Getting more kids on bikes- Pedal to Parks 2017

Children attending a May 6th, Pedal to Parks event in Astoria, Queens. They are showing off home-made had signals for dealing with traffic.

Over the years, as a bike guide, advocate and commuting cyclist, I’ve had the opportunity to show off glorious NYC to unique groups from around the world.

At my day job, as a guide for Bike The Big Apple the crowd is usually upper-class tourists who are shown the most beautiful routes in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. They come from places with a stronger biking culture that New York, and are more comfortable bringing their families and young children to navigate our streets. I’m told over and over again that this is one of the best NYC experiences they’ve had.

My work is what inspires my passion to get families on bikes. That joy of seeing the city at human speed is one that our locals deserve.

Whenever I get a chance to show off the borough of Queens, and show residents the joys of our bike network and beautiful sites, I jump on it, momentum builds and we achieve the simple goal of getting more kids on bikes.

One of the broader successes of getting kids on bikes is creating partnerships with other community groups and having the opportunity to show our children the myriad ways civic minded neighbors create a sense of pride of place. Whether its gardens, playgrounds, or unique food stops, it’s the dynamic ideas people who make Queens a fantastic place for a bike ride.

I had that fabulous opportunity this past weekend, when I helped Lynn Kennedy of Friends of Astoria Heights Park organize a Pedal to Parks event. Lynn found me through Juan Restrepo, Queens Outreach Coordinator for Transportation Alternatives. Juan found Lynn thorugh outreach we had done at her school. I met Lynn at the 3rd Annual Family Biking Forum I organized in January at LaGuardia Community College.

I was excited for the event she planned. We’d ride a 7 mile route, escorted by police from the 114th Precinct and we were going to make stops at eight playgrounds along the way. The event exceeded my expectations. Below are some photos from the event, and then I’ll write a bit more about other events and ways you can organize your own events.

31st Avenue bike lane approved by community boards 1 and 3 in Queens. Though speeding is an issue, this route goes from Flushing Promenade to the Astoria Waterfront.
Vounteer from Tony’s Bikes in Astoria shares a pre-ride coffee with auxiliary officer from 114th Precinct.
A particpant contemplates the rigorous 7 mile route. Families enjoy a safe trip up 31st Ave
Lynne Kennedy of Friends of Astoria Heights Playground teaches children hand signals for safe biking at Gormley Playground, Jackson Heights. Then, a child shows Lynn the hand signal for dangerous drivers.
The group begins a 7 block ascent of Ditmars Boulevard, near the Marine Air Terminal, LaGuardia Airport.
Officers from the 114 Precinct ensure a safe ride for our 30 participants.
Steinway Playground. Stop number 6. Officers are asking when the next biking event will be. Members of the racing team from Tony’s bikes in Astoria helped guide the ride
Inspired by the renovation of Astoria Heights Playground, the ride served to show parents how biking can be a great way to get from park to park. Steinway Playground, Astoria
The ride finished at Raimonda Playground, where Bike New York was doing a Learn to Ride event. Also participating was the Department of Transportation.
Future participant in Pedals to Parks, a young girl masters bike riding. Thanks to the many community groups hosting bike rides, she’ll has a safe place to ride and a great activity to share with her family.
(L)Though he got stuck in a giant puddle and lost his shoe, everything is fine at the finish line with ice cream donated by Cold Stone Creamery. (R) A recreational and commuting cyclist, this dad is overjoyed to share his love of cycling on his daughters first on-street bike ride.
Hoping this will be an annual event.

Years ago, a small group of activists met in my living room to found the Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee. This is a vibrant and respected group in the borough and has been able to make effective change in bike infrastructure in neighborhoods such as Astoria, Woodside, Sunnyside, LIC, Jackson Heights, Elmhust and beyond.

We’ve assisted NYC DOT is trying to push through plans for safer streets and bike lanes, and kept a strong focus on Queens amidst the rapid growth of cycling city-wide. The best part of this advocacy is watching the network grow, and seeing an increasing number of families on bikes.

Each time I assist groups in organizing family bike rides, we are met by curious neighbors on the route who are eager to find out about the next ride. Well, it always depends on what our awesome community of bike groups has cooking, but these are some of the best rides:

Kidical Mass is an ad-hoc group of parents and bike enthusiasts throughout the city who host occasional rides for children.

Our annual Halloween Zombie Ride has grown each year. This year we added trick or treating at bike shops, and a visit to Smiling Hogshead Ranch, a curated bit of forest in shadows of new construction in Long Island City, Queens.

Santa led a group of 40 through East Elmhurst, Queens. December 2016

Ciclistas Latinoamericanos de Nueva York host the annual Santa Ride. Hot chocolate and bunelos are served up as Santa leads the way and riders in elf costumes ring jingle bells.

Queens Bike Initiative organized the “What a Wonderful World Jazz Ride” which ended at the Louis Armstrong House in Corona. There were 10 notable stops to discuss our Jazz history from Biederbecke to Joplin and beyond. Local guests from the Corona East Elmhurst Preservation Society met us to tell first hand stories of the Jazz legends of Western Queens.

There is also a monthly ride organized by the Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee. Check first to see if it’s appropriate for children.

Looking for ideas?

Members of 115 Precinct with riders from the I.S. 230 De-Stresser ride.

This ride was organized by a parent of a middle school kid. Wanting to blow off steam after state tests, we created a fabulous route to the World’s Fair Marina in Flushing Queens.

So, it seems to be that the motto is true: If you build it, they will come. Over the last 4 years especially, Queens has been growing not only this network of community bike groups, but also a heck of a lot of bike lane. We have protected routes on Queens Boulevard, across the Pulaski Bridge and soon on 111th St, outside the New York Hall of Science.

There are safe and easy ways to bike to the beach, the Long Island City waterfront and even to Brooklyn.

Soccer practice, swimming pools and after school classes can all be accessed by bike.

If you’re raising a city kid, know a city kid or want to create a great event for a school or community group- the road has been paved to make it a bike event. There’s nothing better that comes from advocacy than making streets safe, building bike lanes and seeing the joy when people experience riding for the first time.

About the author:

Cristina Furlong is a co-founder of Make Queens Safer, a pedestrian and cyclist advocacy group in the borough of Queens, NYC. Cris has biked in the city for over 27 years. This means before the bike lanes and overall bike craze. In fact, she may be a part of the bike craze. MQS was founded 2013, in her home borough of Queens, the United States most diverse zip code. She does outreach and advocacy on safe streets issues with many different groups, promoting biking to kids, families, seniors, and those who’ve yet to feel the biking love-the motorists.

Having recently earned a M.S. in Social Journalism with a concentration on community journalism around safe streets issues, there is hardly a time she isn’t connecting cycling organizations with policy. Lobbyist, journalist, activist- and in her spare time, she organizes bike tours — she can’t seem to turn down an opportunity to show off New York City by bike, especially the outer boroughs and beach rides.

Unusual in the US, but not in NYC, Cris and her family are staunch bike commuters, and look forward to teaching her own son to ride a bike sometime soon.

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