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Ginia Bellafante and John Cassidy drive into a bar.

April 28, 2013


ABOVE: A tweet from the New York Times’ Ginia Bellafante. There are no bike share stations in San Francisco yet. When the system launches, most likely in 2014, the stations will be designed and operated by Alta, the same company operating New York’s system. Bellafante also tweeted that Los Angeles will “NEVER” get a bike share program.

When The New Yorker magazine’s John Cassidy published the first of two fact- and reason-deprived anti-bike lane screeds in 2011, Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek called it “a seminal document of New York City’s bike lane backlash era.”

The same can now be said for Ginia Bellafante’s “The Bikes and the Fury”, which does for bike share what Cassidy did for bike lanes. I’m sure a dumber story is yet to be written about the city’s highly anticipated bicycle sharing program, but it will probably appear in the Post or the Daily News, making the level of idiocy far less head-slappingly surprising than what Bellafante achieved on April 27th, 2013.

Herewith, my take on Bellafante’s most ridiculous paragraphs and lines, which is to say almost the entire piece.

In a very short time, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to show the world that they are just as virtuous, well-intentioned and offended by sloth as people in Copenhagen or Geneva or any other of a number of cities where mindful living and wonderful yogurts reign. The city’s long-anticipated bike share program is scheduled to make its debut in May, allowing New Yorkers to pick up and deposit rental bikes at hundreds of locations, most of them, so far, in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods. Anyone waking up on a Sunday morning in TriBeCa, finding nothing in her refrigerator and hankering to go to Smorgasburg in Dumbo, Brooklyn, for instance, will now be able to do that with relative ease.

In her effort to set a record for most cliches in a lede paragraph, Bellafante reveals that she has no idea what bike share really is: transportation. Although both neighborhoods make for convenient examples of New York’s bourgeois enclaves, a person waking up to an empty refrigerator in TriBeCa probably isn’t riding to the Smorgasburg in Dumbo. What she might do, however, is ride from her apartment in TriBeCa to the Whole Foods… in TriBeCa.

Now that the metal stalls and kiosks where bikes will be stationed are turning up in parts of Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan, the theater of operations in the war among cyclists and drivers and pedestrians has expanded and multiplied and bred new factions, even though the bike share program itself has been shown to have widespread support in polling.

Seventy-two percent approval, in fact, so my guess is that there are no new factions at all, just the same old factions targeting their anti-change, pro-parking rage at the latest and most dramatic examples of a city that’s changing faster than ever before. And the fronts in this “war” are the same as ever: brownstone Brooklyn and large swaths of Manhattan. (Sorry, Columbus Avenue, you’ll have to sit this one out!)

…Jacques Capsouto sat down on the curb to protest the placement of a bike rack in front his restaurant, Capsouto Freres on Washington Street, which possibly blocked a service entrance.

There is, of course, no way for a reporter to verify whether the “bike rack” actually blocked a service entrance, since all subway service between Times Square and Canal Street shuts down the minute anyone keys the letters, b, i, k, and e into a Times-owned computer.

The Friends of Petrosino Square, in SoHo, have fought the installation of a station close to the park of which they are advocates, believing that it would intensify traffic and impede safety. Such are the tempers in certain quarters that one member of the group created signage that called the Department of Transportation, which began the program, the “Department of Tyranny.”

Friends of Petrosino Square, the SoHo Alliance, and others aligned with Sean Sweeney believe that everything will “intensify traffic and impede safety,” even high-end furniture stores. But give Bellafante credit: by attributing a derogatory nickname for the DOT to a sign made by someone in one of these groups, she can get her dig in at Janette “Sadist-Con” by bending, but not completely stooping to Andrea Peyser or Steve Cuozzo levels.

It is hard to imagine that four decades ago, in early May 1971, fires were set and windows were smashed in the far reaches of Brooklyn in protest of cuts to Medicaid and other social programs, when so often now it is matters of lifestyle and taste that inspire our most expressive displays of contention and ire — our quaint revolutionary gestures.

Actually, if you look beyond brownstone Brooklyn to places like Brownsville and East Brooklyn, you’ll still find a significant number of people living in poverty and in constant fear of cuts to life-saving social programs such as Medicaid. Some of these issues might even make great stories for the Metro section. But hey, bikes!

On Wednesday night, a litany of grievances were heard at a town-hall meeting in Clinton Hill, in Brooklyn, which had been organized by Councilwoman Letitia James to address concerns about the way in which the bike program was unfolding.

A litany of praise and excitement were also heard, but there are newspapers to be sold and page views to be generated, for pete’s sake. This is no time for balance!

It is hard not to feel as though that strain of dispute might have been squelched if the bikes had been brought to us by Whole Foods, rather than an organization whose subprime mortgage dealings helped bring about the financial crisis.

Riiiiight. If the two ultimate symbols of gentrification — Whole Foods and bicycles — were combined into one parking-space-eating Frankenstein’s monster, the NIMBY-fueled supernova would be so powerful that it would destroy all life on this planet and any others on which intelligent life exists solely for the purpose of drinking lattes.

But even now, in an era of hyper-localization, of neighborhood blogs and Patch sites, many of us have little sense of what our community boards are doing, little time to pay attention, and the boards in turn often are short-staffed and cannot possibly disseminate information on every issue.

