Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer organized a big-deal transportation conference for nine o’clock this morning at Columbia University. The point was to talk about government policy — how do we all get around in a continually growing city? — and the folks at Transportation Alternatives had a great way to gin up attention for some transportation alternatives. A group of biking celebs — David Byrne, Matthew Modine, Moby — would join Stringer’s keynote speaker, Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, for a ride up the West Side Highway to the event.
As it happened, only Byrne showed up to join Peñalosa, perhaps because the threat of rain scared his fellow celebs away. But rain, it was clear, would be no impediment to the former Talking Head. His foldable Montague mountain bike is adorned with stickers from all the exotic places that he — and his wheels — have traveled. “My friends in the Philippines said I would be mad to bring my bike with me,” Byrne recalled, adjusting his bright-yellow helmet. “And they were right. Riding through Manila makes New York City seem so easy.” The pair set off from the Intrepid, heading north; Peñalosa wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Peñalosa is something of an expert on alternative transportation. While Bogotá’s mayor, from 1998 to 2001, he paved more bike lanes and pedestrian walkways than highways. He once issued a decree banning automobiles except for taxis and armored cars from the city for a day. He was almost impeached for enforcing a law that prohibits parking cars on the sidewalk. Today, Bogotá’s has more miles of designated bike lanes than New York.
But even without enough dedicated lanes, Byrne is still out there, pedaling away. “I’ve known for twenty years that biking is the best way to get around this city,” he said. “Back then, people just looked at you like you were crazy. At least now the cars slow down sometimes when they see you.”
— Justin Rocket Silverman