I ride with Jason as much as possible. This past weekend we took 2 trips to Queens, most dangerous borough to drive in in New York City. I highly recommend that inexperienced riders avoid Queens at all costs– except for Review Avenue, which runs alongside Newton Creek, a body of water between Brooklyn and Queens.
On Review Avenue, we got up to about 45mph. There are a few recesses and bumps in the road to avoid, but overall, a smooth ride. The street is lined with industrial lots, which on a Saturday are pretty quiet. Then to cross back over to Brooklyn, we took a bridge that connected Grand Street, Queens, and Grand Street, Brooklyn. At the bridge, we stopped behind a truck. I thought the truck was waiting for another car to cross the bridge from the other side. I didn’t get a chance to really see if that was the case, because just as I peeked around the truck to see what was ahead, a woman in a mini-van cut me off.
People in cars are out to kill motorcyclists. Beware!
On Sunday, we went to Queens again. On the way, I made a braking mistake. There’s a nice long stretch of newly paved road in Brooklyn called Flushing Avenue, connecting the Vinegar Hill neighborhood with Williamsburg. On this stretch, I like to take advantage of the fact that there are only cross streets on one side, making that part of Flushing Avenue a relatively safe ride. But this day, I took too much of a risk.
I forgot that I wasn’t driving a car. And when we approached a changing traffic light at 50mph, I decided to stop– except there wasn’t enough room. Though I was careful not to squeeze the brake too fast, I did squeeze all the way. The bike didn’t have enough room. I skidded, leaving about ten feet of rubber on the pavement, crossed the intersection, and stopped on the other side. Thank God there were no cars driving into the intersection from the cross street.
Amazingly, I wasn’t afraid. I just thanked God and went on.
This day, to cross into Queens, we took McGuinness Boulevard to Long Island City, the nice part of Queens (in the eyes of a Brooklynite). On the bridge, I sped up to 50mph. We were in the left lane, since there were cars to our right. But there was a concrete median, which made it more scary to ride there. On an uphill curve, I tried to maintain my speed, remembering to look toward the spot I want to go to complete the curve and lean. To me, this was a perfect opportunity to practice taking fast curves. But when I looked ahead, there in the distance was something going much slower than me. I had to slow down. Since I was on a curve, the bike was unstable. Jason saw that the bike wobbled as I slowed on the curve, and I tried to keep the speed up as much as possible. I should have used my rear brake on the curve, but I was too shocked to see something ahead that I could potentially crash into to remember to use the rear brake.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell what was ahead of me. It looked like a bicycle! In the passing lane! So, I had to slow down. When I reached the slow vehicle and looked, it was a Chinese guy on a scooter, riding at about 20mph.
Now, I have to mention that the guy is Chinese, because there is a huge problem in New York City with immigrants who arrive uneducated about how things work in the United States. Guys on vehicles is one group of people that needs education. I don’t care at this point if they’re legal or illegal. In fact, I’m happy that someone is there to deliver my dinner if I’m too busy to go to the store myself. Fact is, uneducated bicycle and scooter riders on the street is a true danger. Several months ago, a Chinese delivery man was killed on the street while riding a bicycle. As a community, I think that each ethnic group must collaborate to teach immigrants about safety on the streets in a language they will understand. They must learn safe practices, such as riding a scooter on the far right of the street, and learn how to obey traffic rules.
It made me teeming mad that this uneducated scooter rider was in my path on a fast, curving street– a bridge! (I didn’t feel mad until we had parked and sat down for lunch.) In addition, when we got to Queens, a part of the street we rode on was unmarked, and for almost 2 blocks, I rode on the wrong side of the street! Fortunately, because I practice SEE (Search Examine Execute) I saw far enough ahead that a car was driving towards me, and I managed to get back on the right side of the street.
The rest of the day I thought about the three mistakes in my head: Braking with not enough room; not gently using the rear brake to slow down on a curve; not seeing for 2 blocks that the street I was on was two-way. (There were cars facing the other direction on those 2 blocks.) All three were potentially fatal mistakes. Again, I thank God that there were no other obstacles present that could have made them fatal.
After lunch, we went to Roosevelt Island, a strange community reminiscent of Northern European high-rise communities, with its own school and one supermarket. Then we headed to my brother’s place in Sunnyside. To get there we took one of those dangerous streets, Queens Boulevard. A minivan driver was nice enough to let us get in front of him, but then he went towards another direction.
Queens Boulevard was probably the scariest street I’ve ridden on so far. The pavement was uneven. Cars switched lanes without signaling and fast. Jason almost got clipped by a passing vehicle. And a bicyclist, ignoring or not seeing my right turn signal on as a red light turned green, nearly rode straight into my side. I yelled at him. We avoided that street after stopping at a market to pick up food for my brother. I had an opportunity to practice riding with some weight on my back, carrying the food from the market. (Jason offered to put the groceries on his rack, but I wanted the practice.)
This weekend was definitely good practice for me. Dangerous, but good. So, today, I took my lessons with me and rode solo into Manhattan to go to a job. Remembering it all, I had a safer ride. Yelled at a guy who made me go into another lane, but was safer. (Oh yeah, I was yelling, cause my horn stopped working a couple weeks ago.)
Motorcycle riding is never safe. It can be safer, but never safe.