The Embarrassing Laziness of Ginia Bellafante’s Bike-Share Kvetchfest

The grass might be greener in San Francisco, but ##https://twitter.com/GiniaNYT/status/328507062403350528##bike-share stations don't actually exist there yet##.

I wish I could say I was surprised that the Times published Ginia Bellafante’s collection of stereotypes and gripes about bike-share in the Sunday edition. But it’s exactly the kind of shallow kvetchfest I’ve come to expect when the Times tries to encapsulate the state of bike-related public policy. Mostly I’m just embarrassed, as a New Yorker and a journalist, that the most prestigious newspaper in our city keeps publishing stuff like this.

It’s 2013 and public bike systems are operating in 500 cities worldwide, according to the Earth Policy Institute. Two of those cities — Boston and Washington, DC — are less than 250 miles from New York and have a few years of bike-share experience under their belts. Once bike-share launches here, it’s going to help a lot of people overcome some quintessential New York transportation problems. Ever try to cross Manhattan at faster-than-walking speed? Wish you could get to the train quicker on your morning commute? A bike-share membership is going to save you a lot of time.

So it’s cringe-inducing to read Bellafante’s lede about bike-share bringing New Yorkers “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.” Meanwhile, those yogurt-loving sophisticates in Columbus, Ohio, will be getting a downtown bike-share system this summer.

Bellafante’s rehash of pre-launch bike-share complaints here in NYC could have used some perspective from other cities. Here’s Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert reminiscing about the pre-launch apprehension in DC, and how it melted away once people got familiar with the system:

DC saw some contentious public meetings about whether stations belonged in certain neighborhoods. That’s all long gone. Now, when an ANC takes up bike sharing, it’s usually either to push for more stations or debate whether a station belongs in one spot or across the street…

The system will open, and residents will realize that bike sharing is nothing like their worst fears. Neighbors will clamor for stations.

But why bother to check out the experience of other cities when your “aggrieved neighbor” is already feeding you such quality information?

  • J

    I know! Of all cities to compare NYC to, a city that doesn’t even have bike share? How about Kansas City?

  • J

    Well said, Ben. This article is so symptomatic of the NYC bias. So many NYers think the city is so different from the rest of the world, that they can’t be bothered to actually learn from the experiences people have had elsewhere. For such a global city, it’s an extremely insular mindset, and it’s rampant.

  • Ari

    YES.

    Tish James, as great as she was at last week’s community meeting, talked about “global warming” and “asthma” prevention as the main positives of bike share. No, the main positives of Bike Share are improving access to/from areas without subways, easing crosstown travel (in Manhattan and northern Brooklyn), and saving busy New Yorkers precious time.

  • The good news is that I’m sure all these other cities had cranky columnists who spun yarns of societal decline ahead of those bikeshare launches, and it didn’t make a difference in the end. As provincial as NYC can be, it’s likely to be the same case here. Also, the DOT, and the administration in general, has been mostly prepared for additional blowback. It’ll get launched, it’ll be great, and then it’ll be political poison to even discuss restricting bikeshare access for anyone.

  • Anonymous

    In my opinion, Ms. Bellafante did get one point right: you can find better-tasting yogurt in Europe.

  • dk12

    eh – it’s just more of NYC’s self-importance rearing its ugly head. The city will eventually embrace bike share and rebrand it as their own like they do every single other cultural shift that was imported from someplace else. I’m sure in a few years we’ll be hearing about how it was invented in NYC – just as the 1990s college-town ethos somehow originated in Brooklyn a decade later.

  • Anonymous

    Fun fact– All bikeshare stations powered by a 100% renewable energy source: NIMBY tears.

  • James Reefer

    Well, most of the boroughs are actually islands…

  • James Reefer

    Kansas City has a bike share system.

    http://kansascity.bcycle.com/

  • IIRC, she also believed bike share was (already) responsible for double-parking on Myrtle.

  • Anonymous

    I think That was J’s point. SF’s bikeshare, which Ginia compares NYC’s bikeshare to in her tweet, doesn’t.

    Just goes to show how much research she put into this article.

  • Ari

    Right. I don’t see how parked cars were any different. But I decided not to question her, since it was her meeting and she did a good job.

  • Morris Zapp

    Streetsblog should really stop driving up Times page views.

  • Gah, this was just embarrassing for the Times. I don’t know why they don’t make more use of Michael Kimmelman on these subjects. Unless they don’t want someone with an understanding of urbanism and the built environment to detract from their desire to compete with the tabloids . . . yeah.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I have no idea who these people are. What I do know is that back in the day you had journalists who stayed on a beat for decades, and after ten years or so they knew as much as the people they were interviewing. They felt qualified to put things in perspective, rather than writing everything as a “he said she said.”

    Not so much anymore. Particularly since the news is part of the entertainment industry, and the goal is to cut costs.

