My bike commute is short and frustrating.
September 9, 2012 12:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I make my NYC bike commute more pleasant so that I actually want to do it? Right now my route is so short and unpleasant (heavy traffic or poor pavement) that it's just doesn't seem worth the trouble.

I used to have a 15 mile ride across the George Washington Bridge and down the west side path. It was well-paved, it was long enough to enjoy, and it was a really convenient way to work 150 miles a week into my schedule.

Now that I've moved out to Manhattan's east side, I have to choose between crossing to the west side path or taking the east side path down. If I cross to the west side, it'll be twelve avenues of stop-and-go traffic, unclipping every block or two and dodging taxicabs and illegally double-parked delivery vans the whole way. If I take the east side path down, the road is bumpy, potholed, and narrow the whole way down. There's actually a stretch where I can grab the chain-link fence to my right and reach across opposing traffic to touch a concrete wall to my left.

Both options are unpleasant enough that I've started to take the subway most days, but I don't want to! I miss how awake I felt getting into work every day, and how easily I could complete a 60 mile weekend ride, and how I used to be able to eat anything I wanted.
posted by d. z. wang to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why don't you walk to work instead? You'll still get some exercise in, without having to deal with the issues of traffic and poor road conditions.
posted by Kololo at 12:17 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, riding crosstown sucks. But anyway...

It's hard to know how to help you without knowing a little more about where you live and work. East side where? I'll have a totally different answer for Spanish Harlem vs. East Village.

Above 59th St, I'd go through the park. If you're not too far below 59th, I'd still go through the park. (You'll have to loop up to the top of the park to ride with traffic, but it sounds like you want those extra miles!)

If you're farther downtown, I think 1st and 2nd Aves are the preferred N-S routes. Then, the E-W crossings around 9th/10th-ish and on Chambers St are not so bad.

Just avoid Midtown, whatever you do.

You might also want to consider altering your style of riding. Most routes have at least a few stop-and-go patches; I can't imagine riding clipped in, personally, but I still put on some miles.

Maybe this is an opportunity to perfect your track stand?
posted by the_blizz at 12:21 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also the time you're commuting can make a difference. Would you be able to go in early all or some days?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:42 PM on September 9, 2012

Where do you start? Where do you finish? As the_blitz says, Central Park may be your best choice. Note that there's an east-west transverse at 72nd so you don't have to loop to the top if you're going west. If you're going east, following the loop isn't a problem.
posted by chengjih at 1:14 PM on September 9, 2012

I came to suggest the same thing that computech_apolloniajames did: leave earlier. I leave my house somewhat before dawn and traffic is really not bad during the part of my commute on city streets.

Of course the trip home is still trafficky. But I figure an improvement to half of the commute might make it bearable for you.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:47 PM on September 9, 2012

I don't mean to thread-sit, but it looks like I've omitted some necessary information.

I'm going from Kip's Bay to South Ferry, to arrive around nine a.m. and depart at six or seven. I can probably go in earlier (I'm sure my boss would like that) if it makes the ride easier. I'm pretty committed to clipping in, though, because riding unclipped makes me revert to forgetting to clip out when I am clipped in.

Anyway, I guess I have three things to try:
- going in earlier
- going down on 1st Ave
- going up on 1st Ave to 72nd and cutting through Central Park to the west side path
posted by d. z. wang at 2:02 PM on September 9, 2012

I guess if you wanted to get creative, you could take the 59th St Bridge to Astoria, cross the Pulaski Bridge into Greenpoint, and ride basically along the waterfront/Navy Yard (which is a pretty relaxed and protected ride), then take the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge back into Manhattan.
posted by the_blizz at 2:31 PM on September 9, 2012

Would arriving earlier give you the ability to leave commensurately earlier in the afternoon? In terms of your route,I am usually a fan of more direct, but maybe going via CP will save you some stress.

Did you mean ride *down* on First? Or Second?

(Also, does riding with flat pedals really affect your clip pedal rides that much? I've commuted with both, and I find it fairly easy to reprogram my foot to twist in appropriate manner.)
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:39 PM on September 9, 2012

Hmm. Not longer, but perhaps less frustrating: down 2nd Ave to 10th Street or 6th Street, then cross to the East River path. There are pedestrian bridges over the FDR around those points (6th Ave might be a little more pleasant). This way, you don't have to deal with the crap that's the Con Ed power plant around 14th Street, where the East River path gets really narrow.

Going to Brooklyn is an interesting idea if you want to make for a longer ride, but the Brooklyn Bridge is kind of shitty for biking because of the tourists crowding around to take photos. If you come across on the Manhattan Bridge, you'll want to hook north to Pike Street and come down to the East River from there.

If you go up to Central Park for a bit more distance and cross at 72nd, note that 1st Avenue kind of sucks around, hmm, 57th Street, what with construction at 58th/59th Street, but once you get past there it's not bad.
posted by chengjih at 2:57 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

unclipping every block or two
You say that like it's a bad thing. Do you have mountain bike clips, or road bike clips? I'm a city cyclist with road clips, who only started using clips at all less than a year ago, so I just treat each stop as a chance to practice that skill. (Also the skill of balancing on one foot, which I must say is much easier given clip-in shoes' stiff soles.)

You sound like you miss your wonderful old commute, which is certainly understandable. Perhaps you'll want to support yourself with some external motivation?
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:41 PM on September 9, 2012

Your ride is the last few miles of my ride (I have since changed bridges to avoid it). When I have to do it:

2nd Ave to 19th St; 19th St to 5th Ave; 5th Ave to 15th St; 15th to the west side.

The key is having a non-crappy crosstown route, IMO. 15th is very reliably uncrowded and only the block between 7th and 8th is of poor quality. 9th and 3rd Sts are also OK (3rd is very potholed between Broadway and Bowery, though).

The east side path is a joke and always has been. And unfortunately if you're fast, riding down on 2nd is actually worse than it was before the bike lane due to the increase in the number of bikes. However, below Kips Bay there isn't much of an alternative. 2nd to Chrystie to [any crosstown street] to Allen is OK -- from there you can reach the better parts of the east side path, or take Madison to Pearl St if you prefer to take up a full lane on the road.

As for the clipping, I can offer no advice. Learn to love track stands?
posted by zvs at 7:00 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should consider dual-sided clipless pedals, so you don't need to be clipped in every time you ride a block or so:
posted by akgerber at 9:10 PM on September 9, 2012

I commute in Crank Brothers' Eggbeater pedals. Their advantage is that it's a four-sided pedal, so that there is virtually no thinking about which side you're on, and they are very easy to get in and out of. And there is a version available with a platform, for days when you want to ride with regular shoes.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:09 AM on September 10, 2012

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