Throughout the year, you may have noticed an increase of bike commuters on the streets of NYC. Among those fresh faces, you will find Myriam Rocconi. A Queens resident, who like many, grew tired of the congested and delayed subway commutes to work. Inspired by her new lease on commuter life, I sat down with Myriam on this edition of the Spoke & Word to discuss her first impressions, the changes in her life, and what might be preventing the further growth of bicycling in NYC.
How long have you been riding in NYC?
I’d say only in the last year have I been riding a lot, but I've been commuting to work every day by bicycle for the past three months.
What happened three months ago that got you finally commuting by bicycle?
Some close friends started biking a lot more and I also bought a new bike. The bike I had was old and not pleasant to ride, so getting a new one made a big difference. Commuting to work by bicycle was on my bucket list of things to do over the summer. When getting my new bike, I told the people at the shop I wanted it for commuting, but I wasn’t really serious. It was more of a theoretical thing. I told myself before the summer ended, just do it once or twice. In the back of my mind, I didn’t want to do it at first. I was sure it wasn't going to work out. Thinking it would be too hard and too sweaty. Eventually, I came to the decision to try it after a co-worker had done it one day and that just tipped it over the edge! I was like NO! (It was her first time, too). I have been biking for awhile, so I was like okay…now she is doing it. That’s it! I got to do it! I can’t be left out of this! The next morning, I did the commute to work and I actually had a great experience. I’ve done it every single day since.
Describe to me what it was like on your first bike commute to work.
I just woke up that morning, put on my helmet, and got on the bike. I was determined I was going to do it. Just get it over with. Just try it. It was scary because it was the first time I ever rode in the morning with rush hour traffic, but it was also really exhilarating. When I got to work, I was really satisfied with myself and energized, too. It was surprising. It wasn’t what I expected. I thought I would get to work sweaty and feeling miserable, instead it was just the opposite. I was more focused. I felt I really accomplished something cool and exciting. I couldn’t wait to go home with my bike.
What kind of bike is it? And why did you choose this one?
It’s a TREK 7.3. I researched a whole bunch, but then after trying a few this one just felt the best when I test rode it. I knew I wanted something lightweight, so that I could start commuting.
Has your commute gotten easier since the first day?
Physically, it has gotten easier. The Queensboro Bridge is always a little bit of a challenge in the morning. 80% of the time - it’s still a bit of difficult for me, but the rest of the ride is a piece of cake.
What is your take on the growth of cycling in NYC?
I think we’ve made a lot of progress expanding bike lanes and providing options, like Citi Bike. These things certainly have made an impact and a big difference in making it a more approachable activity, but there is more room to grow. While I think NYC is pretty bike-friendly (especially when we’re talking about the U.S.), there could be more bike lines and clearer signs, especially with tourists now biking in the city like they do. There will be some obstacles getting there, but when I see people on Citi Bikes and I see so many more riders, me included - I’m hoping that perception will change, laws will change, and there’ll be more access. We really need to have more space for us on the street. With people being much more concerned with health and the environment, it’s definitely something that’ll become more popular in the coming years. It’s an all-around positive thing. I think it’s going to stick around.
In what way(s) has riding a bicycle benefited you?
It has really helped to channel a lot of my energy. I come into work having this fun ride in. I’ve never been a morning person and it gets me going in a different way. Instead of walking into the subway and being crammed with a bunch of people, I’m having this fun experience riding and using my body in a way I don’t normally do in the morning. It has been really great for me as a form of exercise and a way to spend less money because metro cards add up. It’s sort of like having an adventure every day.
What is it that you like most about riding a bike?
It’s a great way to get around my own neighborhood or around New York. I feel I know it better. When you’re actually riding, you see it in a more dynamic and living way. It makes me feel more connected to the whole city. I can see the actual community that I’m living in or the places that I’m going in a way that I couldn’t experience if I were driving, but I’m not walking everywhere either. I could still get the same sort of experience of seeing neighborhoods, but I’m able to travel longer distances. Even though I've lived in NYC for almost my entire life, I have definitely become more familiarized with this city since riding a bicycle. I just take trips I wouldn’t have taken before. Even going into Brooklyn (coming from Queens), it’s kind of a pain by subway. But by bike, it’s really easy and much faster to get there. It’s mostly a flat distance. Because of this, I’ve accepted more invitations to go places in Brooklyn.
Where has been your favorite place to ride a bicycle?
The North Shore in Long Island. It's really nice. It’s very flat and a lot of the roads have really wide shoulders. I have to admit I don’t see a lot of people on bikes there, but they do have clearly marked bike lanes. We passed farms and it’s very scenic. You can go 10-12 miles easily and not even feel it because it’s so flat and pretty. I also liked Berlin. That was the first and only time I’ve been to a city where I saw kind of what I wished NYC was, in terms of cycling. Everybody rode bikes. I never had the fear of getting doored because there were so many bikes on the street. Cars were around. Pedestrians were around. But so were bikes. There was a good relationship between all three. They all co-existed really well.
What is NYC's biggest issue(s) preventing a better coexistence between riders, pedestrians, and automobiles?
The lack of awareness. Pedestrians not understanding what a bike lane is. Cars not wanting to share the lane with bikes. Also, there is a lack of consistency among riders about what is okay and what isn’t. There’ll be cyclists that go through red lights and there’ll be ones that stay behind. If we want to get to the more European model, then we’re going to have to conform a little bit. Bike advocacy is also really important. Sometimes, I still get dirty looks from pedestrians like “what are you doing here?” People need to get used to us being there. It’s important that people understand we have our bike lanes and that we have a right to be there. I feel it’s more about broad education, but cyclists themselves have an important job. I see a lot of cyclists being overly defensive about their position. I just think that makes us look bad. If a pedestrian ignorantly walks into a bike lane, I don’t think you need to scream or curse at them. It doesn’t help people feel like bikes are a good thing. People should feel that’s it an approachable thing rather than just see us as “jerks on wheels.”
What tips or advice would you give to potential bike commuters?
An open-mind. Always have an open-mind. I think people just haven’t tried it. I challenge people to try it a few times, like anything else, to see if it clicks with you. It could be something you just do once or twice a week, like on a Friday. Dress comfortably and safely. Wear a helmet. Put lights on your bike. If I had known about this a few years ago, I would’ve been doing it for years. Once I saw people around me doing it or starting to, I just felt like…why don’t I try it? I knew I liked riding my bike and I definitely remember that joy of riding your bike as a kid. Now, I have that joy every day. It’s at least possible. I’m sure that biking isn’t for everybody, but I think it's worth a try. I'm sure it’s a lot more for people than not.
Where is biking going to fit in your life in the coming years?
I’m still inexperienced. I’m really hoping I can still continue riding this winter, but I definitely don’t like the cold. I’m worried about how I’m going to handle the really freezing temperatures. I know I’m going to do as much as I can to prolong my riding season because I’m not looking forward to being crammed in the germ-infested subway. Right now, what I would really like to do is take bike vacations. That’s next on my bucket list. I definitely want to bike some place, sleep, and then bike some place else. I’ve always liked riding a bicycle. It’s just become more and more part of my life and something I really look forward to do. It’s definitely not going away.