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

Cross-posted from Brooklyn Spoke.

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 PMDon’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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