Seven miles of NYC, open to feet and bikes

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Early Saturday mornings are often special in New York, as the city catches its breath after the pell mell work week. During Summer Streets each August (this year, 8/3, 8/10 and coming up one more time on 8/17), Saturday morning is even more special, as the city closes a 6.9 mile stretch of roadway in Manhattan for people and bikes, from the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, going up Lafayette Street through Soho, and then zooming north along Park Avenue up to 72nd Street before the path veers into Central Park.

summerstreetsmapEvents and activities are sprinkled along the route. The full length is a long trek for some, the perfect distance for most, and just a warm-up for others. Though not much of a fitness buff myself, I was determined to make it to each of the six rest stops and back before noon. My mission was initially to arrive early at the Foley Square rest stop all the way downtown to have a chance at a prime attraction, the 165-foot zip line.

I laced up my best running sneakers, plugged in my iPod, and dashed out the door around 8:30am. Although I started off running, after a mile or two, I opted for convenience. Each station along the route is fully equipped not only with NYC Water drinking fountains and information stands, but also with bike rental stations where you can take an hour-long cruise free of charge. Biking alongside the taxis and buses in New York always seemed too dangerous to me this summer, so this was the perfect time to bike without worry. The DOT even handed out free helmets!

zipline2I arrived at the zip line station at City Hall just minutes past 9am but was turned away due to a full booking! The zip line was undoubtedly the most popular activity, with people signing up well in advance of the official Summer Streets start time of 7am. No surprise there, as you don’t get to fly through the air right next to City Hall everyday.

With nearly 7 miles of open streets and hundreds of activities and performances, I couldn’t be disappointed for long. After witnessing a dance-workout routine that included fifty people attempting to dance Gangnam Style (some of whom well above an age where they would recognize the pop hit), I returned my bike and headed back to the road on foot. On my way uptown, I wound up in one of the numerous guided 5k runs along the path, and with the leader’s and group’s encouragement, I kept a steady but respectable pace all the way to the Midtown rest stop.

An exciting addition to this year’s Summer Streets is the Voice Tunnel, a light and sound installation by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer that marked the first time in its 174 years that the Park Avenue Tunnel was open to pedestrians. By the time I arrived the line for this exhibit too was several blocks long, rivaling the interest in the zip line. I marched onward, but I heard much praise for the installation from people who had just exited the tunnel on the other side.

summerstreetspicnicMy favorite rest stop was the Midtown Whole Foods City Picnic. By 11am, hoards of hungry locals flocked to the tents on 25th Street for some delicious, organic, and most importantly, free, grub. What could be better after a long morning of running and playing outdoors than getting your fill of energy bars, protein shakes, veggie brownies, hot dogs, and every flavor of tea you could dream of. It was definitely a little early to be eating a full lunch, but for Summer Streets I made an exception.

By the end of my journey, it was overcast and drizzling, but everyone’s spirits were sunny. From the rock-climbing wall in SoHo to yoga/spin/zumba/dance classes at every rest stop to the feast, Summer Streets was a perfect opportunity for athletes and couch potatoes alike to enjoy all that the city outdoors has to offer. Summer Streets takes over Park Avenue again on August 17th, so be sure to relish in the summer festivities before fall finds itself back in the Big Apple.

Photos: Yuxi Liu