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Kind of Blue: Delia Ephron and the Art of Anti-Bike Illogic

October 21, 2013

One of the old chestnuts of anti-bike-lane rhetoric is the argument that bike lanes are on the one hand empty and therefore not necessary, and on the other dangerous for pedestrians to cross because of all the cyclists whizzing by.  To this absurd entry into the Encyclopedia of NIMBY Logic, writer and producer Delia Ephron, in an opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times, added her own.

Ephron — who with her sister Nora adapted a 1940 black-and-white film starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan into a 1998 color movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan — says that the bright blue bicycles of the Citi Bike program distract the eye from the “browns, grays, greens and brick red” of New York City’s natural color palette.  But she also suggests that they’re invisible, so apt to appear out of nowhere that they could mow down innocent pedestrians at any time.

If you read Ephron’s piece, you probably noticed that she opens with a Cuozzoian anecdote about scofflaw cyclists:

It’s this bike program. The other day I stepped off a curb and a bike coming the wrong way down a one-way street passed so close I could feel its breeze on my back. It seems as though, every day, I’m almost hit by a bike.

But late in her piece, Ephron claims that the blue bikes are simply impossible to not notice.

Almost all directors and cinematographers know that, in a movie, the color blue pulls focus. If you place a love scene in front of, say, a blue bench, the audience will look at the bench and not the actors. Our city, if you look around, isn’t a blue city, or wasn’t until the bikes arrived.

If Ephron sat and thought about it for even a second, she should probably write another opinion piece thanking Citibank for choosing a shade of blue that announces a bicycle’s presence long before one almost hits her.

Of course, Ephron’s gripe isn’t really about her fear of getting hit by a bicycle.  (“That’s a problem, but it’s not the problem.”)  Given the statistics, that would be insane.  “The problem” is the fact that at least 8 children have been killed by automobile drivers in 2013 so far bike share bicycles ruin movie shoots.

Forget for a moment that bike share stations are easily removable and unlikely to mar any period pieces set in pre-2013 New York City.  As a TV producer and film fan, I can honestly say I was fascinated by this cinematography factoid, previously unknown to me:

Odds are, in your favorite romantic Manhattan movie, you’ll see barely any blue.

Come to think of it, Ephron is right.  Here’s a shot from one of my favorite romantic Manhattan movies:

ManhattanWoodyAllen

Thank goodness the bench isn’t blue.

Of course, Ephron, as the writer/producer of some of the most successful romantic comedies of the nineties knows a thing or two about shot composition.  Take the following scene from “You’ve Got Mail.”  There’s absolutely nothing blue to pull the audience’s focus.  You know what else you won’t find pulling the audience’s focus?  Cars!

shoparoundcorner

(By the way, the fact that there’s an available parking spot in front of an Upper West Side store in this shot caused Blockbuster to accidentally shelve “You’ve Got Mail” in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section for years.)

Like John Cassidy, who once infamously claimed there was a bike lane causing congestion on Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue, Ephron — and by extension, the Times fact-checking department — does not let the truth get in the way of a good anti-bike-lane swipe.  Here’s her take on the changes that came to the intersection of 9th Avenue and 18th Street, or “Bloomberg corner” as she likes to call it:

Where there used to be four lanes for cars traveling down Ninth, there are now two. A long triangular concrete island has been installed to guide drivers making left turns even though drivers have been making left turns since they got licenses.

Emphasis mine. Here’s the Google Street View of 9th Ave and 18th Street:

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 9.25.34 PM

Don’t try to explain channelization to Delia Ephron.

So not including the lane dedicated to car parking and another devoted to vehicles making left turns, there are three lanes for cars traveling down Ninth, not two.  And just in case you’re wondering if the lanes go down from three to two south of 18th Street, they don’t.

Then there’s the question of those ads.  Ephron is none too pleased that the bikes are mobile billboards for a bank:

To make certain you don’t forget this fact, a Citi Bike sign hangs in front of the handlebars, Citi Bike is printed twice on the frame, and a Citi Bike billboard drapes the rear wheel on both sides. The font is the familiar Citibank font and the Citibank signature decoration floats over the “t.” There is no way to see a Citi Bike without thinking Citibank.

