By Steve Tiszenkel
The best shape I've ever been in was back when I had a gym membership and three sessions every week with an ass-kicking personal trainer. I wouldn't have thought the sessions were worth $80 a pop, but my mother disagreed.
The second-best shape I've ever been in was that heady summer in the salad days of the early '90s, when I was too old for camp but too young for work. There only being so many Diff'rent Strokes reruns to watch, I actually headed out the front door, got a bicycle and pedaled. And pedaled. And pedaled some more.
I was a cyclin' fool that year. We'd just moved to the little waterfront town of Atlantic Beach—wedged between Long Beach, the infamous Five Towns and the Rockaways— and that three-block-wide island ate buckets of my dust. I rode all the way down the Long Beach boardwalk and back again, over the bridge to Oceanside, over the other bridge to Lawrence, through the bad part of town without stopping and under the low-hanging trees stopping every other square of pavement.
One day, leaning against the railing at the boardwalk looking out at the surf, I touched my right calf and was surprised to notice it didn't go anywhere. There was no squish, no pillowy softness, no give whatsoever. Seemingly out of nowhere, I could crush walnuts with my calves.
But I went back to school and there was no time for cycling, and then I got a summer internship in an office where the biggest challenge was making people think I owned more than two suits, and there was even less time. I'd get out on the bike occasionally, but it happened less and less, and lo and behold, it's 2008 and I haven't been on an uncomfortable banana seat for maybe 10 years.
The weather's great out there, and I've thought about picking up a bargain bike courtesy of Craigslist and trying to work those calves up to full strength again. But I can't. You see, I'm terrified. Because I don't live in the suburbs anymore. There's no riding on the sidewalk here in Forest Hills.
Here, it's go Queens Boulevard or go home. Asif Rahman decided to go Queens Boulevard. But while riding his bike back from work in February, a truck hit him, killing him instantly. The 22-year-old Rahman wasn't an inexperienced cyclist. Truth is, he rode his bike everywhere, sometimes traveling as far as from Jamaica to Lower Manhattan. His mother worried about him, as mothers do, but he reassured her that there were bike lanes everywhere. Unfortunately, the Boulevard of Death isn't everywhere.
Was Rahman reckless? Foolish? Naïve? Actually, he was doing exactly what activist groups everywhere tell us we should be doing. In an age when environmentalism increasingly is king, the message is that people-powered bikes will cure all that ails us, and that we have a responsibility to get out there and ride.
Asif Rahman was out there doing his duty. Whether he was motivated at least partially by altruism or whether he just liked the feel of the wind against his head, he was doing the right thing. And like many people who do the right thing, he paid a steep price for it.
Last weekend, inspired by Rahman and joined by his family, concerned residents and Councilman James Gennaro rallied for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard at the site of the fatal accident in Elmhurst. With a number of local political bigwigs signed onto the initiative, the movement earned coverage in several local newspapers. Suddenly people are thinking seriously about making our neighborhoods more bike-friendly.
Bicycling is environmentally friendly, healthy and fun. Our streets should be teeming with cyclists. If you've got a few miles to travel, there shouldn't be any reason you wouldn't use a bike. I'm ready and willing to pick up a used hunk of metal online and do my part to make Queens greener and myself healthier. But until I can be sure it's safe, my hand will be firmly on the brake.
I suspect I'm not alone.
The writer is the host of the Website Queens Central. Log on to queenscentral.com to read more about Forest Hills and the surrounding neighborhoods.