BP promotes pedal power during Bike to Work Day

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. flashes a thumbs-up as he and other Bronx bike riders near Lou Gehrig Plaza at E. 161st Street. Diaz Jr. pedaled down the Grand Concourse for Bike to Work Day 2009 to promote exercise and green living. Photo by Victor Chu

Jose Benitez pedaled past Fordham Road, blew by Tremont Avenue, drifted down the Grand Concourse and smiled.

Benitez, a retiree from Parkchester, loves to bike the Bronx. On Friday, May 15, he joined Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Transportation Alternatives for Bike to Work Day 2009 – a ceremonial ride from Poe Park to Lou Gehrig Plaza.

“We want to promote a healthy lifestyle,” Diaz Jr. said. “We want to keep the Bronx green.”

In NYC, the average bike commute takes just 30 minutes and burns, on average, 440 calories. Unlike cars and buses, bikes are non-polluting. More than 150,000 Bronxites work in the borough and most commute less than 30 minutes to work. Unfortunately, only 1,500 Bronxites commute by bike; two percent of all NYC bike trips start in the Bronx. Many Bronxites who commute by car or bus could be biking instead.

“People are missing out,” said Susan Donovan, who commutes by bike from her Yankee Stadium apartment to Manhattan. “Biking is perfect for Bronxites. It’s good exercise, it’s fun and it’s affordable.”

Donovan bought her bike for $50 and rides year-round; she wears gloves during the winter. Donovan also joined Diaz on Friday morning. Benitez takes his bike to Orchard Beach, City Island and the James J. Peters VA Medical Center.

According to the AAA, it costs more than $5,000 to own a car in NYC. According to the city’s Department of Transportation, it costs less than $300 to own a bike. Angel Soto pedaled behind Diaz on Friday; he doesn’t bike often but enjoys it. Biking is “an adventure,” Soto said. Juan Ferrera bikes to work from Morris Heights. It’s faster to bike than it is to take the bus.

“Biking saves me time and money, Ferrera said. “I don’t have to buy a MetroCard. It makes me happy because I’m doing something good for the environment.”

There are 185,000 daily bike riders in NYC, up from 113,000 in 2005. The city has recently added 220 miles of bike lanes. This summer, the DOT will extend bike lanes up the Grand Concourse from E. 161st Street to Mosholu Parkway.

It was former Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. who first led Bronxite bike riders down the Grand Concourse.

“I’m happy to continue the tradition,” Diaz said. “I’m not a daily bike rider, but I want to be. Change has to start with me.”

Diaz encouraged Bronxites to tour the borough’s summer spots by bike. He’ll work with the Bronx Overall Development Corporation to install more bike racks. Andrew Laiosa, a housing specialist, hopes other Bronx institutions will follow Montefiore Medical Center’s example. Montefiore offers showers for employees who commute by bike.

“The more people ride, the more people join,” Laiosa said. “To see the borough president on a bike – that’s what we need.”

On Saturday, May 30, Transportation Alternatives will host a “car-free” day in Crotona Park.

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