Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Tour de Queens on Two Wheels by Holly Tsang - Queens Examiner

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When you live in a busy city like New York, it's not easy to be an urban cyclist. Even though bikers technically have the right of way, cyclists are often at the mercy of aggressive drivers.

This past Sunday, however, 1,500 bike riders took the roads back as, escorted by police officers, they stopped vehicular traffic and breezed through red lights.

Sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, the third annual Tour de Queens commenced at the Queens Museum of Art. It attracted riders from all over the city and took them through 18 miles of residential and commercial neighborhoods including Flushing, Bayside, Oakland Gardens, Little Neck, Queens Village and Fresh Meadows. The midway point was marked by a rest stop at the Queens County Farm Museum.

"The Tour de Queens is all about celebrating the strides we're making towards a more bike-friendly borough," says David Dubovsky, chair of Transportation Alternatives' Queens Committee. "Where else in New York City can you bike from a two-time World's Fair ground to a working urban farm - all in one morning?"

Richard Lau, a small business owner from Flushing, signed up for the tour to spend some quality time with his cousins. He enjoyed going down roads that the police had blocked off for riders, but the ride was an eye-opener as well.

“You really get to experience your neighborhood,” he said. “I didn't realize until I started biking how many hills there are, or how many ways there are to get to your house.”

Chris Kay, a nurse from the Bronx, recently joined a bicycling group that rides from the Bronx to Battery Park. He enjoys participating in bike tours because they allow him to see all the aspects of a neighborhood or borough he would otherwise miss.

“I often drive through Queens, but you don't get to stop and see the neighborhoods when you're driving on a highway,” he said. “Now you get to see it up close. I've never been this close to the Unisphere.”

Jim Henderson, a retired telephone switchman from Manhattan, grew up on Long Island, but as an avid cyclist who rides everywhere, he probably knows the city better than most born-and-bred city dwellers.

“I'm just amazed that people don't know their area and geography,” he said. “You get a wonderful opportunity to see what people are doing, how the city's laid out, the economy...there are rich people places, poor people places, commercial places. You can learn all these things simply by biking.”

Though he could easily ride on his own, Henderson enjoys the bike tours because they allow him to fly down the street without worry of being killed by drivers. It also means that he has to be careful around the less experienced riders, who are much slower; a handful of children completed the ride from start to finish. However, he encourages everyone to take up bike riding, which is an efficient form of travel as well as a fun hobby.

“The best way to start is to go down your street and keep going,” he said. “Keep going and don't stop.”