Bellafante, translated: “Even though there are many more ways to learn about things that will impact my community than at any time in the city’s history, there are also many more ways to ignore such information. ” Therefore, Janette Sadik-Khan made a critical error when she did not write personalized notes and hand-deliver them to every one of New York City’s eight million residents.

A friend of mine, who generally keeps abreast of things, learned of a bike station going up near her apartment in Brooklyn Heights only when she witnessed it being installed. “New York is too mean for this,” she told one of the workers. “We’ll see,” he responded.

A person gives an unsolicited opinion about how mean New York is to a Citi Bike crew member, who then responds with the polite-to-neutral “We’ll see,” barely rising to take the anger bait Bellafante’s friend was clearly dangling. So this doesn’t exactly provide the kind of Ratso Rizzo color Bellafante might have hoped this anecdote would impart. I’m always amazed by how much the city’s bike haters, those self-professed defenders of the “real” New York, actually hate this place. “New York is dangerous,” they seem to say, “but we should do nothing at all to make it safer.”

So if you’re looking forward to New York joining the ranks of London, DC, Paris, Minneapolis, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and any of dozens upon dozens of cities that either already have or will soon have bike sharing programs, take heart! It took at least a year of angry community board meetings and relentless attacks in the tabloids before Cassidy took the bikelash to its nadir of absurdity. The time between the first appearance of Citi Bike stations on Brooklyn streets to Bellafante’s column? Just twenty days!

  1. Eric McClure permalink
    April 28, 2013 10:59 pm

    DG for the win!

  2. April 28, 2013 11:13 pm

    Ha! I couldn’t decide on nadir or zenith for that last graf. Does absurdity reach a peak or trough?

  3. April 29, 2013 9:49 am

    Awesome. Well done, well ‘Spoke!

  4. April 29, 2013 11:36 am

    Don’t hold back, DG. Tell me how you really feel.

  5. MFS permalink
    April 29, 2013 12:14 pm

    I actually didn’t read this as a screed against bike share, but rather an ambivalent display of some of the more ridiculous arguments verbatim without judgement.

    • April 29, 2013 12:28 pm

      I was inclined to read it that way at first, but when I saw Bellafante’s tweets her unstated intention became more clear. She’s no fan of bike share, at least in here NYC.

      I think there’s a way to write the story you suggest, an analysis of some of the arguments occurring around the city concerning bike share, while being fair to both sides. But it can and perhaps should be done without the dismissive opening about virtue and sloth or the lack of fact checking concerning the “possibly” blocked service entrance. And I think the story’s kicker about NYC being “too mean” imparts its own form of judgment, even if it isn’t specifically in Bellafante’s voice.

      • MFS permalink
        April 29, 2013 2:01 pm

        Good point!

  6. Alex Blaze permalink
    April 29, 2013 1:43 pm

    My city (Paris) got bike share a while back, and over the last decade every city, even the small ones, has a bike share system in France. Surprisingly, the French were ahead of the curve on this one in Europe, and I’ll also admit that not every city needs a bike share (St-Etienne, for example, was built on a slope in between two hills. It’s just not a bike town).

    Once again drivers fail to realize that cars lose the “which transport is worse” contest by any objective criterion (space needed to park, pollution, noise, congestion, time of travel, etc).

    Bike racks take up space? Right, and parking lots don’t take up any space at all.

    You think bikes are dangerous? Look up and compare bike and car fatalities.

    You think bike riders are snobs? Car owners feel that they have a right to an area the size of a bedroom, for free, anywhere they go. Heck, driving’s the most expensive way to get around town, and if the word “snob” means anything then it has to be at least correlated with income.

    Frankly, the best reason car owners have to hate bikes and public transport is that, as more viable alternatives to driving are built, it’ll be easier to ban cars in urban areas. NYC’s at least a century away from that, but drivers will have to be on better behavior to stave off that day.

    That means less killing pedestrians and each other, less honking for no reason, and being less demanding about parking. I know it’ll break their hearts.

  7. April 29, 2013 2:08 pm

    San Francisco, launching summer 2013.

  8. April 29, 2013 3:10 pm

    • It’s true, I never got a personal missive from JSK. And I’ve been sitting by the mailbox, like Charlie Brown on Valentine’s Day.

  9. JJ in Fort Greene permalink
    April 29, 2013 4:49 pm

    The 1971 Medicaid shit was juvenile, like she’s making fun of people for focusing on petty first world problems when back in the day they had real issues to worry about. Then here she is doing the exact same thing!

  10. James permalink
    April 29, 2013 8:11 pm

    Awesome post, DG! Bellafante is all over the map with her reasoning! I mean, who’s the real elitist? You almost want to stand back and let all the shittiness implode on itself. I am so excited for bike share to coincide with the Month of May (well, for bike share in general!) I am peeing my pants! I experienced Minneapolis’ bike share last June with my husband and positively loved it, never having seen anything like it before. I can’t really own a bike since our tiny East Village apt won’t accommodate it so this can’t come sooner!

  11. April 29, 2013 8:53 pm

    Thanks, James! Your point about having a tiny apartment illustrates another great advantage of bike share that some of our media class fails to understand. It’s going to be huge for anyone who can’t own a bike for just the reason you state.

  12. April 30, 2013 9:30 am

    Oh, you mean this Ginia Bellafante?

    “This rubbernecking style of journalism is particularly dangerous right now because it amounts to criticizing a burning house for the color of its curtains.”


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