Is it great that a public transit service is festooned with ads for a corporation?  Perhaps not.  But in my imaginary socialist utopia where brown, gray, green or brick red taxpayer-funded “City Bikes” lined the streets, we’d still be reading anti-bike jeremiads by the Delia Ephrons of New York.  Because the biggest problem the guardians of the status quo have with bicycle sharing is that the shared bicycles are not private automobiles.

Oh, and about those ads.  Did you know that there’s no way to see another form of public transportation without thinking “lap dance”?

TaxiStripClubad

Say what you will about Citi, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable explaining what a checking account is to my daughter.

Zero pedestrians have been killed by cyclists since before 2010, but over 600 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by drivers.  The uncomfortable truth about pieces such as Ephron’s — and, to a greater extent, the Times editors’ decision to print them — is that they completely ignore the real hazard on our city’s streets.  So much so that they have to include fictions such as this:

Then the snow will melt and freeze, and someone on a blue bike will skid right into you. Finally spring. Your broken leg is almost healed. The surgery to insert pins went well. You have completed four weeks of physical therapy, and at last can limp around outside without crutches. As you spy a cherry tree lush with blossoms, a you-know-what will zip by. Suddenly that beautiful day will get so much uglier.

Ephron ought to speak to Sian Green, whose dream of a beautiful day in New York City was forever sullied by the reality of an ugly encounter with the wrong end of a curb-jumping taxi.

That cab, of course, was yellow.

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27 Comments
  1. October 21, 2013 12:43 am

    To be fair, I’d rather explain stripping to a kid than some of Citi’s business practices…

    Jokes aside, what’s worse about this piece is that *this* is what Ephron says makes her hate Bloomberg. Really? Bike share? Not stop and frisk… Not micromanaging people’s lives by regulating soda size… Not coddling billionaires and defending Wall St nefariousness.

    Just goes to show how narrow the establishment world view is… If it’s not an inconvenience for New York’s upper crust, it’s not an issue.

  2. October 21, 2013 1:20 am

    This exchange won the twitters:

    • ADN permalink
      October 21, 2013 10:00 am

      Citibike is clearly at fault for Susan K. Hoffman’s inattention and klutziness.

  3. October 21, 2013 3:09 am

    • It doesn’t matter where Blockbuster shelved the video, because their shops were royal blue and were therefore never part of New York City. Also, that movie’s logo featured a blue mailbox, as does the U.S. Postal Service, neither of which have ever been seen in the city. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to Jersey to find a Citibank ATM.

  4. Douglas John Bowen permalink
    October 21, 2013 9:48 am

    Ms. Ephron’s Lament in Blue may cover movies, but last Friday the CBS television series “Blue Bloods” (no pun intended, honest!) had little problem filming (actors as) NYPD officers, many of them in blue, with a Citi Bike station in the foreground! (I believe the scene was the old U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan, but would have to see the episode again to be sure.)

    I had no trouble focusing on the actors as policemen. Even the ones wearing blue. Even amidst those pesky blue bikes.

  5. ADN permalink
    October 21, 2013 9:55 am

    One of your finest, Doug.

  6. ADN permalink
    October 21, 2013 9:58 am

    Doug (or someone else on behalf of Doug): I’d urge you to print off a copy of this blog post, format it nicely so it reads well, and drop it in the mail to Delia and the editors of the Sunday Times op/ed page. You can’t assume that those old fogies are looking at blogs, Twitter or anything published online. They live in their own dis-reality bubble of kvetching oldsters hauling big piles of dead tree media around the Upper West Side where invisible Citibikes are whizzing by at high-speed always almost killing them.

  7. Argh! permalink
    October 21, 2013 10:40 am

    Bikes only entered my consciousness about 3 years ago, but since then I’ve been amazed at how many were in TV shows and movies. Even Seinfeld, one of the most bizarrely pro-car shows in the 90s. If you look closely at the street scenes of Seinfeld, especially when they are “in” a car, you invariably see a bicycle.

