I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Now in its fourth year, the New York City Department of Transportation's unique program, Summer Streets, is back and better than ever. Beginning this Saturday, August 6, and running each Saturday until August 20, Park Avenue will be closed for vehicular traffic from 7AM–1PM. What takes place in its absence is up to you: Whether you're a biker, a jogger, a skater, or even someone who just wants to walk the streets free of noise and congestion, then you'll want to get in on the activities.
But the fun only happens for a limited time; after all, you can't close New York's streets for long. Those interested in renting free bicycles will also want to get up early for the best choices since they go quickly. For an incentive, imagine yourself soaring downtown and then right up to the apex of the Brooklyn Bridge before 8AM for this stunning view.
First, you'll need to make a plan. Bike rentals are available at specific locations along Park Avenue, but the hour-long gratis rate is fleeting. Either you're traveling uptown to and around Grand Central Terminal to Central Park and back to the rental kiosk, or downtown, through the Financial District, and over the Brooklyn Bridge and back. Either excursion is thrilling and will likely take roughly an hour, but if you've never done it, there is little as exhilarating as going under the Park Avenue underpass and around Grand Central. Also, be sure to check out the statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Each year, the list of Summer Streets activities grows and this year is no different. Now, in addition to plenty of free bike rentals in all sizes, free roller blade rentals will also be available, as will tons of recreational activities all along the 6.9 mile route, which Mayor Bloomberg happily refers to as New York's temporary "ribbon of recreation." Take a dance lesson. Enjoy a free refreshment. Grab the kids and the sidewalk chalk. There will even be sand boxes stationed along the route for some ad-hoc castle building.
Five rest stops are situated along the route and each have scheduled different events throughout the morning hours on August 6. At the uptown rest stop (51st Street & Park Avenue) participants can learn Tai Chi or take a dance lesson while in midtown (25th Street & Park Avenue) visitors can practice yoga and watch healthy eating demonstrations. Further downtown (Astor Place & Lafayette Street) in the East Village, Women's Health Magazine is hosting a Summer Fun Run and Crunch Gym shows us how to take off those unwanted pounds by leading belly, butt, and thigh-busting workshops.
The SoHo rest stop (Spring Street & Lafayette) has more yoga training as well as professionals who will lead hands-on projects that teach people how to fix their bikes and cook while camping. The last rest stop (Duane & Centre Streets) is holding dance and musical performances as well as teaching New Yorkers how to fence and jump rope, double-dutch style. For a complete list of events (and to keep track of the events for the two Saturdays following August 6), check here.
One final word: Whenever a bunch of New Yorkers on wheels get together there is potential for chaos. The DOT recommends that nobody joining Summer Streets wear headphones because, while there are no cars to worry about, plenty of people along the route are skating, biking, walking, and jogging in all directions. Be safe. Wear a helmet. Look both ways and have a great time out there because Summer Streets only happens once a year.