OPINION: NYC Needs an Inter-Borough Bike Highway

Inspired by an award-winning journalist, three teenagers show how we can unite abandoned transit properties into 'The NYC Tube.'

An underused train line in Bay Ridge runs through Brooklyn to Long Island City. Could it form part of an inter-borough bike highway?  Photo: Courtesy the authors
An underused train line in Bay Ridge runs through Brooklyn to Long Island City. Could it form part of an inter-borough bike highway? Photo: Courtesy the authors

Biking down the side of a four-lane New York City road, cars whiz by. Some swerve around us. We don’t dare relax. We keep our eyes on the doors of the cars parked along the street as we ride, on watch for heedless passengers opening their door into us. The ground deteriorates below our wheels; potholes sneak up on us. Reflexively, we maneuver around them, knowing a lesser biker might suffer a worse fate.

We pull up to an old, abandoned, elevated railway. To us, the dilapidated urban eyesore is another underused structure waiting to be repurposed as New York’s transportation future — The NYC Tube — an interborough bicycle highway. We climb up a dirt path to it, marveling at the spectacular graffiti works — murals honoring dead icons in the graffiti community with incredible spray-painted portraits. The unused tracks, riddled with random greenery, stretch on for as long as the eye can see. It’s not hard to imagine how a space like this could be recycled to serve the community in which it now rots.

Oscar Fishman, Adam Gottesdiener and Josh Sullivan. Photo: Courtesy the authors
Left to right, Adam Gottesdiener, Oscar Fishman and Oliver Sullivan. Photo: Courtesy the authors

We are three teenagers, city kids who grew up riding our bikes everywhere, naturally put off by the pollution of cars. Our generation hacks and coughs, dodges cars and buses, maneuvers along crappy byways designed by men such as Robert Moses almost a century ago. Our country’s standard of car-centric infrastructure has robbed cyclists of their rightful road space and created byways instead for fuel-guzzling motor vehicles. We know that saving our city and planet requires a rapid transition to cleaner methods of travel such as biking. The time to take bold action is now.

Laurie Garrett
Laurie Garrett

The NYC Tube is the brainchild of avid biker and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett. Garrett envisions The Tube connecting these neglected and underused structures, such as abandoned train lines and space under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, to create a citywide highway of protected bike paths, completely isolated from foot and car traffic. We walk past these urban eyesores everyday, unaware of the potential to change our city forever. Garrett has been dubbed a modern-day “Cassandra,” a tragic figure from Greek mythology who prophesied the future only to be ignored. Garrett earned the title for her uncanny ability to predict world events, such as the Covid-19 crisis, about which she warned in her 1994 book “The Coming Plague.”

We believe Garrett is being prophetic again with her proposal for The NYC Tube. In it, she identifies dozens of abandoned transit structures hidden in plain sight that could serve as the foundation for the interborough bicycling highway.

Most promisingly, however, we have an exciting advocate for bikers with a strikingly similar vision who is poised to lead New York City. Our Democratic mayoral nominee, Eric Adams, is emerging as a rising hero for New York bikers. He understands that biking “is the lifeblood of how we commute” and has promised in his “100 Steps Forward” plan to “find unused space such as road space under elevated highways and railways that can become bicycle superhighways.” During a mayoral candidate forum with Bike NY, he mentioned areas under the BQE and around Brooklyn and praised the proposal’s citywide potential.

New York City has the opportunity to create a truly green transit infrastructure for the city along with desperately needed post-Covid, shovel-ready, green infrastructure jobs. President Biden’s recent infrastructure plan proposes $621 billion for transportation, with a special focus on green alternatives. All of this combined with a mayor whose plan is not far from ours creates the perfect storm for a project like this to be completed.

The so-called Montauk Cutoff in Long Island City is another possible venue for an inter-borough bike highway. Photo: Courtesy the authors
The so-called Montauk Cutoff in Long Island City is another possible venue for an inter-borough bike highway. Photo: Courtesy the authors

Cities including Paris, Milan, Brussels, and Seattle all have expansive bike highways in the works. Why don’t we? We have a chance not simply to follow, but to become a world leader in green infrastructure. The city witnessed a huge biking spike during Covid. New Yorkers emerged from the pandemic as cyclists and their numbers promise to keep growing above average city rates. But biking remains unsafe. Cycling deaths have been steadily increasing over the last few years, peaking this summer.

New Yorkers deserve a truly bike-friendly city in which we don’t have to worry about the dangers ever-looming around that corner or behind every parked car door — one in which our generation won’t have to inhale the toxic gases mass-produced by the city’s cars. Now, with a strong bicycling advocate likely to be our next mayor, it’s time for city bicyclists to mobilize behind his inspiring plan for our greener, safer future.

Oscar Fishman, Adam Gottesdiener and Oliver Sullivan are seniors at Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Edward R. Murrow high schools, respectively. The campaign for The NYC Tube bicycle highway (@Tubenyc on Instagram and @thetubenyc on Twitter) will rally in support of the proposal on Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. at Brooklyn Borough Hall. More information is available at The Tube NYC

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