(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
After last night’s dramatic storm, New Yorkers woke up this morning to see what Sandy had left behind. She made a mess. A big mess.
I was without a bike, so I walked from my hotel in Long Island City south into Brooklyn to see what I could see. The damage is immense: I saw canopies and signs ripped from storefronts; I walked around bricks, marble and other building materials that were strewn about the sidewalk; I saw trees large and small ripped from the ground, roots fully exposed and branches smashed against whatever was in their way (I saw three crushed cars), I saw a towering set of flood lights at a park that had been completely toppled; and I stepped over a gaping fault line between the East River and the Williamsburg waterfront where the tidal surge had submerged the land just steps from swanky high-rise condo towers.
But despite last night’s storm and all the associated headaches for those who live here, many people grabbed their bikes and headed out to see the damage. In a city where most people don’t own cars, right now bikes are the fastest way to get around (bus and subway are still not running). Not only that, but they’re the perfect vehicle to survey all the damage.
Mike Brown from Greenpoint came out to the waterfront under the Williamsburg Bridge. He snapped photos and surveyed the damage. As we stood on the boardwalk, he said, “Last night this was all under water.” Mike had come out at about 10:30 while the storm raged and said the tide had come up and over where we were standing. About 40 feet inland, a construction site remained completely flooded.
Avery Brooks from Bushwick rolled down the protected bike lanes on Kent Ave when a huge pile of bricks that had fallen off a nearby building made him stop and take out his camera.
As the morning wore on, the streets filled with people. Without bus or subway service, many people are home in neighborhoods because they have the day off. Bedford Street in Williamsburg was absolutely bustling with activity as cafes and delis opened up for business. There are other parts of New York City and obviously throughout this region that have been much harder hit than what I’ve been able to see.
Judging from all your well wishes, emails, and texts, I think the news is making things seem much scarier than they actually are (at least where I am). The people I met were in high spirits. Neighbors are talking and coming together on street corners sharing experiences and offers of help. Coffee shops and cafes are packed. While life is already getting back to normal here in Brookly, other parts of the Northeast are in much more dire straits. And I still haven’t seen Manhattan.
I just borrowed another bike, so I’m going to head out again. Stay tuned.
— This post is part of my ongoing New York City coverage. I’m here for a week to cover the NACTO Designing Cities conference and the city’s bike culture in general. This special reporting trip was made possible by Planet Bike, Lancaster Engineering, and by readers like you. Thank you! You can find all my New York City coverage here.