You can take your “Citibikes” and shove ’em, Bloomberg!

Readers of World War 4 Report will know that we are implacable enemies of the pathological global car culture, pillar of petro-oligarchical rule, and support the ultimate abolition of the internal combustion engine. And readers will know that your chief blogger is a long-suffering New York City bicyclist. So we would really like to take heart in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial measures to accommodate bicycles. But since the very start, it has all smelled suspicious to us. The “congestion pricing” plan to charge motorists to enter Manhattan struck us as a prescription for turning the island into a sort of Manhattanland tourist theme park; the closing of large sections of Times Square to cars has coincided with administration of this “public” space being turned over nearly completely to the Times Square Alliance BID; plans to bar cars from the East Village’s Cooper Square are similarly concomitant with delivering the historic plaza over to Cooper Union college and New York University as a virtually privatized space. Now, the plans for a bicycle-sharing program vindicate our worst fears…

A page on Hizzoner’s own eponymous news service, Bloomberg, sports a photo of the atrocities that well-heeled New Yorkers will be riding around on—dubbed “Citibikes,” and each one sporting the goddam Citibank logo! And while the pricing scheme for the Citibikes is incomprehensibly complicated (Gothamist makes a stab at explaining it), there seems to be a $9.95 base price for single-day use, with an additional $4 for an hour’s use. So a one-time hour-long ride will cost… 14 bucks?!?! This is a “bicycle-sharing” program for people who habitually take cabs, it seems. (By Gothamist’s math, a four-hour ride would cost $77!) The Transportation Nation blog tells us that Mastercard, which is also kicking in a few million for the program, will operate the payment system. Which we assume means: no cash accepted, of course.

A double insult! Having some sinister corporation get to splash its logo all over the bikes would be bad enough! And having the program be ludicrously overpriced would be bad enough! But… both?!

The bicycle-sharing programs in most European cities are free. Yuppies using the Citibike program will never know that the first bike-sharing program was pioneered in Amsterdam in the ’60s by a radical counterculture group, the Provos. Before the city government got on board later, the Provos’ “White Bicycle” initiative was an “underground” program launched in spite of the authorities, and celebrated in the acid-rock anthem “My White Bicycle.” And now, two generations later, it has come to… this?! Like all of Bloomberg’s supposed pro-bicycle measures, this represents sinister elite recuperation of progressive, revolutionary ideas.

We are also increasingly convinced that these measures are doing more harm than good. Even as they spark a backlash from reactionary motorheads, they may actually be restricting the freedom and safety of cyclists. We’ve already heard stories of cyclists being ticketed for not being in the bike lane. Motorists meanwhile seem to think they are not obliged to respect any cyclist’s right to the road on that overwhelming majority of the city’s streets that don’t have bike lanes! This blogger was riding on one of those streets yesterday, Brooklyn’s Myrtle Ave., when (yet again!) a bus driver cut me off and came within inches and micro-seconds of killing me. When I caught up with him at the next bus-stop and got in his face, I didn’t just get the usual arrogant and dismissive ‘tude—he had the nerve to say, “There’s no bike lane on this street!” Idiot! Idiot!! Idiot!!! As if any cyclist on a street with no bike lane is nothing but roadkill waiting to happen.

You’d think it would have occurred to Bloomberg to instruct his notoriously pro-bicycle transportation commish Janette Sadik-Khan to have a little talk with MTA chair Joseph Lhota and tell him to make sure bus drivers know that bicyclists have a right to the road! Hellooo…? Instead, the MTA seems to be instructing their drivers that cyclists have no rights.

The Transportation Department has put up signs at certain dangerous intersections with an image of a bicycle and the words “SHARE THE ROAD.” Some do-gooders have left white-painted “ghost bikes” at places around the city where cyclists have been killed. It is all an exercise in futility that makes no impact on the mentality of motorists. I even had a motorist cut me off while indicating the sign and shouting at me: “SHARE THE ROAD!”—as if the sign were admonishing bicyclists to share the road with motorists! These are all ultimately counterproductive compromise measures that only forestall the inevitable solution: banning cars from New York City.

And, eventually, the world.

