- Feb 2, 2017
If you think biking in New York City is tough today, look back 15 years, when the city’s handful of dedicated lanes were potholed, unpainted, and widely disrespected by motorists. This bit of early 2000s public-access TV footage gives awesomely grainy testimony to how intrepid a cyclist had to be in those days, and how much conditions have changed for the better in relatively short order.
Clarence Eckerson, now the principal documentarian at STREETFILMS (you may remember him from such films as “Why Houston Is Back on the Bus,” and “Vancouver’s Multi-Modal Success Story”), dug up this gem he filmed in 2002 for the now-defunct show bikeTV. Eckerson’s been making short films about street design since the late 1990s, starting with shooting bike routes around the Brooklyn neighborhood he moved to after college. “I was getting so excited that you could really bike all around the city if you learned the best routes,” he writes in an email.
Eckerson, who’s never had a driver’s license, realized that documenting the uglier side of city biking could push policy, too; this “state of repair” report for bikeTV was aimed at holding transportation officials accountable for upkeep. In the film, Eckerson charts a course via bike lane from his home in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens to Manhattan’s Herald Square, and finds the network largely left for dead: Brooklyn’s Adam Street lane (minute 1:26), for example, is totally unusable, thanks to wall-to-wall parked cars. Several bike commuter thoroughfares in Manhattan—like Lafayette Street (3:30), Sixth Avenue (3:50), Broadway (4:23), and Second Ave (4:56)—are little more than half-hearted pavement squiggles. Elsewhere, he finds lanes strewn with glass and trash and no shortage of un-abiding drivers.