  • Anonymous

    To me the most annoying evidence of Bellafonte’s laziness is that she describes the stations as “metal stalls,” but the part of those stations that can justly be called “stalls” aren’t made of metal–at least not visibly. They’re fiberglass/plastic/Lord-only-knows-what but they’re not metal!

    She clearly didn’t even bother to look at a single one of them. Not one.

  • No, but her “aggrieved neighbor” did.

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure her aggrieved neighbor doubles as Tom Friedman’s cabbie.

  • Joe R.

    Look on the bright side. I’m sure bike share will be a resounding success regardless of what self-important clueless morons like Ms. Bellafante write. Better yet, once bike share is established, it’ll make any talk in the next administration of removing bike lanes a political third rail. At the same time, the old guard will start fading into oblivion. There was an article on DC Streetsblog last week about the continued decline of driving. I wonder what these people will have to say when their primary audience (people with cars) starts to die off or otherwise lose influence. You can bet they’ll change their tune, or risk irrelevance.

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately, the primary areas with no subway access aren’t even included in phase 3 of bike share. I’m referring of course to the far flung parts of Queens and Brooklyn, and most of Staten Island. Yes, bike share is great for those trips in Manhattan or Brooklyn where the subway really doesn’t work, but in the end I hope the system is more inclusive.

    As for global warming and asthma, those are lousy things to tout as one of the advantages of bike share. Just mentioning global warming in any context gets the global warming deniers all fired up. Realistically, most bike share users will be people who would have walked or taken the subway, not driven. This will be true until it reaches the outer boroughs where *maybe* it can replace car trips more often than not. Hint to Tish James based on my long experience posting online about the negatives of car use-avoid either stretching the truth or using global warming. Just stick to the facts. I always just say car use causes cancer and asthma, early deaths due to collisions, plus costly wars to secure fuel supplies. That’s already enough negatives. I see far too many who support non-cars shooting themselves in the foot by mentioning global warming as the first, often only, reason for their position. That never works, and it makes many people shut down before you even start talking.

  • Mike

    This is typical of the Times. When they encounter earnestness they like to mock it, especially if the people in question are like them — white, well educated, and relatively affluent, which many in the pro-bike movement are. I don’t know what it is that turns them off about seeing their peers show passion about something, but I don’t expect sympathetic coverage anytime soon.

  • Anonymous

    It’s like they’re too cool to admit they’re part of that crowd.

    But, since it’s their fellow “yuppies,” it’s fun for them to just point and laugh.

    Except transportation and mobility are much more important to be treated as “niche” hobbies.

    This is an argument for diversity in the newsrooms.

  • Ben Kintisch

    I actually subscribe – we get the weekender. And I found myself groaning out loud!

  • Ben Kintisch

    Joe,
    We’ve seen in DC that bike share needs to start small geographically and expand in time. Our initial system is bigger than any other in the country, right from the get-go. Then, in time, it will continually expand and expand. Soon, the conversation changes from “Why is there a bike share station here?” to “When does bike share come to our neighborhood?” I think the enthusiasts on this blog and elsewhere are already there, and I know some of the city council members from Queens have complained of the minimal Citibike presence in their borough.

  • anon

    And Scott Templeton’s young fan of the Orioles.

  • Yogurt schmogurt, I want to ride my élitist bike-share bike to get some Blue Bottle coffee. Exactly as I do in San Francisco.

  • The _Boston_Globe_ wrote this alarmist hit piece when Hubway launched: http://bo.st/qPL2U2

    More recently, they reported on its runaway success, without even mentioning their earlier paranoid article: http://bo.st/vQoAPZ

  • @Ari – Because Gawd forbid anyone mention the second-order effects of our dominant grand transportation mode?

  • Charles_Siegel

    She doesn’t like people who are “virtuous” and “well-intentioned,” because she is not one of them.

  • J

    The experience in DC actually shows the exact opposite. The first system, Smartbike, was way too small and failed to attract many riders, and it was only when a much larger system started that it actually took off. Like any transit system, the system is only as good as the places it connects to. Luckily when the NYC system launches, it will connect a massively number of destinations, including transit networks which then connect to even more destinations.

    Politically, though, I think you’re right about starting in places that are bike-friendly. Once this thing is up and running, the opposition will fade VERY quickly.

  • J

    I think bikeshare will attract more drivers than you might expect. I bet a good number of people who’s commutes could either be commuter rail + slow bus/long walk or drive, may tend to drive at present. With bikeshare, there would be a quick way to get from the station to office, so they may bike instead. Same with getting to/from destinations a long walk from subways, where many people just say screw it and drive. In Brooklyn, many awkward subway connections can be avoided by taking a bikeshare part of the way. There are tons of possibilities, but yes, most will be transit users.

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