Writing recently in the New York Times, Delia Ephron vented about her frustrations with the Citibike program. Her hostility toward cyclists, especially coming from a proud New York-style jaywalker, seemed either overdue or outrageous, depending on where your bike-car-pedestrian priorities lie.
But an element of Ephron’s ire raised an issue that has gotten relatively little attention. The arrival this spring of Citibike blue was a visual jolt that in Ephron’s view doesn’t mesh with the city’s streetscape of “browns, greys, greens and brick red.” Ephron seems to have an unusual antipathy toward bright blue and bikes in general. Many of us are thrilled to have a visible and user-friendly bike share program in New York. But her complaint speaks to the broader issue of the public’s input into public space.
The bike-share system was brought to fruition through an 18-month public planning process. The city put effort into gathering input about where residents wanted bike stations to be placed. But what about the actual bikes? As far as I know, there was no design competition, open commentary or public forum held to discuss the look and feel of the rolling billboards that are now seen on our streets.
Those ever-present advertisements fund a popular program that operates without city subsidies. And some residents might have been so distracted by the vitriolic battles for and against bike share that few bothered to think about what bike share would look like. (While working for CitiBike for a few months as a bicycle ambassador, I had one person tell me “to go to hell for ruining the neighborhood” and another who said “anyone that says no to this program is a right-wing idiot.”)
The lesson in all of this could be that New Yorkers should insist that all parts of the process for citywide projects are open to public discussion. Balancing the public’s wishes with the need for corporate support would still be challenging, but we might wind up with fewer post-launch blues.