Bikes a Vital Lifeline for New Yorkers riding out Coronavirus
While almost all stores were ordered to close for the Big Apple’s Covid-19 shutdown, bike shops were deemed essential businesses and allowed to stay open
They have proven a godsend for New Yorkers needing to commute to hospitals, migrant workers delivering takeouts and cooped-up residents desperate to escape their cramped apartments for some solitary exercise. It’s helping residents work and stay sane as cycling takes on a vital role during the coronavirus pandemic.
As inhabitants skip buses and subway trains due to social distancing and enjoy streets devoid of usual traffic, bike shops are one of the few businesses doing a decent trade. Residents are getting old bikes spruced up or buying new ones to compensate for closed gyms while delivery men stop by to get brakes or gears fixed.
For many workers, New York’s shutdown, which Governor Andrew Cuomo extended until April 29, has made them rely on a bicycle for the first time.
Oliver Bucknor – 50 years old and originally from the Caribbean island of Jamaica – lost his job as a van driver when the deadly outbreak started spreading across the city early last month. He bought an old bike from his landlord for $250 and brought it into Bellitte’s for a tune-up before embarking on a new job delivering food. “A bike is a lifeline for a lot of people,” he said. “It allows me to keep making a living.”
Other residents are making use of Citi Bikes, New York’s popular bicycle share scheme, which the government has temporarily made free to overwhelmed health care staff.
Emily Rogers, a 27-year-old social worker, started cycling the half-hour to and from the public hospital where she works on a Citi Bike after she became concerned about using the subway. “It’s nice to be outside for a little bit and not feel guilty about it,” Rogers said, adding that she’ll probably stick with cycling once New York reopens.
Rides increased as the virus first started to cause concern but they fell once residents were ordered to work from home later in March.
During the lockdown, the most popular docks have switched from being outside train and bus stations to near hospitals, suggesting medical staff and relatives visiting Covid-19 patients are relying on Citi Bikes. Citi Bike has expanded the cleaning of its bikes. Staff placed at popular docking stations disinfect the two-wheelers when they are returned by customers. “This is not a normal ridership pattern,” a Citi Bikes spokesperson said.
For other New Yorkers, cycling is a way to stay healthy and kill the boredom of a weeks-long lockdown, even if it means pedalling without friends.
Robin Lester-Kenton, 41, needed to get her sons – aged seven and five – out of the house and has been taking advantage of an empty basketball court in Brooklyn to teach them how to cycle. “There is nothing like a magical open space right now,” she said.