I ran into Mary on her commute down the First Avenue bike lane. She works as an ESL instructor and has been bike commuting in New York since 1995. For the past 10 years she has been at her dream job — teaching English to delegates and staff at the United Nations English Language Programme. When I found this out, I naturally decided to set the portrait in front of the UN building. As we rode the few blocks north, we talked about her history with biking in the city. “I’m not this huge cycling person. I also take the subway and the bus, but for me the bike is the fastest, easiest way for me to get most places.”
Despite not being an avid cyclist, Mary did not find riding her bike in NYC as intimidating as many newcomers. “I actually think that New York is a less scary place to bike than some other places. The traffic moves relatively slowly, and as long as I’m moving with the flow I feel pretty safe. I’ve never been in any kind of accident. The one thing I always worry about is getting doored — I assume it will happen eventually, so I’m extra careful.”
Mary says she’s one of many UN employees who ride to work and make use of the underground bike parking offered in the main headquarters building. In the winter she generally opts for the bus, but the summer heat doesn’t deter her from riding in. “I do sweat a little on the bike, but I’m even worse on the subway or the bus.” She also now rides for fun in her free time; some of her favorite routes include going up the East River bike path or traversing the major bridges. Over the last few years she has encouraged a few friends to try New York cycling. “I think it helps people to see that it’s for regular people too — not just for really young people or crazy messengers.”
As we chatted at a red light, another cyclist pulled up. It turned out to be Mary’s physical therapist. By the time the light turned green, a dinner date was set.