Chain gang: Cyclists’ weekly commutes over East River promote two-wheeled transit during L shutdown

Chain gang: Cyclists’ weekly commutes over East River promote two-wheeled transit during L shutdown
Photo by Zoe Freilich

They’re gearing up for the long haul.

A group of local cyclists started rolling en masse over the Williamsburg bridge once a week to preach pedaling as a means of commuting during the looming closure of the L train’s East River tunnel, now that the shutdown is less than a year away, according to a rider.

“We are pitching this is an alternative service to get people around when the L train is not available,” said Chelsea Yamada, a member of pro-cycling group Transportation Alternatives, which organized the weekly journeys. “People will experience a lifestyle change during that period.”

The group will take their two-wheelers on the early morning Bike Train rides from Kings County across the bridge into the outer borough of Manhattan every Wednesday ahead of the April 2019 closure of the L train’s superstorm Sandy–damaged Canarsie Tube — and throughout its 15-month renovation — according to Yamada, who said the number of participating cyclists keeps increasing since the pack led its first trek last month.

“We’ve got a strong showing of support and are only continuing to grow,” she said.

The riders announce the starting point of each trip on their website, where they meet before pedaling over the span and then breaking off into smaller packs as they head towards their final destinations on the distant isle. And the journeys are for both long-time bike riders and those less familiar with cruising city streets who can benefit from riding alongside more experienced cyclists, she said.

“We’re here to hold your hand, and give new riders the heads up about what to do,” Yamdada said.

In December, city transportation leaders unveiled a plan to aid the roughly 250,000 daily straphangers who cross the river on the L train during the tunnel’s closure, which included launching a dedicated ferry shuttle, amping up service on other Brooklyn–Manhattan subways, and creating new infrastructure — including new so-called protected bike lanes running from the edge of Newtown Creek at Grand Street down to Driggs Avenue, which another Transportation Alternatives member hailed as “an important victory” for cyclists after it was announced.

But Yamada said her group won’t stop pushing for safe biking paths until they see them, especially because another so-called protected lane the Transportation Department installed last October on Borinquen Place between S. Fourth and Grand streets is often obstructed by parked trucks.

“Until we see paint on the ground, we’re not convinced it’ll be good,” she said. “There were huge cement trucks parked in the bike lane on Borinquen, which is a vital artery. We don’t want a situation where people aren’t feeling confident because they find the infrastructure isn’t available to them.”

Local entrepreneurs are jumping aboard the Bike Train bandwagon, too, according to Yamada, who said the owners of Driggs Avenue coffee shop Sun and Air recently showed their support for the initiative by pouring free cups of java for the cyclists before they pushed off on May 2.

Later this month, the group is staging a special trip on May 23 for straphangers who prefer to travel with their four-legged friends, which Yamada said will be a particularly ruff, but exhilarating, ride.

“It’s making transit fun for a lot of people,” she said.

And the cycling advocates called on fellow riders to make their voices heard as the city finalizes its bike-lane and other alternative-transportation plans during the tunnel shutdown, encouraging them to attend the upcoming May 16 public hearing hosted by city and state officials from the Transportation Department and Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Williamsburg.

L-train town hall at Progress High School (850 Grand Street at Bushwick Avenue in Williamsburg) on May 16 from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.