See our last posts on corporate rule and urban dystopia in New York City.

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  1. Bikeshare is for short trips
    You buy a membership ($10 for one day, or $95 for one year). The daily membership clearly is expensive, but the annual is a pretty good deal, at just about a quarter of a dollar per day. Then the rides are free, within reason. With the annual membership, you get unlimited 45-minute rides.

    The idea is that you’ll ride point-to-point and drop of the bikes. Most actual trips are pretty short, under three miles, so there’s more than enough time to do them for free. Even if you are really hard-core, you can probably bike between one end of the service area to the other in under 45 minutes. If not, you can dock your bike somewhere in the middle and take it again, thus extending your free time another 45 minutes.

    The idea of using bikeshare for four-hour trips is absurd. Where would you store it safely when not in use? (It has no lock, and the replacement fee if it is stolen is $1000.) Or would you ride this 40-pound clunky bike continuously on a four-hour ride around the countryside? If you want to do that, rent a bike for a day at a bike shop. You’ll get a bike that’s better for long rides and that’s much cheaper.

    By the way, bikeshare is not free in most European cities. Perhaps that was the case in Amsterdam in the 1960s, but if you look at modern bikeshares in places such as London, Paris, or Rome, they use basically the same scheme as New York (although admittedly with lower prices).

  2. Yes, they will kill to wait at a traffic light
    This June 26 story from amNewYork puts all the prattle about how bicycle-friendly Bloomberg has made NYC in some perspective.

    The city has been making a big push for its upcoming bike-share program, but City Comptroller John Liu warned Monday that it could be both a safety and financial liability.

    Liu sent a report to the city Department of Transportation urging the agency to improve the Citi Bike plan, which will offer New Yorkers 10,000 two-wheelers for rent at 600 kiosks spread throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan starting next month.

    Although Liu said he supports the program, he accused the DOT of not making sure it was 100% secure for bike riders, drivers and pedestrians.

    “Being pro bike must go hand in hand with being pro safety,” he said.

    Liu made several recommendations to the DOT, including mandating helmets for all Citi Bike users.

    In 2010, there were 368 bicycle related crashes, 19 of which resulted in a fatality, Liu’s report said.

    From 2004 to 2009, the city had the highest fatality rate from bike wrecks in North America, according to a Rutgers University study cited in Liu’s report.

    “Riding the streets of Manhattan isn’t comparable to riding the streets of any other city,” Liu said at news conference.

    Now, we do not share Liu’s calls for mandatory helmets, because this could set a precedent for applying this to cyclists generally, and there are already enough restrictions on cyclists’ liberty, thank you. But we are glad he has brought the Rutgers study to the public’s attention. (Although, note the account’s jaundiced use of the term “bike wreck” as opposed to “cars hitting bikes.”)

    Meanwhile, your blogger has had a few more brushes with death over the past weeks. In another illustration of how bicycle lanes are counter-productive… I had to swerve out of the bike lane and into the traffic stream because there was a parked car blocking the bike lane (this happens all the time). The motorist behind me (in a big Mac truck, no less) actually sped up to intentionally menace me, while yelling “Get into the bike lane!” And then (of course), the light at the intersection was red anyway, so he was just hurrying up to sit waiting a few extra seconds for the light to change. He gambled with my life completely gratuitously.

    Obviously, this is inherently irrational behavior, yet it is practically universal. Systems theory tells us that the function of a system is what it does. We may think that the function of the automotive transport system is to move people around, but endless gridlock tells us that it is actually a very poor way of doing that. In its actual function, this system serves to a.) take carbon from the bowels of the earth and put it in the atmosphere, thereby destabilizing the planet’s climate, b.) displace greenery and communities with seas of choking asphalt, and c.) turn people into flaming assholes.

    Abolish it.

  3. Enforcing traffic policy from below —against the cops
    From Brooklyn Paper, Aug. 1:

    Cyclist’s makeshift bike lane barricade stops cops cars from blocking path
    A vigilante cyclist jury-rigged a street barrier to keep cop cars from double-parking on a Prospect Heights bike lane.

