Ode To Bikes in New York City

by Tsjalline Boorsma

I LOVE bikes. They help humanity to transport itself. What would we do without bikes? Take a car and get stuck in traffic jams? Take a train and be forced to get out halfway through? (I am sure enough students know the agony). Walking is great, but in a big city it will not get you as far as a bike would. A big city? Yes, I am not talking about our dear Middelburg… I am talking about the city of cities: New York.

I always thought the United States of America as a nation of big gasoline-fuelled noise-producing vehicles. This summer I got to see for myself whether my mental image was true, as I spend one month on the east coast. The main purpose was to attend an urban geography summer course in NYC, organized by Utrecht University. But in secret, I also carried out my personal side-research, in order to answer the question: “To which extent are bikes the best form of transport in the world?” My research methods? Trying out as many modes of transport as I could. You, as a faithful reader of Tabula Rasa, are the first to get to see my results…

This summer was not only my first time in the United States, but it was also my first time Couchsurfing. (For those who are wondering: ‘Couchsurfing’ means staying with people you tech-nically don’t know yet, but who seem really nice judging from their online profile and the messages you have been sending each other). The first day, my host Ryan gave an informal walking tour of his part of Brooklyn. The sec-ond day, seeing my excitement when looking at the four bikes hanging on the walls of his apartment, he offered to take me on a long biking trip from Brooklyn to Manhattan and then all the way up the river until we were out of the city, ending up at a little red lighthouse while the storm that had been expect-ed the whole day broke loose above our sweated heads. It was amazing.

Then the summer course started, and with it came the week of public transportation. I would describe it as “fascinating, but slightly disturbing”. The NYC subway system is one of the oldest in the world, which makes it really cute and historical, but also in-fested with rats, who are looking for thrown away food between the tracks. The inside of the subways were often packed with people, especially at rush hours, but we as summer course stu-dents tried hard to entertain them with our wonderful singing skills. Unfortunately, our harmonic chords were often interrupted by the screeching sound of iron-on-iron: it sounded like the trans-portation authority did not have the means to oil the brakes for the last two centuries.

After the two-week summer course ended, the ‘era of the car’ began, as I teamed up with a fellow student to make a road trip on the east coast. For one week, we drove hundreds of kilo-meters every day, and our four-wheeled friend brought us to university towns, breathtaking waterfalls and tranquil lakes: all those middle-of-nowhere places that would have been difficult to access by public transport. But the road often resembled a game of Mario Kart, with trucks suddenly changing lanes and drivers racing against each other. Everyday, I was relieved when we got out of the car safely.

When the road-trip ended and my friend flew home, I made two city-trips on my own to Washington D.C. and Boston. This time, my mode of trans-portation was long-distance buses. It was cheap and convenient, but I had to be careful not to get car-sick. Other than that, it was one of my favorite ways of transport, as I could just stare out of the window and relax while listening to some music.

At the end of my trip, I made an evaluation of the different ways I had been moving myself from A to B. When I was back in NYC for the last day, I looked around me and saw clean-suited international businessmen with hectischedules; hipsters with bright-col-ored clothes on their way to the open-ing of a new art gallery; youth on bikes making drawings with chalks on the pavements… Despite of their differenc-es, they were united by their fabulous bikes, fitting perfectly in the surround-ings of their fabulous city. I have seen some amazing things this summer, but the bikes of New York will always stay in my heart.

Tsjalline Boorsma, class of 2016, is an Anthropology and Human Geography major from Groningen, The Netherlands.

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