The bike path that runs beneath the East River and stretches along the bike lane of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is where Charlie will pick up his recycling and yard waste tomorrow — after he saves a few bucks (literally and figuratively) by clipping coupons and selling his knickknacks online. It is also where people grow accustomed to seeing a rotating cast of trash truck drivers — many of them veteran union members who face intense pay cuts. But the popularity of the old garbage truck crews makes the sharp increase in bike lanes on the QE entirely predictable. According to Luke Schemm, 27, who cycles to work to save money, residents who ride bikes and own rickshaws want their trash hauled to one place, as if it were a political subdivision of their town.
“You want your garbage picked up at one place?” Charlie asked. “That’s garbage. You want your garbage to be handled by one person? That’s someone you’re using for trash.”
He helped me on the bike path, cycling alongside at least three big garbage trucks moving around downtown Brooklyn today. We passed a pile of pebbles, chunks of fence and trash. Two New Yorkers came to the bike path and tried to help move it. “We love this,” I overheard one say. “We live by this garbage.”
So do many other New Yorkers.
According to James Turley, founder of the advocacy group Bike Brooklyn, waste companies provide $80 million in tax revenue to the city each year and 150 union members make $110,000 a year in benefits. He and other critics of New York’s bike lanes say that organized labor will help push through plans to bar waste companies from hiring drivers without union membership.
“The two that I am concerned about are the steel and metal recycling companies,” Mr. Turley said. “If they were to take away their trucks to do their trucks on bikes, that would decrease the economic contributions to the city.”
The bike lanes on Atlantic Avenue are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s broader plan to redesign streets to encourage residents to get around on two wheels instead of four. Tucked away from the M23 route — which locals blame for a handful of problems — are the first two bike lanes of their kind in a New York City neighborhood.
Called East River Bikeway, the route accommodates bikes, motor scooters and pushing, peddling or buiding vehicles — parking, like a two-wheel alternative to the eponymous subway — and extends from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Queensboro Bridge, beginning at the Myrtle Avenue Marine Terminal in Brooklyn.
The 600-foot-long path is its own distinct entity: downtown Brooklyn is once again dotted with the outlines of building projects underway, the dust of construction machinery and real-estate development along the way.
Unlike the newly finished sections of bike lanes on the Williamsburg, Grand Army Plaza, even parts of the Tillary Street that face Williamsburg seem like they are behind schedule. Things come in sets, and somewhere off in the distance, someone is tossing away thousands of pounds of materials — the lengths of commercial office towers, piles of broken wood and frayed or broken metal. I felt like my ankles were going to crumble under the weight of my own humanity.
But I decided to ride the route anyway. Slowly, the sights added up, like a list of things you have to do before you can sleep on the weekends: build a bike path, talk to someone about a job, chat with a partner about your work, interact with a new friend.
“It’s going to make a bad intersection more walkable,” Amanda Terry, 26, a graduate student at NYU, said as she rode the bike path.
“This is what I live for,” Channer Kelly, 22, who works at Amazon, said as he whizzed along the path. “I love riding around on a bike.”
He said that he started riding a bike after a high school principal told him that those who did were proof positive that “Bicycle riding is cool.”
But then Channer explained why he was attracted to the East River Bikeway’s well-worn terrain: “It’s just a pretty ride.”