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Getting Around In New York City!

A Guide for the Vehicular–Challenged

By Maurice BernierPublished 7 years ago 10 min read
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Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

I LOVE MY NEW YORK CITY! Say what you want. It IS expensive. It can be dirty at times. It can even be loud, but it is still MY home. I LOVE it here! I was born here. I was raised here. I live here. By golly, one day, I will have to die here. It is my home! I LOVE YA, NEW YORK!

There is one HUGE issue that my NYC is known for: traffic. When I say traffic, I mean traffic of all kinds. Whether you are a commuter, pedestrian, cyclist, skateboarder, or a driver, you are going to encounter our traffic. If you live here, you already know what I am talking about. No matter what form of transportation you decide to use, if you want to get around my NYC, you had better bring a box lunch as well. It will take you a while, my friend.

Automobile

You have to be off your rocker if you decide to use a car here. Yes, you can get around NYC with a car, but you can also be stuck in NYC with your car, too. A car is an anathema here in this city. People, even native New Yorkers, believe that our cars are the beginning and end of everything. To me, a car is wonderful—until you have to drive it. I worry about my baby being hit or sideswiped as well. I do not want to leave it parked on some abandoned block or street. I want it in a safe place until I get home.

If you wish to drive here, you simply must encounter our many busy roadways. For example, try our Long Island Expressway, which many of us have dubbed it to be the Long Island Distressway because it is usually clogged up somewhere. Remember that box lunch? I can almost predict when AND where it will be clogged. It is not the only one either. We have the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Clearview, the Grand Central Expressway and the Van Wyck Expressways as well. Most of them lead into three bridges: The Whitestone, RFK, and the Throggs Neck. Be sure to check and listen to the traffic reports. I remember one morning as I headed to work. I was behind the wheel at 5 AM. I had the radio on. My GPS was set and I drove all the way to one of the bridges. The traffic reporter said, “If you are driving this morning and headed toward the Bronx, avoid the Throggs Neck Bridge because it is backed up for five miles. If you have to go to the Bronx, take either the Whitestone or RFK Bridge instead.” There was just one problem that morning: I WAS ALREADY STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT THROGGS NECK BRIDGE TRAFFIC JAM!

I love my 1992 Jeep Cherokee Laredo. As I pointed out in my article, “To All the Cars I Loved Before,” she and I have many memories together. She is both durable and dependable. Unfortunately, I also have to subject her to the punishments given out by the same NYC roads she travels. We managed to get through the challenges though.

Surface Mass Transit

Get some tons of metal, shape it into a long tube the length of three cars and tall enough for adults to stand in, load it up with seats and an extra comfortable seat within a near cage for its driver to manipulate his nearly bicycle tire-sized steering wheel, add some windows and a diesel motor and you have something called a bus. These buses are humongous pieces of machinery that are designed to move huge crowds of people from on point to another. They could be either a Godsend or a rolling disaster. You are always at their will. You have to get to a bus stop on time in order to get on. Then, you hope that it will stop HOPEFULLY within your destination. Sometimes, you need to get to another bus stop or make a connection to another mode of transportation, which I will talk about later.

Once on these rolling beasts, you may or may not have to be a social animal. If you decide that you are too good to talk with anyone, you learn the art of the stare down or visual intimidation. Are you going to look someone in the face or are you going to look away? These days, however, the stare down has been replaced by technology. One out of every three people may have a cell phone in their hands and an earbud jammed in each ear. They don’t give a dang jelly doughnut about you. They are either listening to music or texting away. So, look to the left and look to the right. If you do not see a cell phone in their hands, take yours out and start using it. You do not want to make a liar out of the statistics.

The Underground Railroad

Take the same concept for the bus and make a few changes. This time, connect about eight or ten of them, remove the wheels and replace them with metal wheels. Put them on tracks underground in most cases and there you go. You have something called a subway. A subway is a giant train set that adults get to play with. It has real, live passengers, schedules, tunnels with lights and many other features that children’s train sets do not have. Sometimes, the adult trains can fall off their tracks, too. In addition, like the buses, trains sometimes cannot follow their schedules as well. On some days, a train may pull a Houdini and disappear altogether. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority otherwise known as the MTA operates them. Those of us who had to use these monstrosities called it My Train Absent, a rather fitting title for our subway system. Remember the one out of three cell phone theory? It applies here, too.

Not all rail adventures are to be loathed. This writer prefers the luxuries of the other rail option in my city. It is called the Long Island Railroad or the LIRR. It is everything the subway is not. You spend a bit more, but it is so worth it. You get in a nice luxury train. Depending on your schedule, you can get a very comfortable seat. In either, you could get an air-conditioned or heated car depending on the season. The ride is both smooth and quiet. Quite often, yours truly has been known to get a good snooze going before reaching his destination. There are no panhandlers either. A conductor walks the length of the train to punch your ticket. If you have a briefcase, you can place it on an overhead rack. Finally, unlike the subway car, if you need to urinate, you can go to the little restroom in the car, lock the door behind you and relieve yourself. In a subway, if you have to go that badly, you would have to ride between the cars and relieve yourself. Not a very pleasant sight since you might drown a rat depending on how much you drank for lunch.

The other super nice feature is that this rolling limousine starts out underground at its terminals in Manhattan or Brooklyn and rises to an elevated status before the very first stop. Then, you are looking down on the peasants who walk the streets because they could not afford the luxury ride that you enjoy on the LIRR. You are riding first class, baby. This is the life.

