How the East Was Won

Cycling in New York was not always as good as this.

Yes, hard to believe but true, cycling used to be MORE difficult in New York City and Northern New Jersey (it’s still bad in southern New Jersey, but that’s another story.)

Thanks to the hard work of cycling advocates before you, many paths have been cleared so you can made headway on your two-wheeled stead.

Among them was Charles Komanoff, now author of a series of articles detailing the state of cycling way back when–detailing a time when we were temporarily banned from riding on Park, Fifth and Madison Avenues, how we were not allowed to use the south side of the George Washington Bridge, and –shocker–bikes were banned on Hudson River Road in New Jersey.

We’re not talking early 1900’s, but as late as 1987, in a shade reminiscent of Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Ed Koch attempted to ban bicycles for a three-month experimental period from 3rd to 59th Streets, on three major avenues, Fifth, Madison and Park.

Komanoff was president of Transportation Alternatives then, and he organized a group of bicycle messengers–whose cycling presence was a target by the city during business hours–and their demonstration shut down traffic in midtown.

Also involved in organizing the movement against the city was previous TA president Charlie McCorkell (now owner of Bicycle Habitat in Soho), and Stephen Athineos.

They also quickly sued the city, and won an injunction in court on Sept. 9, 1987 when Judge Lehner ruled that the City had violated NYC Charter requirements.

Oh joy, it was one of those moments that must have seemed like sheer bliss for the “Young Turks,”  of Transportation Alternatives.

That wasn’t the only victory. Komanoff and his cycling hench men decided that they no longer wanted bicycles to be banned from Hudson River Road, more commonly known as “River Road,” on the West side of the Hudson River, in New Jersey.

You know the road, and I bet you take it for granted that bicycles were always allowed there?

Not so!  That idyllic seven-mile stretch that seemed to be built for bicycles was a no-bike landscape, for cars only!

Shocking yes, and even more unbelievably, it took a demonstration that stopped traffic organized by the aforementioned Young Turks to put an end to that ridiculous policy.

Then later, the tribe took on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and convinced them to allow cyclists to use the more accessible southern path over the George Washington Bridge, instead of being relegated (as they had been) to the northern path, including up and down steel stairways where they had to carry their bikes on both sides (talk about back of the bus, dude!)

Hats off to Charlie Komanoff for putting this all down, but more importantly for winning the East for the generations that follow.

Now, that in itself is not enough!  To show your appreciation for how far cycling has come, and a really deep appreciation for all the hard work these people have done for you, it would be nice to show how you feel by joining them on Sept. 28 for a reliving of these moments:

A Celebration of the Bicycle Uprising that defeated a ban on cycling in the heart of Manhattan 25 Years ago

Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, 6:30 pm, SE Corner of Houston Street & 6th Avenue

Ride to Central Park in solidarity with the 20th Anniversary of Critical Mass

9:00 pm, Screening of Fifth, Park & Madison, a film about the original uprising, at Cooper Union Great Hall, plus discussion of grassroots cycling activism then and now

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