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the bike path to El Dorado

Artwork by Fatema Rahaman, staff poet and artist

“can I bike outside our neighborhood?” my parents glance at each other, and in the distance of their eyes lies what

outside our neighborhood means: the

     meters and minutes and miles of NY 106,

all twothreefour lane roads, all

highways and bridges and ramps, all

asphalt plains bracketed by a strip of sidewalk barely wide enough for


my parents glance at each other, then at me, twelve, and eager

     in the passenger seat. 

“well,” begins my mom,

“it’s not safe,” finishes my dad.

as we wait in the red-lit left-turn lane, beside us, even the smallest passing car leaves our own rocking 

     on its wheels in the forty, fifty, sixty kilometer-per-hour wakes. 

I glance at the precious inches of glass and metal and paint-dashed road that separate us

from oblivion, think of how on my bike, it would become nary but the sidewalk

     and the wind; think of how on that little strip

     of sanctuary, riding my bike—my wings—would be like flying a sparrow

into a storm.

as we wait in the red-lit left-turn lane, beside us, 

     an eighteen wheeler thunders past.

It’s hard to tell when the sentiment of this poem first crystallized in my mind. I think it’s been there for years, ever since I started biking around my own neighborhood in earnest and realized the inaccessibility of my town, my world, when I couldn’t drive. It’s something many Americans probably don’t really think about, as normalized as it is here, like too bad, this is just the way it is. I only broke through that veil of normalization by the good fortune of being on the right corners of the internet; I want to break that veil for more people than those who happen to have the right YouTube video in their feed or who aren’t aware of European-style transportation. In my poem, the asyndeton in the first stanza describing NY Route 106 (what the exits on my side of the neighborhood lead to) convey what North American major roads feel like to anyone in any age group without a car: oppressive, sprawling, and aggressively hostile to pedestrians and cyclists. While the title references the mythical road to El Dorado, it’s not just the city that didn’t exist—neither did any road to it. The same is true of bike paths here in the States. And although traffic engineering and urban design aren’t quite as prominent front-page issues as any number of others, they’re among the most present in our day-to-day lives and are crucial to the sustainability of both the cities themselves and the environment at large.

YouTube channel NotJustBikes: While occasionally somewhat biased as a source, it’s an otherwise excellent source of information on green/public transportation, city design issues, and the like. 

Non-profit Transportation Alternatives: A major organization founded in 1973 and active in advocating for improved, more urban-friendly transportation in New York City. 

Ren Tang (they/them) is a high school student from Long Island, New York. When not occupied with being a responsible human, they can be found bingeing shows, fanfiction, and/or book series. In addition to writing, they enjoy copious amounts of music, gaming with friends, losing at badminton, and collecting a dragon’s hoard of interesting words and quotes. They are, above all, a lover of beauty in all its forms.

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