June 7, 2011
A Rolling Success in the Bronx
by Ben Bellizzi
The words "Bronx," "bicycles" and "greenway" might not appear to fit together naturally, but at the "Rolling Along the River" festival in late May, these three terms came together beautifully. The festival, organized by the Bronx River Alliance and sponsored in part by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), gave some residents of New York City's northernmost borough a rare chance to do some pedaling, paddling and strolling in their own neighborhood.
The event, held at Concrete Plant Park, a new park in a former industrial area along the Bronx River, attracted many people from the borough and beyond to listen to music, paddle canoes or walk along the new greenway. But one of the biggest draws on this sunny Saturday was the fleet of new bikes the Alliance purchased and made available for free, thanks to a grant from RTC and The Coca-Cola Foundation.
In less than three hours, more than 150 children and adults had filled out waivers to ride around the park, a safe haven for cyclists away from the busy streets of the South Bronx. Local volunteers from Bike New York were on hand to offer lessons to beginners, and students at a special Youth Learn-to-Ride Clinic kept the instructors busy throughout the day.
"Kids of all ages were thrilled to be getting on a bike for the first time," says Ben Carter, RTC's membership director. "The instructors used an array of innovative techniques to inspire their students, and by the afternoon, first-timers were mounting bikes, brushing off volunteers, and telling us, 'Don't worry, I know how to do this.'"
The bicycles were purchased with funds from RTC's Metropolitan Grants Program—with ongoing support from The Coca-Cola Foundation—which aims to provide trail access and promote healthy living in underserved urban areas by collaborating with local groups in Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Chicago; New Orleans; and New York City. Other grants from the program have helped to improve trails along the South Bronx Greenway—part of an overall push to make New York City more bike-friendly. As Carter told the Bronx crowd, "This program highlights the importance of not only developing trails and park spaces in urban environments, but also providing the tools and access for people in the community to use them."
Many children growing up in the Bronx have not had access to safe roadways, nurturing teachers or even bicycles. The new bike fleet helps to address one of those shortcomings. The bikes will next become available to the public at the Bronx River Festival on June 11, 2011, in the Bronx River Forest. The bikes will then return to Concrete Plant Park on July 23 for another day of free pedaling and paddling. The Bronx River Alliance plans to work with other local groups to make the donated bicycles available around New York City later in the summer.
"Judging by the enthusiastic participation of biking organizations on Saturday," says Linda Cox, executive director of the Alliance, "We'll have a lot of help getting these bikes into people's hands—or maybe I should say, getting people's feet on the pedals."
Ben Bellizzi is a California-based writer and longtime friend of RTC. Having logged many miles in urban and rural trails around the country, he is excited to see New York City's emergence as a bike-friendly city.