An Update on the Five Boro Bike Tour

The Five Boro Bike Tour is a wonderful event, but in recent years the amplification at the kickoff has been unbearably loud. Starting at 6:30 a.m. on the first Sunday in May, speakers installed every 30 feet for many blocks along Church blast schlocky music, exhortations from the emcees, and announcements; the volume is ear-shattering. It wasn’t always this way: There was a time when the sound was negligible, and all you’d hear was the magical sound of thousands of bikes being pedaled past.

Last night, at the Community Board 1 Tribeca Committee meeting (full Unofficial Minutes to follow), Sharon Pope, Community Outreach/Strategic Planning Manager for the ride’s organizer, Bike New York, made a welcome announcement: There will be no amplified music at this year’s event on May 7. She also said they’ll be “slightly adjusting” the footprint of the start line, but what that meant was unclear. She said it would be at Church and Franklin, which is more or less where it has always been…?

The bad news is that there will still be music, played by bands. Fewer bands, according to the rep, but if they’re playing the same amount of time as a larger number of bands, that’s pretty meaningless. (There was also no description of the music: A marching band? Bagpipes?) The even worse news is that there will still be amplified announcements, which will likely include the motivational yelling from years past. I’d guess that the sponsor, TD Bank, considers it an important part of the promotional value.

Lest anyone think this is solely my personal bête noire, a Duane Street resident, S., shared her experience last year: “It gets worse and worse every year. At 6:30 a.m. it begins—even with windows shut and a fan on, I can hear the noise. I went outside, and it was so loud, that the cop I tried to speak to couldn’t hear me over the music. When it died down, he told me to go to the stage. The first person I spoke with said that they have a permit and tough luck. I asked to speak with someone in charge, who said it was only loud because we were behind the stage. Then she said that if she lived in the city, she’d have the expectation of noise from events like this, and that I should go away for the weekend each year. Sure, the area didn’t used to be as residential, but Bike New York needs to deal with the reality of what it is now. Can’t you start it later? Or start it elsewhere, maybe further south?”

The red X’s on this map indicate residential buildings on Church between White and Chambers. Church Street below Park Place, meanwhile, is entirely commercial.

Moreover, Charles Komanoff submitted a letter to Community Board 1 that wasn’t read at the meeting, but perhaps Bike New York will see it here.

I want to express my opposition to Bike NY’s use of amplified sound during the assembly of riders at or near the vicinity of Church Street and Leonard Streets before and during the start of the upcoming (May 7) Five Boro Bike Tour.

I write as a long-time bicycle advocate (I’m credited with having “refounded” Transportation Alternatives, as its president from 1986 to 1992), a devoted bicycle commuter who rides in all weather in all four seasons, and a huge fan of Bike NY’s educational work and its Five Boro Bike Tours.

I have ridden in nearly twenty of the Five Boro Tours as a young man, a senior, and a parent hauling my children in a bicycle trailer. They are terrific events that provide pleasure to tens of thousands and continue to play an important role in celebrating  bicycling and building community in and around New York City. As a minor celebrity in the local cycling scene I’ve also been the object of Bike NY’s generosity, receiving VIP tickets that enabled me to join the first contingent of riders at Church and Leonard.

For all that, however, I am appalled by the deafening music and thundering announcements that have become a staple of the long countdown to the ride’s 8 a.m. kickoff. I personally experienced this in 2013 and 2014; for me and my riding partners, the grotesquely amplified sounds were assaultive, invasive and gratuitous. Though I wasn’t present in 2015 and 2016, the many complaints posted after those rides on Tribeca Citizen strongly suggest there was no reduction in volume.

Due to a scheduling conflict, I can’t be present for the Feb. 8 meeting of the Tribeca Committee, where Bike NY is scheduled to appear and, perhaps, advocate for use of amplification for its May 7 tour. I believe strongly that the noise pollution from amplification in recent years has no place in our or any other community, particularly early on a weekend morning. I urge you to deny a permit for amplified sound at the start of this year’s Five Boro Bike Tour.

The problem is that Community Board 1 has no authority over the permit. That falls to the NYPD. I have pointed out numerous times that the NYPD’s event application specifically prohibits amplified sound before certain hours in residential areas (and it seems to be a city code). But a Community Board 1 staffer said that when he brought the subject up with the 1st Precinct, “They said, ‘We don’t really enforce that, but if people come to complain, we can do something about it.'” (The precinct’s commanding officer, Mark Iocco, told me months ago that a community liaison officer would always be on hand at events with amplified sound, and if the noise is too loud, they’ll ask for it to be turned down. At several subsequent events, however, I’ve never been able to find a community liaison officer, and both the 1st Precinct and city council member Margaret Chin’s office blew me off.)

Our only hope is that Bike New York understands how problematic the noise is and does something about it. One committee member suggested cutting the number of speakers and lowering the volume, which the Bike New York rep said she’d run up the flagpole. And she’ll return to CB1 next month with another update.



  1. I also wrote a letter regarding the yelling of the set up people beginning at 4:30 a.m. on my block (White between Church and West Broadway). I was chastened for not coming to the meeting and I believe my letter never reached the Board members.

  2. This is excellent reporting, thanks. I also ride the five boro with my boys and Charlie Komanoff’s letter completely represents my opinion. Bike NY should be ashamed for being such a bad neighbor.

  3. FYI– not that it’s as relevant if the ride starts at Franklin — but your statement that everything South of Park Place on Church Street is commercial isn’t entirely accurate. On Park Place itself now is 30 Park Place, the Four Seasons condo, right on the corner. And, 10 Barclay Street (a large rental building), which is just East of the corner, would hear any major noise that was taking place on Church. I know things get more commercial down this was, but to the point of the person who said things are changing in the area, let’s just keep in mind our presence down here as part of those residential changes.

    • You’re right about 30 Park Place—I actually thought about it at some point after posting, meant to change it to Barclay, and forgot. (As for buildings further in, there are many residential ones just off Church; I wasn’t including them because technically the speakers are far enough away.)

  4. My guess is they are using the NYC Marsthon playbook which scatters loud bands Althing the way and other types noise.