Color Delia Ephron Misinformed

In an opinion piece entitled Color Me Blue in Sunday’s New York Times, Delia Ephron takes aim at the popular Citi Bike share system. Her rambling critique, part scolding of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, part esthetic gripe about what she considers a blue “blight on our cityscape” and part bike-lane bashing, would be comical, were it not so ill-informed and devoid of supporting facts.

In the estimation of Ms. Ephron, a journalist, novelist, screenwriter and also the sister of the late Nora Ephron, being mowed down by lawless cyclists is practically a foregone conclusion. It’s a notion that seems retrograde in light of bike share’s wide acceptance and excellent safety record to date — even if the author hadn’t exposed her own sense of entitlement as a pedestrian who disregards the rules of traffic safety.

Jaywalking as a Birthright

In her description of a near-miss encounter with a cyclist traveling the wrong way on a one-way street, Ms. Ephron admits to having stepped off the curb against the light because “That’s what New Yorkers do.” In Ms. Ephron’s cartoon vision of our city – and Manhattan specifically — jaywalking is a birthright, in fact the very essence of citizenship. Under this scenario Ms. Ephron’s suggestion that “these days, pedestrians should be wearing helmets” would make perfect sense – even if there weren’t a single cyclist to be found pedaling our streets.

One wonders, where has Ms. Ephron been these past months as New Yorkers fell in love with their Citi Bikes, happily plying the streets using New York’s first new public transportation option since the introduction of municipal bus service? New Yorkers have repeatedly expressed their approval, with 73 percent favoring bike share in the latest poll by the New York Times. The data speaks for itself: the largest bike share system in North America, with 6,000 bikes at 332 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn (for now,) has attracted more than 90,000 annual members and has recorded 8.7 million miles in less than 5 months.

New York’s bike share system has swiftly become a symbol worldwide of progressive, forward-thinking urban planning that takes a clear-eyed look at how continued population growth of cities will impact not only daily living, but also economic development and prosperity.

Sell-Out to Bank Blue

Speaking of dollars, in Ms. Ephron’s calculus Citi Bank abetted by Mayor Bloomberg made off with a “bargain” advertising bonanza for its $41 million investment. And what plague has this visited upon our streets? Just when you think that Ms. Ephron might be framing her complaint around street safety, the author fakes a pass, and pivots to… the “Day Glo cobalt blue” color of Citi Bike, and its pollution of our visual environment.

It’s the color of the bikes that offend Ms. Ephron. Really? This is about esthetics?

“Almost all directors and cinematographers know that, in a movie, the color blue pulls focus…our city is browns, grays, greens and brick red,” Ms. Ephron writes. “Our city is not a blue city… or wasn’t until the blue bikes arrived.” 

Well, not unless you count the virtually identical blue found on NYPD police cruisers or the MTA Select Bus Service, or even the fact that color authority Pantone revealed the color to be the most used by fashion designers for spring. (Better leave those spring sheaths in the closet, ladies!) Bike share in Paris by comparison, gets Ms. Ephron’s thumbs up, because the light grey color of the bikes respects the romance of that city.

In fact, Ms. Ephron’s pre-occupation with bank logos painted on Citi Bikes (as if corporate branding on our streets, from Fresh Direct trucks to ads for Nike sneakers at bus shelters, simply don’t exist) further blinds her to the features that make the bikes safer for riders and pedestrians alike: Bright front and rear lights that are activated – day or night—as soon as the rider starts pedaling, and heavy, stable frames that contribute to slower speeds, for example.

What’s ‘Nuts’?

But wait, there’s more. Not satisfied with railing against the bikes. Ms. Ephron also targets bike lanes.  She refers to the intersection of Ninth Avenue and 18th Street, along which a protected bike lane runs, as “Bloomberg Corner.” She notes that cars making left turns across the bike lane is “nuts” — that is before she detours into the distracting nature of newspaper dispensers in red, blue, white and orange parked on the concrete barrier that guides motorists into the turning lane. (What is this obsession with color?)

What’s “nuts” is a world-class city without the kinds of infrastructure that Ms. Ephron disdains. Addition of bike lanes to New York City streets has been proven to boost bicycle commuting, improve street safety for all users, and even enhance retail sales along corridors that include them.

I have a suggestion for Ms. Ephron. She should sit down for tea with Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board whose anti-cycling rant achieved video notoriety. They would have so much to talk about.

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