Cycling down a completely traffic-free Park Avenue in the heart of New York City over the weekend, I was reminded of the numerous futuristic or Sci-Fi movies in which the Big Apple is abandoned after some major disaster.
Last year's I Am Legend (available on DVD at Amoeba) -- in which Will Smith and his canine companion wandered a deserted midtown Manhattan -- specifically sprung to mind as myself and other cyclists, hikers, and skaters, unhindered by any autos, passed by the raised street level outside Grand Central Terminal at Park and 42nd Street, heeding the city's invitation to "Play. Run. Walk. Bike. Breathe."
The reason there were no cars two days ago, and also on two previous Saturdays this month, was because it was the third and final weekend day in the first ever city initiated Summer Streets program. From 7AM to 1PM, all autos were banned on Park Avenue from 72nd on the Upper East Side all the way downtown, essentially connecting Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge -- a seven mile long distance, all traffic free!
But what made this whole cycling experience so special is that it is normally impossible to do a bike ride like that, at least in such a stress-free way. Like most major cities, the best way to see New York is by bike, but the problem is that cycling round Manhattan is far from safe. Typically you take your life in your hands, maneuvering your bike through New York's congested auto-dominated streets, on weekdays especially, with erratic drivers (including lots of yellow cabs & buses) unpredictably accelerating and cutting you off or worse. And as for the few bike lanes on Manhattan's major thoroughfares: drivers notoriously ignore them and cut off cyclists all the time. I personally know of several NYC cyclists sent to the hospital due to negligent drivers.