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NY History Class Learns by the Pedals

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September 21, 2014

It's not often that college students get the opportunity to put their late-night learning prowess to good use. Columbia University's "History of the City of New York" course is one of those opportunities.

The course features an all-night bicycle ride, in which students pedal through the city, on a guided tour of the famous sites of the Big Apple. The tour guide is the professor, Kenneth Jackson.

Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City, has been teaching the course for a number of years now. He is 75. He said he had led the night ride every few years since the mid-1970s. Jackson also said that the tour had to happen at night because daytime traffic wouldn't allow it.

On the 2014 tour, some students rode tandem bikes, others rode borrowed bikes. One student, a sophomore at Barnard, had a flat tire so ended up running the route.

The original tours had a handful of attendees. The 2014 tour had a couple hundred, so many that Jackson had to get a permit from the New York Police Department. Jackson struggled to make himself heard over the noise. But soldier one he did, through neighborhoods and past landmarks, including Times Square, Central Park, Battery Park, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The tour started at 11 p.m. and ended at 6 a.m.

In the famous "city that never sleeps," history lives on, one bike tour at a time.

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