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Morning Spew

NYC Without Cars Is a Beautiful Thing

A bike tour of the five boroughs shows a better world without cars is possible, and some links to start your week.

8:42 AM EDT on May 8, 2023

A group of cyclists riding on the Queensboro Bridge.

(Hell Gate)

This weekend was truly gorgeous in New York City. Gone was the rain and gray of the past three weeks, replaced by the promise of May—low humidity, high sun, and a buoyant energy, still far off from mid-summer melancholy. It was perfect weather for the 45th annual Five Boro Bike Tour, the city's longest-running bike tour, which, if now a bit corporate and cop-heavy, still gives riders a glimpse of what life could be like without constantly worrying about death by automobile.

There are many flavors of rare car-free life on the ride, from the starting stretch up Sixth Avenue to Central Park, to taking one of the (too many) Harlem River crossings, to an entire lane on the Queensboro Bridge. There's the wide stretch of 21st Street in Queens, and a suddenly non-lethal McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint. The final stretch of the ride, high above the city aboard the southbound Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, is why people pay the big-ish bucks (over $100) to ride, and the pedal across the lower level of the Verrazzano gives you an actual sense of just how insanely large and long that bridge is—2.5 miles of suspended concrete and steel. 

Favorable weather wasn't the only auspicious sign the bike tour had going for it. On Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation finally signaled that it would sign off on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan to implement congestion pricing in Lower Manhattan, tolling drivers and cutting down on the number of cars below 59th Street while also raising capital funds for public transit. Now begins a final haggling over the cost of the tolls, as New York's politicians continue to repel broadsides and a possible legal challenge from New Jersey leaders over the plan. The earliest it could be in effect is sometime in 2024

The Five Boro offers a look at what the city might look like with fewer cars—or if it had the courage to shut down major north-south avenues to vehicular traffic more often than a handful of weekends every summer. Our friends in Paris have made it impossible to drive through the center of town.

If the City were to actually devote a real lane to cyclists on the Queensboro Bridge, or close one the several Harlem River bridges to traffic, or (gasp) fully shut down one of its major downtown avenues, would the city actually suffer in any real way? 

Or would we adjust, begin to appreciate life with fewer cars, and strike a blow against an actual deadly scourge

Some non-vehicular links to traffic in: 

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