    Bike lane booster Ian Dutton set up half a dozen waist-high orange traffic cylinders alongside an often obstructed cycling route in front of the 78th Precinct stationhouse, creating a makeshift “protected lane” on Bergen Street near Flatbush Avenue…

    His do-it-yourself infrastructure disappeared last week then reappeared on Tuesday, causing a buzz among bikers who say the guerilla-style lane divider is a sign that cyclists feel vulnerable riding on the traffic-heavy stretch of street — and that cops ought to respect the rules of the road.

    “It’s hard to use a lane if the NYPD is using it as a parking lot,” said cyclist Mitch Sonies.

    No kidding.

  4. Honk if you’re against noise pollution. D’oh!

    So look what oh-so-politicallty-correct NYC Transportation commish Janette Sadik-Khan is up to now—a craven capitulation to honking culture. From Gothamist, Jan. 29:

    Oh, "Don't Honk" signs, we hardly knew ye. After first moving to the city of New York at the behest of then-Mayor Ed Koch, the signs are packing up their bags and returning to whence they came. They weren't even 30 years old.

    We've known that nobody actually listens to "Don't Honk" signs for some time, and apparently the DOT has now decided to do something about it. According to the Times the Department has been slowly removing all of the essentially useless signage from the city (the better to declutter the streets), with the last expected to come down by the end of the year. But this is New York, so not everyone is happy about this development.

    Councilwoman Gale Brewer, for instance, tells the Times she gets a steady stream of requests for the signs on the Upper West Side (raise your hand if you are surprised) and has written the DOT commissioner about her distaste for the change. "The notion of taking down information when information is so hard to get in New York City is pretty bad.," she said.

    But the DOT isn't particularly interested, it seems. Spokesman Seth Solomonow tells the paper of record that the agency is "not aware of any evidence that the signs have had any impact at locations where they’ve been installed." The other big problem with the signs? Unnecessary honking in the city is actually just flat out not kosher, but because of the signs some people think it is only verboten in those particular locations. This deals with that problem.

    Actually, there is a point there. And we acknoweldged above that the signage is an exercise in futility. But it raises the question of whether the city will take other, more effective measures to crack down on the incessant, maddening, aggressive horn-learning. And also whether Sadik-Khan  will get it through her head that the same logic applies to bike lanes—motorists now think it is OK to terrorize bicyclists on streets that don't have them.

    Are you reading this, Janette?

  5. NYPD attacks bicyclists —again
    Gothamist reports Aug. 20 on the plight of Emily Dalton, 25, who sustained a nasty bruise on her elbow after being thrown from her bike by a police officer who wanted to ticket her for running a red light on Eighth Ave. The cop apparently grabbed her handle-bars and sent her flying in order to stop her. As all New York cyclists know, running red lights when there is no cross-traffic actually make for safer streets, because it keeps cyclists ahead of and separate from cars, for a block or two at least, minimizing risk of collission.  Except that now doing so can get you assaulted by the guardians of “public safety”!

    This is rendered even more perverse by the fact that cops are now (illegally, we believe) ticketing cyclists for riding outside of bicycle lanes. One activist by the name of Casey Neistat received such a ticket two years ago, and made a video which has since gone viral , in which he filmed himself trying to ride obediently without swerving out of the bike lane—and being sent flying numerous times by idling vehicles blocking his way (including cop cars!)

    A little masochistic, but it sure makes the point. 

  6. No, you are not safe in the bicycle lanes
    A maddening report from San Francisco Aug. 26 on the Wigg Party blog on the case of 24-year-old  Amelie Le Moullac who was killed by a truck that swerved into the bike lane on Folsom Street. It appears the driver was not even ticketed, much less charged with anything. The police initially said they went around to local businesses to see if the “accident” was caught on video. Then, an citizen investigator went around the businesses himself and asked if the police had checked with them. They hadn’t, and this citizen investigator, Marc Caswell, was able to recover video footage of the “accident” from an auto parts shop! 

    Don’t anyone tell us that a driver’s licence isn’t a license to kill.