    • wkgreen permalink
      October 21, 2013 11:09 am

      You might also notice in those old re-runs, the ubiquitous 2 wheeler that Jerry kept hanging upside down in his apartment, although he never rode it and it was never mentioned.

  8. NY not blue...really? permalink
    October 21, 2013 11:01 am

    NY deosnt have blue as part of its city colors? Maybe she forgot that every friggin sports team in NY is blue. I’m glad that the nimbys have been reduced to such useless tactics

    • ADN permalink
      October 21, 2013 11:29 am

      Who can ever forget the great Steven Bochco police television drama of the 1990’s, “NYPD Fuchsia.”

  9. October 21, 2013 11:11 am

    Blue and orange have been the colors of the city since the Dutch founded New Amsterdam in the 1600s. But don’t let a detail like that ruin your precious think-piece about how bikes are destroying the city.

  10. October 21, 2013 12:08 pm

    It’s the likes of Delia Ephron who have ruined this city.

  11. Arthnuld Manacatsuman permalink
    October 21, 2013 12:09 pm

    “Our city, if you look around, isn’t a blue city…our city is browns, grays, greens and brick red.”

    She has a point. This muted color preference runs deep through the city’s history, exemplified by that Gershwin piece, now synonymous with New York City, “Rhapsody In Brown, Gray, Green And Brick Red.”

  12. invisiblevisibleman permalink
    October 21, 2013 12:16 pm

    People’s resistance to associating blue and New York City must have really put people off ever filming the city’s police force in their uniforms. There must be disproportionately few TV shows and movies featuring them as a result.

  13. ADN permalink
    October 21, 2013 12:21 pm

    And, of course, let’s not forget Duke Ellington’s famous song, “Take the D Train.” He would have called it “Take the A Train” except that particular subway line is represented by the color blue.

  14. October 21, 2013 12:23 pm

    Where is the “like” button on the comments? I’d be clicking like a monkey on crack.

  15. Eric McClure permalink
    October 21, 2013 12:57 pm

    This just in: the New York Giants have realized that their 0-6 start is due to their blue uniforms. Will now be known as “Big Brown.”

  16. Alex permalink
    October 21, 2013 1:03 pm

    Please ignore all that water surrounding us in NYC. It ruins our character. Real shame it’s not as polluted as it used to be.

  17. October 21, 2013 5:34 pm

    Thank you for pointing out the fiction that travel lanes go from 3 to 2 on 9th Avenue ever. I suppose there is not muni-meter parking on the east side of 9th south of 18th Street, but that’s not the same as loss of a travel lane.

    I’m a little shocked that the Times didn’t fact-check that detail successfully.

  18. October 21, 2013 5:35 pm

    “Say what you will about Citi, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable explaining what a checking account is to my daughter.”
    You and BikeSnob took this to a whole new level. I can’t stop laughing.

  19. Jooltman permalink
    October 21, 2013 6:34 pm

    Yes, Clarence’s pick was my favorite quote too. All I know is I painted my toes CitiBike blue a few weeks ago and have never gotten as many compliments…even from complete strangers! NYC loves blue.

  20. October 21, 2013 6:53 pm

    FWIW, the bench in the scene in “Manhattan” was put there for the movie. Maybe the plant, too.

  21. marcagger3474 permalink
    October 21, 2013 7:13 pm

    Genius mr Gordon, simply genius.
    Thanks
    M

  22. Steve Faust permalink
    October 21, 2013 11:20 pm

    Green with envy, you are, Delia.

    Not having fun, are you? Cyclists moving faster than you can walk? And faster than you can move in a taxi? And paying a lot less for the honor? Others having fun so cheap, can’t stand it?

    “As it happens, the bike was going the wrong way and I was crossing against the light.”
    “That’s what New Yorker’s do. When we walk we don’t pay attention to lights. That’s practically the definition of a New Yorker:…”

    Really? Didn’t your Mother teach you to look both ways before crossing the street – particularly when crossing on the red?
    No? She didn’t? It would have been against the “New Yorker” Code?
    What can we say?
    Sorry?
    I don’t think so.

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