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Why biking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of NYC’s most difficult commutes

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Still, it ended up being better than I was expecting

I’m sure there are some people out there who will take issue with what I’ve chosen for my worst rush hour commute. After all, isn’t the subway at rush hour—particularly these hellish past few months, when it seems like every day brings more delays and snafus—actually a nightmare?

And while I do think that’s a fair argument, I decided to go with biking over the Brooklyn Bridge for a few reasons. For one, I wanted to try a different type of transit for each of these challenges, and biking made sense in this case. I’m not a regular bike commuter, but my husband is, and when I asked him what the worst route through NYC on a bike would be, the Brooklyn Bridge was the first thing that came to mind—thanks to the throngs of meandering tourists, joggers, and cyclists that crowd its span every day. An informal poll of cyclists on Twitter the night before my ride confirmed the same.

I decided to ride a Citi Bike, because 1) I don’t have a bike of my own, and 2) as the bike-share program expands within the five boroughs, it’s become a more reliable transportation option. (Plus, I got a free pass thanks to the company’s Women’s Bike Month initiative—so it was a win-win.)

But Citi Bikes are big and a bit bulky; so take the normal awfulness of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, add in a hulking 45-pound piece of metal, and try to navigate it during rush hour, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Or do you? (And would it be worse than L.A. traffic?) I was determined to find out.

I live in Brooklyn Heights, not too far from the entrance to the bridge, so I picked up a Citi Bike near Cadman Plaza at around 8:30 a.m., strapped on my helmet (and my GoPro), and was on my way.

Things got off to a good start; I was pleasantly surprised by the recent improvements made to the “cattle chute,” the less-than-pleasant name for the shared pedestrian/bike pathway that connects to Tillary Street, so getting onto the bridge was easy. The weather was nice, it hadn’t gotten too crowded, and I was feeling good. “I don’t know why I was so freaked out,” I thought to myself.

So yeah … I got cocky and I forgot about the bridge’s incline. Before I even reached the first of its two enormous Gothic arches, I had to stop and catch my breath, and then walk the Citi Bike up to the wider expanse next to the tower. I texted my husband: “I had to stop, I think I’m gonna die.”

Meanwhile, the actual bikers—who knew I wasn’t one of them—whizzed by me, with more than a few ringing their bells or yelling the telltale “on your left!” before they passed. I got lucky, though, as far as rush hour traffic goes; while there were plenty of cyclists out, there were only a few pedestrians, most of whom knew well enough to not get into the bike lane.

Eventually I got back on my bike and pedaled, very slowly, over the rest of the bridge. And here’s the truth: my ride wasn’t actually that bad. In fact, I was probably more of an irritant for the everyday riders than they were for me. I had to weave around people a few times, and navigating the very narrow bike lane on the bridge is not exactly fun (I almost cycled head-on into the side of the bridge at one point), but I completed the ride in about 20 minutes and lived to tell the tale.

But I think things would have been different had I gone out during the evening rush hour, when more people are out trying to catch the sunset on the bridge. At least next time I do this (if there is a next time), I’ll feel more prepared.