‘Our City Needs Us So We’re Here’: The Cyclists Delivering Badly-Needed Medical Supplies During COVID

Special delivery! A doctor at NYU-Langone with a PAPR helmet dropped off by a NYC ADV volunteer. Photo: Mario Notton
Special delivery! A doctor at NYU-Langone with a PAPR helmet dropped off by a NYC ADV volunteer. Photo: Mario Notton

Experienced cyclists are doing their part to help the city’s medical workers by delivering 3D-printed parts to a hospital in Sunset Park, and ferrying masks to doctors and nurses in need all over Brooklyn.

Cyclists with the New York City Adventure Cycling Club, a riding club that’s usually focused on distance rides and bike camping trips, have linked up with the NYU MakerSpace Lab in Downtown Brooklyn to courier parts and prototypes to doctors working at NYU Langone Hospital in Sunset Park. The volunteers — “27 people in a Slack channel” as NYC ADV’s John Brophy put it — have been working since the end of March to ferry the parts between the Metrotech Campus and the hospital.

“Everyone feels great about it,” Brophy said about the ADV volunteers. “Most of us have been sitting inside trying to figure out how to help, and it’s nice to be able to combine your once a day or once a week exercise with doing something good like this for people.”

Brophy said that ADV started getting involved after he came across an Instagram post by the designer of 3D-printed face masks for hospitals. Brophy asked how he could help and was directed to the MakerSpace. From there, the printing lab’s founder and director, Professor Victoria Bill, put the cyclists to work doing runs between Langone and Metrotech.

Bill said that the MakerSpace has been printing face masks, as well as small parts for PAPR masks and ventilators for doctors working at the Sunset Park hospital as part of the larger NYU response effort, and the the ADV volunteers have been essential for providing fast handoffs between the two areas. In some instances, Bill said that doctors aren’t able to give her the actual devices themselves, so cyclists will go back and forth between the MarkerSpace and hospital multiple times ferrying pictures and prototypes between doctors and printers.

“This is basically the only way I can get the parts over to the medical team,” she said. “If I were to get an Uber I’d have to pay for it out of my own pocket. I’ll just text someone from ADV and someone shows up and helps get quick, real-time feedback to me from the medical team.”

In addition to NYC ADV’s partnership with NYU, cyclists are also signing up with the volunteer organization N95 For NYC to help deliver badly-needed N95 masks to nurses and doctors around the city. That effort, which has been raising money to buy N95 masks and other personal protective equipment for medical workers around the city, has relied on a network of volunteers to actually get the PPE from a central location to the people who need it. (Streetsblog’s coverage of other volunteer delivery efforts is here, and, a bit more frivolously, here.)

An N95 mask on the way to a medical professional in need. Photo courtesy of Gordon Zheng
An N95 mask on the way to a medical professional in need. Photo courtesy of Gordon Zheng

Gordon Zheng, a cyclist volunteer, said that requests are divvied up over a WhatsApp group and that cyclists then take supplies from a central location in Bed-Stuy to drop them off to individuals. Like Brophy, Zheng said that he’s happy to help however he can.

“I’m eager to help out, because I was tired of just sitting at home feeling like I’m useless,” Zheng said.

Zheng also pointed out that for him, using his cycling skills is much more preferable to riding a subway right now, at a time when trains are still overflowing with essential workers who have no choice but to ride the subway as service cuts lead to packed trains.

“Cycling is the way I get around all the time anyway, so this is a much more comfortable way for me to get around and make deliveries,” he said.

If there are any obstacles to the work the volunteer cyclists are doing, it’s, unsurprisingly, speeding and dangerous drivers. City data and anecdotal accounts have demonstrated that the only drivers left on the road are dangerous drivers, which Zheng and Brophy said is an issue they’ve come across. For Brophy’s part, he seemed resigned to the city throwing cyclists to the wolves even when they’re trying to help.

“We’re used to people driving like assholes in the city,” Brophy said, “but we’re all really experienced. So if there’s anyone out there who’s going to be safe, it’s probably us.”

Bike volunteer Gordon Zheng. Photo courtesy Gordon Zheng
Bike volunteer Gordon Zheng.

Zheng said that while it can feel safer on the road, he’s still seeing drivers run red lights and speed, and would feel helped if the NYPD did something other than park in bike lanes and respond to fewer crashes.

“It’s a little nicer out there with fewer cars on the road, though there are dangerous drivers out there nonetheless,” Zheng said. “I know a lot cops have gotten sick and it’s definitely not easy for them right now, but I really think they could help if they don’t slow down the enforcement of traffic laws just because there’s these crazy circumstances that we’re in.”

But as long as the city needs these and other volunteers, they’re going to keep riding and helping (unlike some self-proclaimed New York City fans who’d rather see us all killed).

“As long as it’s still safe to go outside, we’re on it,” Brophy said. “Our city needs us so we’re here.”