Remember the one in three cell phone rule? Forget it. The ride is so nice that the number takes a huge jump from 67% to a whopping near 90%, maybe even higher. Everyone with a cell phone enjoys the free Wi-Fi access. They are tracking their stocks, listening to business reports or even texting friends about how much money they made in the stock market. Yes, you are riding with the rich. One day, you may get to say, “Giles please hold the railroad for me while I power up my iPhone.” Cool!

Bicycle

On this topic, yours truly is a true expert. What I have never shared with my high school buddies is that for 15 years—a decade and a half—I was an active bike racer. My brief racing career went from 1980 to 1995. My home course was Central Park, the epitome on NY road racing. To this very day, I miss my training sessions. Smooth roads and challenging hills were the norm for me. I still carry two of my expired racing licenses in my wallet.

You would think that bicycles and New York streets would be perfect together. Not really. It depends on the type of biker we are talking about. We have three types: casual, athletes, and messengers. A casual rider is someone who is out for a simple ride just to enjoy the bike. It could be you, a 5-year-old, a granny, or just someone who has no car and is trying to get somewhere. Citibikes are such an example. They tend to follow ALL traffic laws with respect to their bikes. They will stop at lights, use hand signals and wear fancy helmets. That is okay.

A racer, on the other hand, is on the clock. He or she will often go through lights, ride at higher, disciplined speeds and wear racing-designed helmets. Their bikes are lightweight and extremely expensive. You will also spot the use of an electronic speedometer on the aerodynamic handlebars. Instead of a full stop at the light, they will often resort to a track stand which looks like the bike is at a complete stop without the rider having to step out of their strapless pedals. Very impressive training and yes, I did all of this. From time to time, I will go to my basement and just stare at my first and best racing bike. I love it.

That brings us to our last category, the bike messenger. Like the racer, he or she is also on a deadline. They have to make deliveries by a certain time. They are extremely fast and elusive. Where the racer has a race on the weekend, a messenger’s job IS their racing day. Stepping in front of a busy messenger could be rather fatal. They will wear helmets and their bikes are often street bikes of minimal costs. If it breaks or is stolen, he or she won’t break the bank in acquiring another one. One messenger I know of was so well-trained as a messenger that he represented us in the Olympics. His name is Nelson Vails.

Using a bike in NYC is okay, but you also have three big hurdles to work with-theft, bad roads and limited access.

The roads in NYC are just plain notorious. There are bumps, potholes and all sorts of hazards everywhere. There are times that I even worry about my Jeep on these roads and it is built for just that sort of road conditions. When I was training for my races, the biggest part of my budget went toward wheels and wheel repair. I once accidentally destroyed a whole back wheel after hitting a pothole that I did not see. You have to remember that EVERY part of a racing bike has parts where even the tiniest part has been designed to shave off as much weight as possible without sacrificing strength and effectiveness. Tires can also take a beating. This is why racers often have two sets of tires and wheels—one set for training and another for races. I, unfortunately, had to use mine for both.

Need I say more about theft? My bike ran me somewhere in excess of $2,000 + just to get ready for my first race. The frame alone almost cost me a grand and that was back in 1985. I rarely got off my bike once I took it for a ride or race. I had to buy a special lock so that it could be secured in my basement. In fact, it hasn’t been unlocked since I retired from racing in 1995. Even though we are both retired, I have to buy an additional lock because I need to make sure that it is more secure when I move to a new pad very soon. Other bikers, on the other hand, have not been as lucky as I am when it comes to theft. Bike thefts will always be a huge issue here. No matter what the cost is, one should always protect their ride. That is one nice thing about the Citibank bikes. They are quite popular and thus, thefts are not really a problem.

The final problem is access. One can’t take the bike everywhere. In other words, some buildings won’t allow you to bring your ride inside. You might be able to get it on a non-rush hour train. But no access everywhere is guaranteed. One has to take a chance when they get to their destination.

Motorcycles

Just plain cool except that you can’t use them in a blizzard and iced roads. Otherwise, other than gas consumption, you should be okay.

Skateboards

Laugh if you will, but more and more of them are showing up here. They look great coming downhill. The only drawback that skateboarders don’t seem to realize is that the very skateboard that took them down that long hill has a huge drawback, it will NOT get you up a single hill. If you came down a very long hill, in order to get back from where you came from, YOU have to walk up that long hill. You can’t share a ride or have passengers. If a dog chases you, your board cannot accelerate. No radio either. You are severely limited, but you do look nice as you are going down that hill.

There you go. Pick your mobile poison. This is a nice compilation of all the ways I know to get around my fair city. You might even want to rent a helicopter and do a few parachute jumps. Don’t think that it hasn’t been tried before. But, if you think that all of this is a waste of time, there is one more way to get around NYC. I left it off my list because it is the most elementary form of travel. Almost everyone can do it and often had no other choice to do so. In fact, if you are in my car and decide to complain about anything, I will make life simple for you. I am a New Yorker and we New Yorkers take no stuff from anyone. If you don’t like it, you can get out and………….

WALK!!!

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About the Creator

Maurice Bernier

I am a diehard New Yorker! I was born in, raised in and love my NYC. My blood bleeds orange & blue for my New York Mets. I hope that you like my work. I am cranking them out as fast as I can. Please enjoy & share with your friends.

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