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Pedestrian Anxiety on NYC's Summer Streets

This past Saturday's postcard-perfect weather provided just the right conditions for a leisurely stroll up Park Avenue, and the ability to wander up lanes usually designated for cars but closed for a few morning hours as part of NYC's Summer Streets event gave me a thrill. As I walked from 4th St. to 51st St, via Lafayette and then 4th Avenue, past Union Square and up Park Avenue South, up through Park Avenue proper, and circumambulating (thanks, Herman Melville, for knowledge of that word) Grand Central Terminal, I reveled in discovering unknown stores to me and Manhattan architecture from a whole new point of view.

If only I didn't think I was going to end up face down on the street as a result of an accident with a cyclist. In an event that promoted itself with the possibilities to "Play. Run. Walk. Bike. Breathe," the majority chose to "Bike," and so I found myself for an hour or so feeling like I had wandered into the final Paris stretches of the Tour de France. The cyclists, to their credit, seemed skilled enough to not run over me, and indeed, I felt sorry for them having to steer around a distracted flâneuse who couldn't walk in a straight line. Adding to the walkers and cyclists, the in-line skaters, runners, and skateboarders also did their best to negotiate the non-motorized traffic.

I would have had more fun, I think, if I didn't feel like I needed to look over my shoulder every minute just to be sure I wasn't going to get slammed by a person on two wheels. My ongoing anxiety prompted thoughts about the differing needs and desires of walkers and cyclists. As a walker, well, make that flâneuse (she who strolls), I'm most interested in savoring sights of the visual landscape - the buildings along the street, the store windows, and the people around me, and thinking about what I see. I like to do this slowly. I'm not interested so much in my pulse, heart rate, or physical conditioning, although walking five miles probably helped on that score.

Riding a bike doesn't preclude these enjoyments at all, but in addition, for the cyclist, there's the rush of speed and the simple fact that biking provides a speedy freedom from the lowly pedestrianism inherent in walking. As a once-avid cyclist myself, I always loved the rush, the speed, the experience of seeing familiar sights as I whooshed by them, and the ability to arrive at a destination faster than anyone else. Walking up Park Avenue on Saturday, I wished I had a bike myself.

Anticipating the city's Summer Streets, I must have harbored a fantasy of like-minded walkers sauntering up these newly liberated avenues, an army of anarchist pedestrians proudly indifferent of the notion of right of way. For the Saturdays remaining in Summer Streets (August 16 and 23), however, I think I'll find another street to wander and to stick to the usual sidewalk. If I want to walk once again down the center lane of a broad avenue, I'll just wait for an opportunity to march in a parade.

Image: Summer Streets, Park Avenue. Saturday, August 9, 2008 by Walking Off the Big Apple. More images from the event at Flickr WOTBA.

Comments

Hello...
Finding your blog was a treat. It brought back memories of my first and only trip to the big apple. I could have used tips had I read your work before Where were you when I needed you. We stayed at the Marriott East along Lexington Avenue. I never get to visit a lot of places because it was a job-related trip, and besides it was drizzling the entire two days that we were there. One of these days, I would write a blog about that trip. Oh by the way, that was in May of 2003. Maybe I should tell you about it when I finally write my New York experience. YOu are lucky to be living in the greatest city on earth...
Teri Tynes said…
Thanks so much! Come back soon to the city, and please let me know when you write up your NYC adventures.
Anonymous said…
You know, I have a real problem with bikers. Having been hit, knocked down and hurt not once, but twice, by bikers zipping up One Way streets going the wrong way, I have much less regard for their plight in NYC than I probably should. Yes, I know biking in the city is dangerous, and yes, I know that it's better for the environment than owning a car, but, I cannot understand why they need to be so aggressive towards pedestrians and why they so brazenly flout the laws of the road to which they are still subject (stopping at red lights, yielding to peds, going the correct way on streets). It makes me very salty, and their taking over of the Summer Streets project makes me even saltier. I'm glad I didn't go as I had planned, because it sounds like it just would have pi**ed me off. Good for you for keeping your cool amidst all that zippiness!
Teri Tynes said…
Thanks, Ann. Stay salty!

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