Start High, End Low: From the High Line to the Lower East Side

If you’re visiting New York City, you may have noticed that there are racks full of blue bicycles all over the place. These bikes are called “Citi Bikes.”

Guest post by Bike Snob NYC

In addition to providing stationary exercise for time-pressed locals, they’re also your two-wheeled, corporate-branded key to the city:

Here’s what that looks like, not including the odd detour, since taking detours whenever you want is the best thing about exploring the city by bike:

See, the subway is great for covering long distances quickly, and your own two feet are ideal for exploring your immediate environments, but when it comes to neighborhood-hopping there’s nothing more efficient, more economical, and more enjoyable than a bicycle – especially one you can dock and forget about when you’re done using it.

Therefore, by way of inspiring you to explore the city by bike, Citi Bike asked New York City’s most popular bike blogger to undertake some scenic bike-share trips and report back. Unfortunately that blogger wasn’t available, and so next they asked me. As an avid Citi Bike user and proud-ish New Yorker I eagerly accepted the assignment, and for my first jaunt I decided to cut a swath through some of the more savory precincts of downtown Manhattan, starting in the Meatpacking District, heading down through Greenwich Village, and then over to the Lower East Side.

Now let’s begin.

As its name suggests, the Meatpacking District was once home to the city’s slaughterhouses and packing plants, but now it’s mostly boutiques packed with brand-name clothing:

Nevertheless, there are also various cultural attractions in the neighborhood well worth visiting, such as the WhitneMuseum of American Art, and of course the High Line, which is a “linear park” built on the remains of an old elevated railroad line:

Ascending the stairs at the park’s southernmost end, the first thing I noticed was a somnambulist in his underwear:

It turned out to be a sculpture called “Sleepwalker” by Tony Matelli, though it just as easily could have been a guest at the nearby Standard who’d partied a bit too enthusiastically the night before and been robbed of his pants:

Hey, it happens.

The High Line now extends from 14th Street all the way to 34th Street, and it’s the perfect place to go for a stroll:

Or bask in the sun:

Or simply contemplate that mysterious land to the west called “New Jersey:”

As for me, I had work to do, so after giving The Sleepwalker a farewell hug and making a heartfelt gesture in Chris Christie’s direction I alighted the stairs to 14th Street:

Where a veritable buffet of Citi Bikes awaited me:

If you’ve never ridden a Citi Bike before, you should of course obey the Four Citi Bike Commandments at all times:

1. Yield to pedestrians

2. Stay off the sidewalk

3. Obey traffic lights

4. Ride with traffic

Rest assured you’ll have plenty of opportunity to observe the First Commandment as you head south on Washington Street and run the fashionista gauntlet:

You should also be aware that, while New York City is a great place to ride bikes, the bike lanes will often contain obstructions such as roadwork:

As well as Cadillac Escalades driven by and for people who think they’re more important than you:

Given this, you may occasionally be tempted to break the Second Citi Bike Commandment, like this person is doing:

However, you should make every effort to draw strength from your vast reservoir of faith and follow only the One True Path, that being the street.

Heading downtown on Washington Street you’ll soon find yourself in the West Village, where you’ll see evidence of Manhattan’s rural past such as this early 19th century farmhouse:

The house was actually moved here from uptown back in 1967, and the inhabitants are very likely the only people on the entire island of Manhattan (apart from the Mayor) who live in a detached home with a lawn, a driveway, and a minivan:

Context is everything, which is why the rest of America’s suburban banality is Manhattan’s urban exotica.

You’ll also find other early 19th century homes, like this one:

As well as stables:

And even an old police station that was commissioned in 1897 by police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt:

Obviously it’s condos now, because it was either that or a Starbucks.

That’s just how this city works.

Moving east you soon cross Hudson Street, which is lined with restaurants and bars, and if you’re feeling hungry at this point I recommend docking the bike and eating at someplace that still retains some of the neighborhood's rapidly-vanishing quirkiness, such as the Cowgirl:

Either way, as you continue eastward, be sure to watch out for polka-dot cars:

And remember to obey the Third Commandment. (That’s “Obey traffic lights” just in case you haven’t memorized them yet.) This is partly for your own safety, but mostly because crosswalk people-watching is one of the very best things about riding in New York City:

To miss out on this pageant of humanity is like going to the Grand Canyon and not bothering to turn around.

Anyway, when you get to Bleecker Street make a right and follow the bike route:

This will take you through the heart of the Village, and the upscale boutiques will finally begin to yield a bit to record stores and guitar shops and other places that hearken back to the neighborhood’s erstwhile days as a countercultural center:

Enjoy them while they last.

There’s also still plenty of evidence that this was once a neighborhood of Italian immigrants, as memorialized by places like Father Demo Square:

I should note at this point that in your Citi Bike travels you will encounter other cyclists, and when you do you should always observe proper etiquette. For example, at red lights you should take your place at the back of the queue, just as you would in any other line-forming situation:

Don’t just ride ahead of everybody and into the crosswalk. That’s called “shoaling,” and it is a dead giveaway that you’re a cycling rube.

Once you cross over Sixth Avenue it’s worth docking your Citi Bike and heading just a couple blocks up to Washington Square Park:

And which is also the home of the Washington Square Arch:

There’s also plenty of history in the park’s immediate vicinity:

This Baptist church was an anomaly in the wealthy residential district of Washington Square. It functioned as a mission church, stabilizing the neighborhood at the point of transition between the upper class area of the Square and the poorer neighborhood immediately to the west. In order to further this goal, the Judson Hotel - a tower for housing the poor - was added to the church in 1895. The water fountain on the northeast corner of the church provided cool water in the summer to people who couldn’t afford ice. The church’s activist social engagement continued through the 1960’s, and up until today.

And once you’ve drunk it all in you can grab another Citi Bike. Then hop back on Bleecker Street and continue east, making sure to watch out for Garth from “Wayne’s World:”

Bleecker will take you all the way to the Bowery:

Home of storied club CBGB, which is now a designer shoe store:

Where the spirit of the music lives on (or doesn’t) in the form of the $190 Chuck Taylor Punk Tornado Zip High Top.

If you listen closely you can hear the sound of various punk rock legends rolling in their graves.

From here, a quick left and a right will take in into the East Village:

Which, while pretty thoroughly gentrified these days, is still a decent place to see someone in a diaphanous skirt walking a large dog past a toilet:

The denizens also do their best to keep the punk rock spirit of the neighborhood alive–if not in actual lifestyle, then at least sartorially:

You’ll also find plenty of murals in front of which to model your new sneakers on Instagram:

And of course this mobile Bernie unit pumps the neighborhood buildings full of pure, unadulterated socialism at all times:

Neighborhood landmarks include Tompkins Square Park, where riots took place in 1988:

And the Hell’s Angels clubhouse, which is probably not a great place to dock your Citi Bike:

You don’t want this to happen.

From here you’re not too far from our final destination, which is the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side:

Here you can see how New York City’s turn-of-the-century immigrant population lived, though I suspect the gift shop isn’t period-correct:

And while today’s new arrivals tend to head elsewhere in New York City in order to start their lives in America, the neighborhood’s immigrant past lives on in the Orchard Street bargain district:

Which is an ideal place to find an outfit specific to no identifiable time or place in human history:

This past also lives on in the food, though it’s been updated for the 21st century:


And it is here that I shall dock my Citi Bike and leave you for now:

Until our next trip, when we’ll head over to Brooklyn.

Eben Weiss is also the author of The Ultimate Bicycle Owner’s Manual.