'I try never to leave the borough," declared the young man, adjusting his lightweight frame backpack. "If I can't ride my bike somewhere, I just don't bother going."
He said this with pride, emphasizing, slightly righteously, the word "bike."
An emerging macho do-it-yourself ethos deems public transportation uncool. It's crowded and slow. It is not something we control. It does not require physical fitness. Public transit lacks street cred; with crime rates low, it is, unlike biking or driving, not even dangerous.
Some cyclists seem to live in a different city than straphangers. Talking with a friend about living in Carroll Gardens, I was puzzled when he called the neighborhood "inconvenient." It's right on the G and F trains. But my friend had no intention of getting on the subway. He meant that Carroll Gardens was a long bike ride from Williamsburg, where the parties are.
It may be unhip, but public transportation is the way most of us get around. Half a million New Yorkers ride a bike several times a month, but on an average weekday, the subways provide more than 5 million rides, and buses 2.4 million rides.
All the mayoral candidates have been dissing Bloomberg's bike lanes. They're trying to position themselves shrewdly in the war between bikers and motorists, two hostile gangs of self-styled rugged individualists. But so far in the mayoral campaign, we're hearing little about the transit needs of the majority of New Yorkers.
New York has great public transportation. It should be more affordable, and service must be improved on Staten Island and many places in the outer boroughs.
Mass transit is good for the environment. Our air is cleaner and our carbon footprint smaller because so many New Yorkers have an alternative to the car.
Don't get me wrong. Bike lanes have been a triumph of Bloomberg's administration. According to the city Department of Transportation, bicycle commuting has tripled since 2000. That's one way to a greener future.
But so is public transit -- and New Yorkers need lots more of it. There's no better way of getting millions of us from place to place -- even if it lacks coolness.