Is Biking The New Post-Sandy Driving? All Signs Point To Yes

Though the lights are now on in lower Manhattan, there are many lasting (some permanent) impressions of hurricane Sandy. One such effect? Car traffic, foot traffic, and, mostly, bike traffic. That's right, in the wake of the storm it seems that many have been turning to their oft-forgotten two-wheeled companions to get from point A to point B. You don't need electricity, gas, or a long line, and hey, it's not raining anymore! But could several New Yorkers' newfound mode of transport be their lasting one? We spoke to Andrew Crooks, owner of East Village bike shop NYC Velo, — which stayed open to service cyclists (no power, mind you!) throughout the week — for some insight on riding's staying power... no pun intended.
How has the amount of bike-riding changed after Sandy?
"Transportation Alternatives are commissioning people to study the amount of riders over the bridge, but I've spoken to people who believe that ridership has increased dramatically — maybe even doubled — the past couple of days over what it would normally be. There are many more people riding bikes than we typically see."
What are the major hazards of cycling at a time like this?
"The biggest problem is that there are no streetlights, but the vehicles are not heeding that; They're treating it like one big green light. It's definitely dangerous, especially at night. Another problem is a lot of people riding, I'm guessing, don't have a lot of experience riding in NYC so they're riding the wrong way in the bike lanes. Vehicles aren't looking for that — they're barely looking for cyclists biking the right way. There is a protocol and cyclists need to realize there are rules they need to follow and to do the right thing because it's actually safer. There are people whose bikes have been locked in the basement or have been locked on the streets for months and they need to make sure there's enough air in their tires and that they can operate in a safe manner."
Are you offering any business promotion to cyclists during Sandy?
"Is it a smart business move to run a bunch of promotions to get people to shop with you? It doesn't really make the most sense to me right now. Our job is to be here and to offer the same great services we offer any other day. They certainly aren't paying a premium for the same work we wouldn't give any other time. We're giving the same guarantees we would normally. We're also making coffee on the sidewalk."
What are most people investing in at the shop right now?
"Most of what we're selling, in addition to repairs are lights and helmets. A lot of people are walking by, surprised to see a bike shop open and popping in to see what's going on and realize that a bike would make sense, asking if they could bring it by to make sure it works okay. While there aren't a lot of big purchases,... our hope is that since there are a lot of people using bikes during this time who usually wouldn't, they will realize that they are are a great way of getting around.
We're interested in seeing increased acceptance in ridership. From a business standpoint we're thinking that if more people realize that biking is a great mode of transport, it will increase business for us and other bike shops around."
Any tips on the best areas to bike right now?
"I'm a big fan of the existing bike lanes so I would recommend staying on those. I'm not aware of any of them that are closed. I know there's a big lane on First Avenue and I know a bunch of trees have knocked into it. I know there's a bike lane on the West Side Highway and I'm not sure of the condition right now but my advice is to stay in the lanes the cities have set up. The most riders are on those routes and that is the safest way to get around. I haven't seen any damage that is restricting these routes."
So, at the end of the day, would you say that Sandy has had a big impact in terms of the future of ridership?
"Only time will tell if it will end up being extreme, but it seems really obvious to me that the commuter bus situation at Barclays Center and Jay Street Metrotech could be alleviated if even 10% of those people rode bikes. There have been stories about fights and hour-long lines and I think events like this (and Sandy in particular) highlight that there's little to rely on with bike transportation — we don't need power, we don't need gasoline, we're not waiting in line for hours. There are no issues. There's no rioting, no tempers flaring, no looting. Cyclists are able to get done (within reason) what they are able to get done with very little pain or wasted time. But, again, only time will tell if enough people this week or next week or however long it is see that bikes make a lot of sense."

NYC Velo, 64 East 2nd Avenue (at 4th Street); 212-253-7771.

Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Crooks