STREETS WEEK! ‘Invigorated’ Mayor de Blasio Finally Enjoys Himself On A Citi Bike

There's Mayor de Blasio taking a Citi Bike through a dangerous part of the Second Avenue bike lane. Yes, that's Streetsblog reporter Dave Colon coaching him. Photo: Julianne Cuba
There's Mayor de Blasio taking a Citi Bike through a dangerous part of the Second Avenue bike lane. Yes, that's Streetsblog reporter Dave Colon coaching him. Photo: Julianne Cuba

It only took seven-plus years, but Mayor de Blasio finally saw the city he runs from outside of the tinted windows of his SUV — and Hizzoner now realizes how much more he could be doing to make biking safer and more widespread.

“You just get a different perspective about what a bicyclist needs, and that’s helpful, like the area around the [59th Street] bridge — it’s livable, we did it, but it needs work,” de Blasio said after the ride from Gracie Mansion to City Hall — and even pronounced himself “invigorated.”

“And it’s like everything else, I know a lot of people feel very deeply about bicycling and I appreciate that, but I can apply it to any other reality in the city — when you get a sense of it, get a taste of it, it helps you get perspective,” he added. “That area around the bridge needs work, but it’s amazing we have protected bike lanes. We’re gonna do more bike lanes all over the city.”

It was the first time de Blasio, since taking office as mayor in 2014, rode a bike on the streets of New York City. He’s faced criticism for failing to see New York through the eyes of the pedestrians and cyclists he’s vowed — and often failed — to protect, by regularly getting chauffeured from place to place, instead of taking public transportation, or walking and biking, like the vast majority of his constituents.

But on Tuesday, that finally changed — and he got an eyeful of how far New York has come, but also how far it has to go:

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The ride was a long-time coming. Last March, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor urged New Yorkers to “bike or walk to work if you can” to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, setting in motion a sharp increase in bike commuting that was met with what activists say was too little city action to protect those vulnerable road users — a combination that also led to a rise in injuries, and deaths.

At the time, the mayor himself failed to follow his own advice, saying he wasn’t ready to swap his four wheels for two because his road skills needed “work.” A mayoral spokeswoman later claimed Hizzoner was only joking.

More than a year later, though, he finally did it, though it’s still not clear if he was actually only joking — before kicking into gear, the mayor got a quick lesson on how to work the “classic” Citi Bike (which, frankly, he should have shifted higher, as his legs were pedaling a mile-a-minute).

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The mayor getting a lesson in how to shift gear outside Gracie Mansion. Photo: Julianne Cuba

De Blasio, wearing his regular slacks and button-down shirt with sneakers, pedaled down Second Avenue, where since he took office in 2014, there have been a total of 13,287 crashes, injuring 2,373 people, including 570 cyclists and 733 pedestrians. And in those eight years, six pedestrians have been killed, according to Crash Mapper. On the plus side, the number of people who identify as bike commuters has gone up 21 percent, from roughly 41,800 to 50,900, according to city stats.

Last March, his administration announced that it would install temporary bike lanes on two busy corridors, including on Second Avenue between 43rd and 34th streets — near the notoriously dangerous entrance to Queens Midtown Tunnel. But not only was it a long-overdue solution that advocates had been calling for for years, but it still failed to keep cyclists safe from speeding drivers.

The mayor didn’t say much about the push to widen the often-dangerously packed Second and First avenue bike lanes, a missed opportunity given the circumstances he was in. De Blasio had a relatively stress-free ride downtown, besides the collection of reporters hollering questions at him. In fact, he even gave everyone a throwback to one of his first scandals as mayor, running a red light on East 30th Street (who among us, though).

But the comfort level also came from the fact that the mayor was experiencing, in real time, the safety-in-numbers effect, the well-known transportation law that says the more visible cyclists are the safer they are. A wider Second Avenue bike lane, which could bring more cyclists and invite more caravans of a dozen commuters at a time, could give everyone the mayor’s experience on Tuesday morning.

At the very end of the ride, de Blasio finally encountered a blocked bike lane, in the form of a truck taking up both lanes of the two-way bike lane on Frankfort Street. The mayor said that it “pissed him off” as a cyclist to be forced out of the bike lane and required to cycle against traffic. But that only allowed him to justify his preferred method to fix the issue — enforcement — because it was “in the here and now” as opposed to better design, which takes longer and is more work.

“Do both — but right this minute, we can do enforcement on that truck,” he said. “Design would take x amount of time to be achieved at that site. I think you got to do both. Vision Zero has always been about the combination. It is about street design on a vast level but it’s also about enforcement. I think human enforcement achieves something different than camera enforcement. I think you need both.”

The mayor rides the wrong way towards City Hall because of a truck blocking the bike lane. Photo: Julianne Cuba
Welcome to our world: The mayor rides the wrong way towards City Hall because of a truck blocking the bike lane. Photo: Julianne Cuba

In the end, the city’s 109th mayor seemed refreshed by the entire experience, but still didn’t seem ready to totally embrace the bike life. Asked if he was going to start doing a ride from Gracie Mansion down to City Hall regularly (and not just during the city’s emphatically named Streets Week!), the mayor said no because he can’t ride and talk on his phone at the same time.

Naturally, Streetsblog demonstrated to the mayor that it’s possible to ride a bike and take video even, and suggested there’s no reason why a New York mayor can’t have a commute like Paris mayor and bike hero Anne Hidalgo. Well, there’s one reason; de Blasio said that Hidalgo was “more advanced” than him.

It’s a fair answer, but also one that gets to the sadness at the heart of Tuesday’s ride. The mayor would have been a more advanced rider if he had embraced two-wheeled transportation seven years ago. De Blasio even pronounced himself “invigorated” when a reporter asked how his bike ride went, leaving us to wonder why he doesn’t choose to be so invigorated more often — and thereby encourage his fellow citizens to do the same rather than drive, as he almost always does.

Still, after making New York City wait seven years to see if their mayor could handle a bike ride on the city streets, de Blasio sounded eager to tackle another challenge soon.

“Bring it on,” he said, when informed that CNN producer Channon Hodge tweeted that the mayor should try “riding on the broken down, bumpy lanes on Ocean Parkway.” After arriving at City Hall and docking his Citi Bike in a single push, the mayor reiterated that he would soon tackle the cracked paths on Ocean Parkway.

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