By Helen Cook
New York, May 7 (efe-epa).- The coronavirus pandemic has transformed New York’s subway cars and buses into dangerous places that the authorities have asked the public to avoid if at all possible, a situation that has spurred residents of the Big Apple to move around on bicycles, scooters, mopeds and even skateboards, which – in the case of medical personnel – have become indispensable tools.
Up to now, a good portion of New Yorkers – who normally don’t own vehicles of their own – depended on the city’s antiquated public transport system, a system dirty, slow and, above all, crowded, all these characteristics combining into a not-much-admired whole during operating hours.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that right from the start, city authorities were asking people not to ride the subway if they didn’t have to and to make their trips by walking or by bicycle or any other method, if at all possible.
The younger New Yorkers have not hesitated to follow these instructions, often moving at breakneck speed around the nearly deserted city streets on scooters and other such transportation or cruising calmly on non-motored transport along Manhattan’s desolate avenues.
Since the epidemic erupted here, the number of passengers riding the New York subway system has plummeted by about 90 percent, a trend diametrically opposed to bicycle use, with that method becoming the most popular form of transport for essential workers.
One of them is pediatrician Melissa Goldstein, who is resorting to her bike to be able to perform a vital part of her job, providing vital injections for her patients, in particular children under age one.
“A lot of people are just so worried about what’s going on that … the last thing they’re thinking about is their routine vaccines,” Goldstein told EFE during an online interview, saying that she doesn’t hesitate to cross Manhattan on her bike if her patients need to get their shots.
For the past three or four weeks, each time one of her patients needs a shot, the doctor carefully places the hypodermic and the medication into her small portable cooler, which she carries in a backpack on her bike.
Once she arrives at the homes of her patients, she takes her time in putting on all her personal protection equipment before going to the door and, being careful not to enter the buildings, providing the shots to the kids at the door.
Goldstein got the idea of making these house calls from talking with the mother of one of her patients who was afraid to take her baby to the hospital for fear of becoming infected with the virus, given that she has diabetes and is thus in one of the high-risk groups who often get much sicker than otherwise healthy individuals.
“Logistically, it’s hard for people. I mean if you’re avoiding public transportation and you don’t have a car and you live not within walking distance, how are you gonna get there … with a baby?” asked the doctor, who works at the Carnegie Hill Pediatric Center.
“Well, just to be clear, it’s not like people are begging me to come,” Goldstein emphasized. “It’s not like, you know, I don’t have the time to do it. I wish it was that way, but a lot of people are not even thinking about (getting the shots).” She noted that she is worried that that coronavirus pandemic could provoke yet another epidemic among children and babies who have not received their required shots, given that the current lockdown situation could extend for several more months.
She particularly mentioned her concern that a “completely preventable” disease such as the measles could resurge amid the Covid-19 crisis if people don’t get their children vaccinated appropriately.
The doctor is not the only person to take to her bike these days. According to figures provided by New York’s Transportation Alternatives association, the shared-bike system in the city – Citibike – registered 500,000 users during the first week of March compared to 300,000 during the same period last year.
In addition, the bridges connecting Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and The Bronx have registered increases in pedestrian and two-wheeled-vehicle traffic of 34 percent and 54 percent, respectively, since the start of the epidemic compared to the same period in 2019.
Citibike has also been making an effort to support New York’s medical personnel, offering free memberships to them all and – during the pandemic – opening up a new bike pick-up and turn-in station in north Manhattan, where Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center is located.
The Rebel motorcycle-sharing company is also offering its vehicles for free to everyone working in the healthcare sector and also to restaurant owners so that they can make safe and quick home deliveries to their customers.
But, although New York traffic jams are a thing of the past – for now – there has been a noteworthy increase in speeding infractions, with New York City Hall figures showing that in late March some 25,000 speeding tickets per day were being issued compared to about 12,600 per day during the same period in 2019.
In addition, there are more “illegal” vehicles on the streets and in a little over a week, the New York police seized 20 such vehicles in a single day, including quads, dirtbikes and go-carts.