GRAND CONCOURSE — Waves of helmeted cyclists could come rolling down the Grand Concourse next month as part of a project meant to draw attention to the Bronx’s fleet of riders, while also highlighting the work that remains to make The Bronx a true bikers’ borough.
A pair of Mott Haven-based artists enlisted some of the borough’s most committed cyclists to help power the project, called “Boogie Down Rides,” that will include a series of free bike tours, workshops and town hall meetings throughout May, which is national bike month.
“There’s tons of people who ride in The Bronx,” said artist Elizabeth Hamby, who hatched the cycling series idea with her creative partner, Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, as an extension of their transportation-themed installation in the Bronx art show, “This Side of Paradise.”
Boogie Down Rides, added Hamby, is designed “to take what’s already happening and ramp it up a few notches.”
The series is set to kick off May 6 with a pedal-powered “history ride” past landmarks along the Grand Concourse.
Other events include a free fix-a-flat-tire training, a Mother’s Day ride to the New York Botanical Garden and a brainstorming session about the Sheridan Expressway, a stretch of South Bronx freeway that one community group would like to close to automobile traffic on summer weekends.
Meetings are also planned to discuss reviving car-free Sundays along the Grand Concourse, the Bronx version of Manhattan’s Summer Streets, an annual event in the early 1990s that reserved several miles of the avenue for walkers and cyclists on summer Sundays. The event was discontinued in 1996, then reinstated on a trial basis a few years ago, but has since fizzled out.
Mel Rodriguez, a Bronx cyclist who in 2010 formed an advocacy group called Bike the Bronx, said he joined the Boogie Down Rides planning committee because he believes the month-long series could lead to longer-lasting changes.
“They’re bringing together leaders not only to discuss the event,” Rodriguez said, “but also how the event can be a catalyst for bigger things.”
Rodriguez and other Bronx bikers say cycling conditions in the borough have improved in recent years, but that more quality bike lanes are needed to make local riding safe and convenient.
Since 2006, the city has added 56.5 miles of new bike lanes in The Bronx — far fewer than the 102.8 miles added in Brooklyn, but more than the amount established in Manhattan or Staten Island during that period, according to the Transportation Department.
Several major Bronx roadways, including the Grand Concourse, Park Avenue and Lafayette Avenue, now feature dedicated bike lanes — though most of the so-called protected bike lanes, which are physically separated from vehicular traffic, are located in the north and east Bronx.
The Bronx also boasts 6.75 miles of Bronx River greenways, which are paved trails running through riverside parks such as Concrete Plant Park and Soundview Park.
But large gaps divide much of the greenway into a patchwork of disconnected trails, and plans for a similar greenway along the Bronx-bank of the Harlem River are still in their infancy, said Maggie Greenfield, spokeswoman for the Bronx River Alliance.
“The current infrastructure in The Bronx is not very bike-friendly,” said Greenfield. “There’s not as much connectivity as you might want.”
A joint study by several city agencies of bike accident data from 1996 to 2005 found that Hunts Point was one of three locations citywide where a cluster of fatal bike crashes had occurred in close proximity, while the Central Bronx made the list of top three areas with a concentration of cyclist injuries.
(Since the study was published in 2006, the city has added hundreds of miles of bike lanes in an effort to improve cyclist safety.)
Though biking conditions may not be ideal in the Bronx, advocates say, many residents choose to pedal to school or work, as well as ride for fun and fitness.
Karen Rojas began cycling in college when she realized it was cheaper and faster to bike the few miles north from her home on 167th Street near the Grand Concourse to Lehman College than it was to take a train or bus.
Just a few years later, Rojas now interns with the bicycling nonprofit Velo-City, attends Bike the Bronx events, changes her own tires and leads long weekend rides with her family on her vintage cruiser, which she calls “The Transporter.”
“Before, you could count [Bronx cyclists] on one hand,” said Rojas, 23. “Now, you see them everywhere: families, ladies, people commuting to work in the morning.”
Still, some advocates say that the borough’s many bikers have set to form a cohesive community, which means that, for now, they are often overlooked by citywide cycling groups.
“A lot of people in The Bronx bike, but I feel like the mainstream biking culture doesn’t see them as part of their culture,” said Samelys Lopez, co-founder of Velo-City, which uses bike tours to teach students about urban planning.
Lopez said The Bronx teems with “biking subgenres,” micro-cyclist communities such as professionals who commute to jobs in Manhattan by bike, families who leisurely cruise together or young people who roll around skate parks on BMX bikes.
Boogie Down Rides presents an opportunity to unite the borough’s riders, which is a necessary first step, Lopez said, before they can push for more cycling resources, such as bike share stations, which the city is in the process of locating based on local demand.
“The people want it to happen,” Lopez said of the bike share and other Bronx cycling programs. “It’s just a matter of galvanizing the forces.”