Some Bike Activists Feel Frustrated as Cut-Down Tour De Bronx Rolls Back Out on Sunday
The spin through the borough is back after a COVID break, but with a new cap on riders.
Cycling activists say that this year’s Tour de Bronx, a 25-mile ride through the borough, was planned without enough input from the biking community.
It’s the first in-person Tour de Bronx since the pandemic hit — and the first since Vanessa Gibson became Bronx Borough President.
But two Bronx organizers told THE CITY that they aren’t happy with the tour’s outreach to community members and transit groups.
Transportation Alternatives organizer Shawn Garcia said that while events like the Tour de Bronx are a “big part of the puzzle” in elevating biking awareness, this year’s tour hasn’t felt as community-driven as in previous years.
“We’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to be a pessimist and all that kind of stuff, but I would say the community engagement and working with community members has been the weakest it has ever been,” Garcia said, noting that community engagement has started to wane under Gibson’s predecessor, Ruben Diaz Jr.
“And that’s not from lack of trying on our end as community members. We tried to be more involved and get into the organizing of this earlier.”
Edmundo Martinez, a long-time attendee of the Tour de Bronx, told THE CITY at a Soundview block party promoting biking he’d like to see more local food vendors at the festival concluding the event. In years past, he would see Domino’s Pizza instead of local vendors who could offer healthier options.
“Why you can’t figure out food vouchers for local businesses or caterers?” asked Martinez.
Garcia added he would have liked to see the event spotlight larger, related issues as well.
“The intersection of environmental justice and transit justice is so strong, especially in The Bronx,” he said.
Garcia noted that the event definitely helps draw attention to bike access and safety in the borough, where some cyclists feel like their life is threatened just by pedaling along neighborhood streets.
“That’s the reason why ridership is not as high in The Bronx as it is compared to other parts of the city,” he said, “Not because people don’t want to ride bikes or don’t see it as a viable form of transportation, it’s because the streets aren’t safe.”
Martinez, who volunteers with Transportation Alternatives, Bronx River Alliance and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, similarly said, “We’ve got some nice parks and greenways, which is great. But there’s not a whole lot of protected bike lanes. Although you can have a bike lane and some paint on the ground, it’s not protected. Cars can still veer into it or double park.”
He added that he was asked by a third party to speak at a press conference for the ride on Oct. 13—just two-and-a half hours before it was scheduled to kick off. He was the only person affiliated with biking groups to speak at the event.
A spokesperson for the borough president told THE CITY in an email on Friday, after the deadline to comment, their office had been working in unison with Transportation Alternatives, one of the event’s sponsors, since July and said it has been a priority to have cyclists participate in the press conference to highlight The Bronx, alternative modes of transportation and road safety. While the borough president’s office is grateful to have had Martinez speak, many other riders were not able to make it, the spokesperson said.
Overall, just six percent of the city’s protected bike lanes are in the Bronx, according to data from Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets—a lack of infrastructure that has discouraged some potential riders from two-wheeling the road.
Speaking with THE CITY last week after the press conference, Gibson cited hilly areas in the Northwest Bronx as areas with challenging terrain for cyclists, while also encouraging riders to use the High Bridge (the city’s oldest bridge) that connects the Highbridge neighborhood in the Bronx and Washington Heights in Manhattan.
“We are far from done,” she said. “This borough is very hilly, the infrastructure is not where it should be. We have a lot of uneven and unsurfaced streets that are very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians alike.”
The Tour Rides On
Stretching across 25 miles, the 28th Tour de Bronx, set for this Sunday Oct. 23, is capped at 1,000 registered participants — a limit Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said was a decision she made along with the Bronx Tourism Counsel and that the Bronx Times said she’d explained as “part of the process of returning to normalcy as the city emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
About 400 riders had registered for the event as of last week, Gibson told THE CITY at the time. Her office did not respond to requests for an updated number, but as of Thursday evening, people could still register on the Eventbrite website.
There were between 6,000 and 8,000 participants in 2019, according to a spokesperson from the borough president’s office. Martinez similarly estimated there had been at least 5,000 participants in pre-pandemic years.
“I think the Tour de Bronx can highlight a lot of good that we’ve done in The Bronx in terms of infrastructure, in terms of dedicated bike lanes and better access along the waterfront,” said Gibson, pointing to the Harlem and Bronx rivers.
More than two dozen sponsors have signed on, including Montefiore Einstein, Villagecare Max, Transportation Alternatives and The Bronx Tourism Council.
The ride is set to begin on 161st Street and Grand Concourse, in front of Bronx Borough Hall at 10 a.m., and concludes at The Bronx Botanical Garden in Fordham Heights with a festival and concert on its Daffodil Hill.
Gibson told THE CITY last week the revenue generated would be in the “thousands [of dollars].”
“It’s not in the millions and billions like the New York Yankees being in the playoffs. But nonetheless, I definitely think that the jobs impact, the people that are working, stimulating the economy, a lot of the thoroughfares that you’re going through, there will be businesses, the business improvement districts and merchants,” said Gibson.
Her office did not respond to a request for a more specific revenue projection.
Updated on October 21, 2022 with comment from the office of The Bronx Borough President.