By Laura A. Shepard
There’s a new protected bike lane on 210th Street and I couldn’t be happier about it. I ride my bike all over the city, but this lane is special to me because I ride there so often and because and it connects some of my favorite places.
I grew up on 215th Street in Oakland Gardens and spent a lot of my childhood at the park on 210th Street. I loved it so much my Grandpa Fred called it “Laura Pie Park.”
My Dad taught me how to ride a bike on a path in Cunningham Park, when I was about six. I was stubborn and hard to teach, but my Dad wouldn’t give up and once I got the hang of it, I loved riding at the park. My Mom used to take me, my brother, and our bikes after school. Lots of other children used to ride around there too.
When we couldn’t make it to the park, I was allowed to ride around the block on the sidewalk before starting my homework. I often protested coming home after a full day of school and having to sit right back down and do even more work. My parents trusted me to ride carefully, but I wasn’t allowed to go to 210th Street or even cross streets alone because I was small and my parents worried that the speeding drivers wouldn’t see me. Sometimes the kids from down the block rode their bikes too and they weren’t allowed in the street either. The only place we ever saw groups of children riding bikes together in the street without supervision was in TV cartoons, which were written and produced by the previous generation.
My Dad took me riding with him on the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway when I was ten. The road winds through the woods, up and down steep hills and overpasses. I struggled to scale some of the hills as a child on the one-speed pink bike from Toys R Us, but my Dad would wait at the top and encourage me. Coasting down the hills was probably the most magical and exhilarating sensation I knew. When I read the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling’s descriptions of flying on a broomstick reminded me of riding my bike.
When I got a blue, Trek 800 for my 12th birthday, my world expanded rapidly. I learned how to shift gears and pedal up the big hills. Meanwhile, many of my friends outgrew their child-sized bikes and never replaced them. Most had never ridden outside of a park.
My Dad started taking me on longer rides and we began venturing onto busy streets. I remember him riding out to the middle to stop traffic so that I could cross safely. He’d grown up in Fresh Meadows and biked locally for his entire life. He showed me how to bike to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, on what he called “the World’s Fair Trail,” through the Kissena Corridor. He showed me the way to Fort Totten via Joe Michael’s Mile, along the Cross Island Parkway. Sometimes, we would do a scenic loop around Douglaston Manor. When we felt ambitious, we would ride out to Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point or all the way to Rockaway Beach. This was our thing and we’ve had many long talks about life, sitting by the water or on park benches at our destinations.
I began riding the local routes and exploring the area by myself soon after. I often biked to visit (and usually surprise) my grandparents in Fresh Meadows. Even on muggy 90-degree days, my Grandma Trudy used to ask me why I didn’t wear a sweater. I was lucky I was able to spend so much time with them.
My Dad and I started riding the Five Borough Bike Tour together when I was in high school. Riding over the bridges and going all over the city on my own power made me feel invincible and I used to wish I could do it all the time. (Now I actually do!)
Growing up near idyllic parks, like the one on 210th Street, I observed and appreciated the environment by riding around the forests, kettle ponds, wetlands, Little Neck Bay and the Long Island Sound.
However, Eastern Queens is one of the more car-dependent areas in the city, with poor transit service and wide streets that enable speeding. Accessing and riding between the parks requires going through dangerous places, like Northern Boulevard and Main Street. Many residents are too scared to bike here and many more don’t even think of it as an option for commuting and recreation.
As an adult, I ride my bike as often as possible, everywhere I can. It’s the healthiest, cheapest, (sometimes) fastest, most enjoyable and scenic way to get around. I just wish that there was a larger, more complete network of protected bike lanes to make the streets safer for everyone.
Riding on the new protected bike lane on 210th Street is exciting. By narrowing the street, the Department of Transportation helped calm the speeding traffic, while creating space for and physically protecting cyclists from vehicle drivers. Hopefully, it will prevent crashes, like the fatal collision in 2015 that prompted M.S. 74 to request the lane in the first place. The bike lane is safe enough for a family with small children to use and it connects M.S. 74, Cunningham Park, and the Vanderbilt.
On a typical weekend mornings, I’ve seen so many people out riding and enjoying the new lane. I hope that with infrastructure like this, more parents will allow their children and teenagers to bike around independently. I hope they’ll encourage students to bike to school, which I was not allowed to do. I hope that as more residents access and enjoy the parks, their environmental consciousness grows.
It’s just one bike lane, but almost everything starts small and global change starts locally.