The Brooklyn Bridge is an awesome place to walk or ride a bicycle! (bottom left): Tourists embracing Brooklyn.
I was lucky enough to travel to Brooklyn this week for work. I knew I would not have much free time on my trip, but before I left I thought about renting a bicycle to make the most of my time. I have to admit, I found the idea a bit intimidating. Having only been to New York a few times, and never Brooklyn, I wondered about safety, parking and locking up a rental bicycle, getting around in general. I knew that New York has been making vast strides in bicycling infrastructure, and I saw that with my own eyes last August, but I wasn't quite sure what Brooklyn would be like. It seemed complicated in my mind. I don't know why I felt this way, probably because, well...it's America. I've bicycled in Stockholm, but that must be SO much easier, right? Well, kind of, but not entirely...
The intersection outside my Brooklyn hotel window full of wave after wave of morning cyclists headed to work (A true delight!).
Bike Lanes on beautifully quiet streets lined with Brownstones and Spring flowers.
In short - all of the sudden when I got there it seemed much more approachable.
What does any of this have to do with Bicycling in Minneapolis? Well, a lot actually. If you ride your bicycle frequently in Minneapolis, you know what a great infrastructure we have here for riding bicycles. There are options for cyclists of all levels. One can build up their skill level, riding confidence, practice at locking up a bicycle, etc. in Minneapolis. The beauty of that is, once you have that skill and confidence, you can take it anywhere - even Brooklyn!
So why then did I easily hop on a bicycle in Stockholm, but not in Brooklyn? I think in part it was the completely separated bicycle bicycle paths, and the slower pace of life - including less cars trying to get around in a hurried manner, in Stockholm. I could doddle about just as easily on a bicycle in Sweden as I could by foot. I barely needed to lock my bicycle if I needed to hop in to a shop or restaurant. The whole idea of bicycling in Sweden in my mind just seemed easier. What stopped me in Brooklyn was partially the hastle factor (how and where would I lock up my rental bicycle?), where do I ride (I barely know where I am going here)?, and will all these cars and cabs see me? Did Minneapolis let me down, did America, or did I let myself down? Definitely not Minneapolis - so it was a combination of me and America.
I know I have the confidence to ride in Brooklyn now after having been there, I was impressed by the bicycle infrastructure I saw, but it still seems a bit unnerving. I think perhaps because of all the ambulances, service trucks, and taxi cabs competing for space with cyclists in the bike lane outside my hotel window. Or perhaps I just had no idea where I was half the time and the fear of ending up in the wrong place. But I also think that one thing that would make it easier perhaps next time will be hopping on a bicycle share bike that I could easily return to a station and not worry about getting stolen. And also, incredibly obvious and directive wayfinding signs. Not knowing where I was going, would be less concerning if I knew there were frequent directive signs telling me where to go (perhaps there are?).
Much like the rest of America, cities like San Francisco and New York, along with Minneapolis, are making great strides in improving bicycle infrastructure. Every time I return to SF or NY I see more and more improvements, more and more bicyclists. I hope the more I travel and see how much easier it is becoming, just like it is here in Minneapolis, I will lose that sense of intimidation and complication - and just hop on a bicycle and go. Many of the people I saw in Brooklyn riding were locals, but also tourists ~ all of whom are accustomed to riding bicycles in their daily lives because it makes sense. The more we make bicycling the logical choice, the more apt we will be to do it. One has to be confronted at times with a less attractive option, to make the more attractive one shine (i.e., take the subway through dark tunnels, or hop on a bicycle and see these great cities!).
Bicycling can be a great freedom and an incredible way to interact with your environment and community. Practice as much as you can at home, and then think about the possibilities of seeing the world through bicycle eyes...
How has Minneapolis helped you become a better bicyclist? Have you ridden a bicycle in Brooklyn or Manhattan and what tips do you have for others? What has stopped you from renting a bicycle while traveling? What has prompted you to rent a bicycle while traveling? How has traveling by bicycle at home or on a trip enhanced your experience?