My First Bike Commute Over the East River

"Necessity is the mother of convenience" is what I found to be true this morning as I rode for the very first time from my home in Crown Heights all the way to Union Square in Manhattan.

To experienced bike commuters, this would be nothing to brag about. But while a frequent cycler around my home in Brooklyn, I had always been intimidated by the thought of crossing the big river into "the city." I had envisioned hours of pedaling, perhaps too much for my weak back. I saw little old me being crushed by unfriendly Manhattan traffic, (even though when I lived in Chelsea I cycled without a problem.)

I was able to do it this morning because I didn’t plan to. Down with planning! As I should know as a parent, big tasks are easier when broken into parts.

First I cycled my almost three year old son Max to his daycare center at 5th Avenue and St. Johns Place. Then I cycled over to Brooklyn Heights to drop off something that had to be there today. Then the plan was, I’d lock my bike up and take the subway to my office at Union Square.

But once in Brooklyn Heights near Borough Hall, I said to myself, "Gee, you’re so close now. Why not try cycling to work?" As is my tendency, I talked myself into it despite still feeling intimidate, and I soon found myself pedaling across the Brooklyn Bridge, having remembered where the somewhat obscure pedestrian entrance is.

It was a lifetime moment, seeing the stony double naves of the historic Brooklyn Bridge above my handlebars as I pedaled on that wooden path, the towers of Wall Street off to my left. What a glorious moment!

After that, on the advice of a fellow cycler beside me, I pedaled up Centre Street to 4th Avenue and then up to Union Square, (after a quick detour for a first-time stop at Ninth Street Expresso, whose coffee was really as amazing as I had read about.) Once at the Con Edison building where the Regional Plan Association have their offices, I locked my bike to a lousy bike rack Con Ed provides inside their fenced-in parking lot, and walked inside. Piece of cake!

I could definitely see doing it again. It takes me about 45 minutes on the subway, including walking time. I could see cycling being very competitive with that. What other challenges have I been putting off because I supersized them in my mind?

Photo: Seth Holladay / Flickr

  • dood

    next time i would recommend going over Manhattan bridge, to avoid the pedestrians.

  • I like the idea of sending a first-time bike commuter over the Brooklyn Bridge. It really is inspiring. On a nice day, early enough in the morning to avoid the crowds of tourists, it’s probably the single best commute in New York City.

  • gecko

    ferry is better

  • mork

    1st time, sure, take the Brooklyn Bridge. After that, Manny B all the way. The extra 3 blocks in Brooklyn saves you a mile of Manhattan pedaling.


  • momos

    This summer I rode my bike from 110th St down the Hudson River Bike Path to the City Hall area and across the Brooklyn Bridge, before pedaling on to the Gowanus Canal for a screening of the Rooftop Film Festival. I returned by the same route well after midnight. It was the most spectacular ride. I’d never been across the Brooklyn Bridge bike path. And what really blew my mind was how short the trip was (about 1hr). When you cover that distance by subway it seems extremely long. But the city is so dense that distances actually aren’t that great, especially from Lower Manhattan into Brooklyn.

    Everyone should try it. Aaron’s right, the Brooklyn Bridge is the single best commute in New York City.

  • gecko

    mork, nice whitman.

    commuter kayaks and mini sailboats would be sublime.

  • Vroomfondel


    > commuter kayaks and mini sailboats would be sublime

    I recently bought a folding bike, and I’ve been thinking that it would be cool to have a folding kayak as well as a watertight bag that’ll hold either the bike or the kayak, for a bimodal bike/boat commute. Then again, I’m a geek.

  • Baer

    I just saw that the lower deck of the Manhattan Bridge reopened, anybody know if the northside path has reopened? Access to the southside is miserable on both sides.

  • gecko

    Vroomfondel, been told that german company klepper folding kayaks are the best. the explorer model has a sail and has been across the atlantic. had a store at union square for years.

  • mork

    North side of Manhattan Bridge was reopened at least a few weeks ago.

    The DOT is also building a contra-flow bike lane from the end of the Manhattan side back up the hill to Chrystie Street (not yet completed).

  • simon

    alex – as a fellow crown heights commuter, you can totally beat the subway. i ride Washington up to Dekalb, over to Ashland, which turns into Navy, then to Sands – which will put you at the manhattan br. and i can get to times sq in about 40 mins.

  • SPer

    You can definitely beat your subway door to door time on a bike. I bike Sunset Park to Gramercy Park, 35 min. door to door (including lock-up!), whereas it’s 40 min. by train.

    I prefer the Brooklyn Bridge to the Manhattan. I can reach it largely on bike lanes, which I prefer, and I find the ride over that bridge more pleasant than the Manhattan, where you’re right next to the traffic. On the other end, going up Centre to the 4th Ave. bike lane is more pleasant than hassling with the traffic snarl at Canal and Bowery.

  • Hilary

    It would be fun to stage an all-modes citywide race during rush hour including a wide variety of origin/destination points. Data could eventually be compiled to create an “optimum mode” for different trips and purposes. Easiest way would be to do it like a Guinness book of records, with records updated as they’re broken. Someone must be willing to sponsor this… Richard Branson? Bill Clinton? Michael Bloomberg?

  • gecko

    It is amazing how the Brooklyn bridge does beckon for a trip that’s more than a mere commute.

  • Thanks for all the nice comments and advice. I’ve biked in several times since writing the post, and for now I definitely prefer the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s probably a bit longer in time, but it’s so much prettier going across. And more importantly, I can get there through a series of small streets. I haven’t figured out a way to get to the Manhattan bridge in a civilized fashion. I’ll have to get out my TransAlt bike map! I keep forgetting to do so.

  • welcome to bike commuting! i started doing it in may from g’point to the ues. moved to crown heights a couple of weeks ago and i’m still getting adjusted to doubling the distance. the w’burg bridge is kicking my butt more so than the q’boro did but i’ll get used to it. bikes definitely beat the subway!

  • Olga

    Hi! I’d like to figure out the best way to get to Brooklyn Bridge from Flatbush (SE corner of Prospect Park, Parkside/Ocen). Can you recommend the least stressful route? I’d like to make it a leisurely ride.

    Thank you! – Olga


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