New York Bike Portrait: Chance Encounter in a Small Town

Dorothy Kiều Lê bike portrait

Chance encounter: Dorothy Kiều Lê in Chinatown

Last night I ran into my friend Dorothy on her bike in Chinatown. She was coming home from one (or both?) of her jobs – she works as a youth bike ambassador for Local Spokes and as a bike intern at the DOT. It was great to bump into a friend and I had my camera on me, which was even better.

New York is a big city. Full of possibility, yes, but also intimidating and indifferent, teeming with hordes of faceless strangers. You often hear about how biking shrinks the city down, allowing you to get to more places and neighborhoods faster. But the bike has an even more important power: it makes the city smaller in a social way. Those of us who ride here share the same bike lanes and cross the same bridges, day in and day out. Even if we don’t know each other, we begin to notice, remember, and recognize each other. Sure, this happens on a regular train or bus commute as well, but the bike enhances it because the bike is a constant. Regardless of weather, clothes, haircuts, we notice the bike.

There’s that lady who ferries her two sons across the Williamsburg Bridge every day in a bakfiets. There’s that guy on the orange bike that I see on the Pulaski, a spunky Jack Russell peeking out of his backpack. And what’s up with that lady with the little dogs on the yarn bike? These people can become minor recurring characters in our daily lives, familiar strangers we see as we make our way. As part of this project I have stopped some of them for a portrait and a chat. That’s when the character in my mind emerges as a real person.

The bakfiets mom, Nina, is an artist of amazing skill and devotion.



Aaron and Teeter, the Jack Russell, have commuted together for six years and over nearly 10,000 miles.



And the lady on the yarn bike is some sort of big deal fashion designer.

There are many others I’ve never talked to, but maybe I will some time. If you ride a bike and have friends who do, you will see your friends more often. Cycling makes New York City a small town in the best possible ways.

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