  7. Have I been exploited in anti-bicycle propaganda?

    The version of the above anti-CitiBikes rant that ran in The Villager this year resulted in my being interviewed in Tompkins Square Park by film-maker Heather Quinlan for a short she was making about bicycle-related controversies in New York City, entitled Spoke. I dutifully regurgitated my spiel criticizing CitiBikes and bike lanes for her camera, taking pains to make clear that my critique is pro-bicycle, and also urging her to speak with Transportation Alternatives or Time's Up for a less critical view. Now her film is out (see links at Brooklyn Bugle, Curbed NY, Brokelyn), and it opens and closes with Yours Truly singing the praises of bicycles, but sandwiched in between are several anti-bicycle ranters—and not a word from either Trasnportation Alternatives or Time's Up. (The text at the Bugle link says Quinlan requested an interview with Paul Steely White from Transportation Alternatives, but was turned down.)

    Have I been taken for a ride? (So to speak.) I stand behind everything I said, but I also feel a little manipulated. Most maddening is that in the Bugle piece one of my anti-car quotes ("The streets are dominated by toxic-belching death machines in a Darwinian death race") is juxtaposed with an anti-bicycle quote from sanitation worker Ben Lee (maybe one of those who menace cyclsists with his multi-ton toxin-belching death machine): "My dad escaped North Korea so he wouldn't have to ride a bike to work. And here we are in the greatest city in the world, and people want to ride their bike to work. I don't get it."

    How mind-bogglingly depressing. Right, never mind the prison camps, the torture gulag, the leader-worship, the complete lack of political freedom—nah, the real problem with North Korea is… bicycles! File under "WTF?!" Perhaps the only good thing the North Korean tyranny is doing is promoting bicycles—if not for the right reasons, but simply as a necessity given the scarcity of oil. As we've noted, the eclipse of bicycle culture by car culture has been a tragedy of China's capitalist transition—resulting in the terrifying recent episodes of killer smog gripping Beijing and Harbin.

    As we've noted, North Korea and Cuba have both been forced to face the post-petroleum future, due to similar circumstances of enforced economic isolation. The rest of the planet is going to have to face this same future, eventually. Which will come first? Industrial collapse brought on by "peak oil"? Ecological collapse brought on by the current wanton burning of oil? Or a rational controlled collapse—public seizure of the industrial apparatus and its dramatic downscaling and restructure along ecological and human-centered lines?

    We are working towards the last option, thank you. And everyone who rides a bicycle is a part of this solution—whether or not he or she actually realizes it.

  8. No, bicyclists should NOT have to follow ‘rules of the road’

    Kudos to Kjirsten Alexander of Transportation Alternatives for writing some forbidden truth in the Daily News: No, bicyclists shouldn't have to follow rules designed for cars, and the current crackdown on cyclists is utterly counterproductive. From a piece aptly entitled "It's dangerous out there for bikes — and doesn't have to be"…

    If Mayor de Blasio is truly concerned about safety, he must refocus the NYPD's enforcement strategy. In the last year according to city data, zero pedestrians were killed in crashes with cyclists. Car and truck drivers killed 105 pedestrians and 24 people on bikes. The risk is real, and it has nothing to do with me rolling cautiously through an intersection on my bicycle.

    Each day on my short ride to work, I encounter many aggressive drivers and 40 to 50 vehicles obliviously double-parked in the bike lane. Every time I have to leave the bike lane and merge with faster traffic to go around these parked vehicles, I face greater risk…

    De Blasio sees himself as a progressive mayor, but a policy of cracking down on people riding bikes while ignoring too much dangerous driving — including blocking the bike lane — is not progressive…

    Growing bike ridership is a good thing for this city: for health, for air quality, for relieving overcrowded trains, and for most efficient use of the public streets. It should be understood and supported by our law enforcement.

    But instead of supporting and protecting people on bikes and cracking down on unsafe driving, police are empowered to penalize even very cautious biking based on technicalities.

    As long as the mayor's NYPD targets cyclists who are trying to survive their every commute — and ignores drivers who put people in danger — New York can't be "the fairest big city in America," nor the most sustainable. It's time for de Blasio to unambiguously show his support for biking as a way for New Yorkers to get around. He must shift enforcement priorities without delay.

    Meanwhile I hope he hops on a bike the next time he heads to the gym or a meeting. He will soon understand what is at stake.

    Thank you.