Road to Nowhere: Bike Riding in New York


Urban thinker, former Talking Head, and writer of songs about architecture and buildings David Byrne recently did a presentation called “How New Yorkers Ride Bikes” for the New Yorker Festival in Manhattan. From Streetfilms:

Of course our MC for the night, Mr. Byrne, who has been using a bike for transportation for 30 years, pedaled to the theater. In fact, the night started with helmet cam footage he shot as he biked thru Times Square to the venue. Some Byrne-musings which drew the most applause/ laughter as he navigated the entanglement of peds, cars, and street furniture included: “...once you get used to it, riding thru the city gives you a nice jolt of energy“, “42nd Street would make a nice pedestrian mall“, and probably the biggest laugh-getter, “if this was a bike lane, there would probably be a truck from New Jersey parked in it.”

Watch the video above of Byrne’s helmet-cam footage complete with his running commentary on his bike ride through the city. Looks like cab drivers in Times Square do the same thing to Byrne as cab drivers on Carlton do to me. Perhaps Toronto finally meets New York as an equal, and the city can rest easy. We are world class.

Thanks to Spacing illustrator Melissa Jane Taylor for the tip to check Byrne’s blog, which we have linked to before


  1. There are no other cyclist in the vid. Very unlike TO.

  2. I can’t watch this due to a Quicktime error, but I bike in New York all the time. It’s a real mixed bag of experiences:

    Bliss – when on waterfront bike paths that, unlike Toronto, are very wide, have dedicated signals, are separated from pedestrian paths and have top-quality paving and landscaping. Enjoy getting up to 25 mph while blasting by riverfront parks. (Toronto comparison – none yet)

    God-like – when biking through Central Park or Prospect Park. You are in control, you are showing off, and you carry the lives of tourists in your hands (see below). Three lanes wide, one-way traffic, smooth pavement, high speed, great people-watching. Only downside is that the city leaves the traffic lights turned on (meant for rush hours, when cars are in the park) and the poor tourists then stumble across the lanes in terror, hoping that you choose not to mow them down. (Toronto comparison – Don Valley bike paths)

    Deeply Satisfying – when crossing any of the many New York bridges that have dedicated bike lanes, protected from traffic by barriers or physically separated. (Toronto comparison – Humber Bridge)

    Perfectly Nice – when on waterfront bike paths that are combined with pedestrian traffic or are very narrow, involving alert driving, dodging little kids, and careful speed regulation. Also applies to certain bike paths in the medians of some boulevards in the outer boroughs. (Toronto comparison – Martin Goodman trail)

    Adventurous – wild mountain biking on broken-asphalt trails and monster hills in Inwood Hill Park in northern Manhattan. Bike trails that see maybe a couple people a year. You can be completely hidden from view though, so go in a group in case of any trouble. (Toronto comparison – any wild ravine trails)

    A Fun Challenge – when biking down any on-street bike lane on less-traveled streets. (i.e. in residential parts of Brooklyn or upper Manhattan or Queens). Fast and usually light car traffic, but guaranteed to find at least one obstruction per block, usually in the form of a double-parked car. Not a big deal, but have to stay alert (Toronto comparison – bike lanes that are not downtown)

    Barely Acceptable – biking on sidestreets without bike lanes in most areas. Traffic comes up quickly behind you, car doors swing open, delivery trucks abound. Rating drops to Quite Dangerous in midtown, where the level of traffic and cabs is simply too high to be safe. (Toronto comparison – the Annex)

    Death Wish – biking on any Manhattan avenue, even one with a bike lane. Because of New York’s law against turning right on red, cars must make turns on green, but this is also when pedestrians are crossing, so the cars back up in busy areas. This means that every other block you will find cabs stacked up to turn, sometimes two lanes wide. You must either then swerve into traffic in middle of the avenue or sit trapped behind the turning cars until they finish turning. Meanwhile, buses, cabs and every other kind of vehicle is trying to run you over and will honk the moment they feel you are holding them up in any way. It’s a rush, yes, but extremely dangerous no matter what your experience level. (Toronto comparison – not as bad, but maybe Bay St)

  3. uSky> Try clicking on Byrne’s site and linking to the video from there, maybe it would work then. Nice comparison though. A friend is moving to Brooklyn soon, and I’m wondering about biking from her house into Manhattan (and back) when I go visit.

    joe> I didn’t notice that, now the lack of other cyclists dominates what I (don’t) see.

  4. I can’t believe how many people walk on the road.

    I love the ending too: “Can I ride on to the stage?”

  5. This is a lot like the Bike Messengers Are on Crack video on Youtube (I don’t recommend watching this if you are a cyclist with a crazy streak as the inspiration you receive from watching it may cause you be become even crazier [may be the cause of my current broken ribs]).

    Parts of this reminds me of biking here in Montreal especially when he says “if you see New Jersey plates, watch out”. Replace New Jersey with Ontario and you’re riding on any street in Montreal (no offense guys).

  6. Watching Byrne amble along in New York then watching the bike messenger race video is dizzying.

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