[ Editor’s Note: Peter Murray, of the New London Architecture center, together with a dozen architects and planners, is biking from Portland, Oregon to Portland Place in London, studying how cities are responding to the demand for better cycling infrastructure. He reports from the start of his ride. The Architect’s Newspaper is USA media sponsor of the trip and will post periodic updates of these architects on bicycles. ]
At the beginning of last week we finished the first major leg of the tour – we arrived in New York. After nearly 4,000 miles of riding the group took the Hoboken Ferry to 39th Street, cycled a short way up the West Hudson Greenway and then crosstown into Times Square.
The Greenway is one of the best bits of cycling infrastructure in the city and forms part of the Hudson River Park, a series of landscaping and regeneration projects on the site of the old docks and a fantastic new public amenity. The pedestrianisation of Times Square and the cycle route along Broadway are the most visible of the improvements to the public realm engineered over the last decade by the Bloomberg administration, led by the charismatic Department of Transport (DoT) Commissioner Janette Sadik Khan. So popular is the area with pedestrians and tourists that we found it hard to cycle through the crush when we arrived there; but the huge digital screens that cover every building in the Square provided a photogenic backdrop.
We were directed by our local film crew to Jimmy’s Corner – a dive bar with a boxing theme which seemed to have the appropriate ambience and we downed a few beers before making our way to our hotel. Everyone seemed in a pensive rather than celebratory mood. The approach to New York through New Jersey had been testing – the cycling conditions some of the worst we had experienced all trip – the temperatures were in the 90s, it had started to rain and the scale of our achievement was taking a bit of time to sink in.
The next morning we had an audience with Janette Sadik Khan who when she took over as Commissioner in 2007 set out to ‘green up’ the DoT. This she has done with amazing effect, installing over 300 miles of bike lanes and creating pocket parks and new public spaces where once there were traffic junctions. Even the big bridges of the East Hudson like Brooklyn and Williamsburg have separated cycle paths. Janette recorded a welcome for the P2P riders and signed the baton (made by Christian at A models) which we have carried across the USA and bears the signature of key cycling and transport representatives from each of the major cities we passed through.
The toughest riding of the tour was in the Appalachians – although not as high as the Rockies the gradients are steeper (up to 12 per cent). The ridges and valleys sweep up diagonally towards New York and most roads sensibly follow the contours, but in order to stop off in Philadelphia we had to cycle across the grain and climbed ridge after ridge in sweltering heat.
In the approaches to the Appalachians lies Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright. The building is a National Historic Landmark and very popular with visitors. One of the benefits of visiting such places in hilly country by bicycle is that the exertion required to get there seems to heighten the senses and increase one’s level of appreciation. We were all much taken with Falling Water – the cantilevered decks, the interiors and the relationship with the landscape, reinforcing our appreciation of Wright following on from our visit to Taliesin East and Johnson Wax.
We had planned to have a photo taken outside the Guggenheim the day we arrived in New York but everyone was too tired. My own Wrightian odyssey was completed the next day by going to see the spectacular James Turrell installation there. Turrell’s elliptical forms rising through the space paid the sort of respect to its context that is key to F L-W’s own work, yet is distinct and of its own.
I only started to really feel we had properly arrived in New York on Tuesday evening when the New York office of Grimshaw held a party for us. Grimshaw staffers were there in force, Bill Pedersen of Kohn Pedersen Fox was there, as was David Gordon formerly Secretary of the Royal Academy and director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and Jonathan Wimpenny Chair of the New york Chapter of the RIBA. We auctioned the spare bike we had used when we had breakdowns and Grimshaw generously purchased it for $2000.
Next week we are riding across Ireland, Wales and England and arriving into London from Windsor on Saturday July 13. Come and ride with us from Windsor – or if that’s too far, meet us in Waterloo Place at mid-day and cycle the last mile up Regent Street to Portland Place and then on for drinks at the NLA at 26 Store Street, WC1E 7BT.
For details, click Get involved.
As we go we are studying the impact of cycling on cities in the US as well as raising money for Article 25, ABS and Architecture for Humanity.