A love of biking and a passion for maps inspired graphic designer Jacqueline VanDusen to bike every street in Brooklyn and document her journey on Instagram.
Originally from Philadelphia, VanDusen moved to Clinton Hill as a teenager and studied advertising and graphic design at Pratt Institute. Her background in design and map making, along with a love of real estate and architecture (and a serious attention to detail) led to the multi-year enterprise.
“I set out to combine my favorite things: cycling, photography, maps and Brooklyn,” she explained.
She has biked 658 miles around Brooklyn, hitting more than 40 neighborhoods, since she started in 2017. With just about a third of the borough done, she’ll reach the finish line in May 2020.
VanDusen stops along the way whenever a scene captures her eye. While hesitant to call herself a photographer, she documents the architecture of Brooklyn’s varied neighborhoods with her iPhone. She snaps buildings that convey a unique sense of place — and learns a bit more about the borough in the process.
Her images of Brooklyn architecture at Brooklyn By Bike caught our eye. Brownstoner recently had the opportunity to talk to VanDusen about her journey through the borough.
When did you move to Brooklyn and what neighborhoods have you lived in?
I moved to Brooklyn in August 2006. I was 17 years old. I’ve lived in Williamsburg, Clinton Hill, Bed Stuy, Bushwick, Midwood, Bensonhurst and even the Upper East Side.
Is your background in photography or architecture?
No. I studied advertising and graphic design at Pratt Institute, but my aesthetic in design worked very well for my architecture and real estate clients. The photography was self taught. To this day, I still won’t refer to myself as a photographer.
What inspired you to tackle the borough by bike and document your trip?
I love having a goal and project — something to keep me going. My love for Brooklyn and biking runs deep. I wanted to document and share my experience with others, while implementing my map and design work.
Why did you start when you did in 2017?
My biggest regret was waiting until 2013 to get my first bike. Seven years in New York City wasted! My entire New York experience would have been completely different, and I wouldn’t have had to struggle with the G and the L train for this length of time. Besides that, iPhones weren’t a thing when I moved here. I rely so heavily on my phone for directions and the camera.
How do you plan your routes?
In the beginning, I would just GPS track where I happened to go, leaving my map looking “gappy” and chaotic. That annoyed me. Then I started to map out the rides in Illustrator and transfer them to Komoot — an app that offers turn-by-turn biking directions.
How do you decide what to photograph along your ride? Are you looking for scenes that seem iconic to the neighborhood or just what captures your attention?
If something manages to capture my attention after living here for over 11 years, then I assume others would find it just as intriguing. Meanwhile, the iconic sites like the Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building are beautiful, and yes, they get “likes”… but we’ve all seen them. I really strive to show people things they normally wouldn’t see day to day or casually scrolling through Instagram. This is going to be something I struggle with as I start another project to bike all the streets of Manhattan and I’m curious to see the direction I end up going with it.
How do you track what streets you have already biked?
I manually draw each line in an Illustrator file on top of the map I designed. I probably spend triple the time planning and plotting my routes than I do biking them.
What neighborhood was the most surprising and why?
So far it has been Mill Basin. I was initially intrigued by the odd shape of the neighborhood when I was drawing the map. I didn’t do any research before I biked out there. I was pleasantly surprised at the weirdness I encountered. (I don’t want to ruin it for others.)
Has there been a favorite building you discovered?
I’m not sure I’ve seen it yet, but I know it’s out there. In my head I imagine it would be a haunted pink victorian home in Dyker Heights or an iconic, perfectly restored, ivy-covered brownstone with a cat sleeping on the flower-lined stoop.
How frequently do you get out and bike and shoot?
If it’s sunny, blue skies, and warmer than 40 degrees, I’m taking pictures. There were a few times this winter when the weather was so perfect that I called out of work to bike. I have no shame about this.
Do you bike in all weather?
I will bike in any weather if I need to get somewhere. However, I photograph only when I have blue skies. It’s kind of become the “look” of my Instagram feed.
What have you learned about biking in Brooklyn?
It’s not for everyone. I will credit my ADHD for my ability to see everything. Biking alone is very strategic: You are looking for doors, potholes, cars, pedestrians, birds, squirrels, delivery guys, electric bikes, trash and glass. On top of that, I am looking for interesting buildings, weird signs and street art. All of this is happening while I’m trying to pay attention to my directions, my bike and my belongings.
What are your plans for the project?
During the next two years while I finish Brooklyn, I am launching Manhattan By Bike. This comes from my need to see and learn more and understand why people like “the city” so much.
By the time May 2020 rolls around, I hope to have met dozens of interesting people and influence others to get out of their comfort zones, get a hobby and learn something new — especially other women.
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