as the country's average.

All these deaths could be prevented. (FYI, smoking takes the lives of 10,000 people per year in the city). Men are disproportionately more likely to die on the road — Lorna reckons because they go faster and take more risks. Nearly all those who died weren't wearing cycle helmets. Head injuries are the killer it seems, which leads nicely on to Yves Behar and Josh Morenstein from Fuseproject who presented a killer, sexy piece of design to counter a reality about cycle helmets that they are ugly and not sexy.

Fuseproject has come up with a cycle helmet shell that can be placed inside a hat fixture and customized according to what you fancy wearing that day or what the weather is doing. Yves and Josh took to the stage to present their design process and the working prototype.

The shell can be taken out of its hat (a sun cap for summer, a snow hat for winter etc.) and locked to the bike while it's parked, which means you don't have to hang out with a hard hat in your hand all evening. I like that and I like the idea that these hats could become a trend. You can envisage all sorts of customization and designer versions.

Paul Steely white, the alchemist of transportation in New York City, presented some great campaign work he's been doing in the city. His work showed the visual/spatial difference between 50 people sitting in cars on one cross street in Manhattan, versus 50 people riding on two buses, versus 50 people riding on bicycles. Pictures tell a thousand words: so much of our streets could be reclaimed by people (making 'people the king of the city') if we took out the many cars that clog up the road.

And that space then becomes ripe for street cafes, strolling, talking, walking, riding and kissing, without cars. An obvious thought, but beautifully explained in pictures in the campaign work.

Well, that's it, other than to say there was lots of whispering pre, post and during the event that NYC is 'thinking' about a bike share scheme — the clever service system that Paris has recently implemented and that is getting people back on bicycles there, and that Oslo and Barcelona have had up and running for a while. Can you imagine how fantastic if this were to become the first U.S. city to really make cycling sexy; to own cycling as part of its cultural identity — as ownable as yellow cabs, "I Love NY" and mani-bl**dy-pedicures.

Written by Tamara Giltsoff

*Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Tags: New York City

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