Pictured above, with removable Amoeba sticker, is one of the much talked about New York City CitiBikes that's part of the recently unveiled NYC bike share program - one of the topics covered in this latest (#38) New York State of Mind Amoeblog, with an in-depth review on the bikes by avid cyclist Jason Snyder. Scroll down to read what Jason had to say about the controversial new bike share program. Meantime, since it is the Fourth of July holiday tomorrow, there are numerous related events happening all around New York City to celebrate the occasion, including two big, free ones: Nathan's Famous Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Coney Island, and Macy's Annual Fourth of July Fireworks show. The Macy's event tomorrow night is THE fireworks show to see with a staggering total of 40,000 fireworks to be set off during the 25-minute show.
Like the once familiar New York City subway token coin - years ago made redundant when it was replaced by the thin plastic MetroCard with now very familiar blue lettering on goldenrod - so too now goes the Metropolitan Museum of Art's (aka The Met) famous buttons. Yes, those instantly recognizable small round metal buttons with a big M on them, which for so long were given upon entry to the world's largest museum, were retired this week by the Met. Consequently, visitors to New York City (or anyone visiting the museum) no longer have an indestructible lasting souvenir of their visit.
The colorful round metal buttons, which you would fold over and pop onto your shirt or jacket, acted as a paid admission receipt to the Met ever since they were introduced back in 1971. They came in 16 different colors, with a different one used daily. They also guaranteed you free entrance (on the same day only) to the associated Cloisters Museum and Gardens Met Annex all the way uptown at the top of Manhattan island.
For a good sampling of some young, up-and-coming New York City music and design talent, I recommend Saturday's (July 6th) showcase party, The Artistic Release: Influenza at 1501 Broadway Brooklyn, NY 11211. From 7:00pm to midnight there will be non-stop performances by Empire The Nation (check their video above for their Empire M.A.F.I.A. spinoff, which was filmed in part at Union Square), Weusi, Supreme, Lucy Flawless, Klassic, and Tonika Bacchus plus special guest designers Mojo Disco, Zippy, Massah GKU, Lara Diaz, Creative Persona and others all displaying their latest designs. On the ones and twos for the night will be DJ Kidphenomenal.
I reached out to the curators of this event, Hieroglyph Thesaurus, to ask why this party is special and why folks should consider attending.
"The Artistic Release is a monthly event that happens every first Saturday at 3rdeye(sol)ation Art Gallery," said the spokesman for the hip-hop trio adding that, "It is where artists of all types come together for a full cultural explosion of art, with live performers, live African band, poetry and spoken word open mic, free body painting, art exhibits, and vending tables by local designers. Any way an artist can express their art, we provide a platform so they can release it to the world." Music, art, design, poetry, and cupcakes - what more could you ask for? Admission is $10, or free if you get there early enough to be among first ten (doors at 7pm). More info here.
Already a big hit in cities round the world (and coming to San Francisco) is New York's bike share program, CitiBike NYC, which was recently unveiled after many delays. I love the system, in concept especially, and signed up, happily paying the nominal fee of $100 for one year's use. I love the bikes but had some issues with computer glitches in the system which resulted in not being able to unlock for use the thousands of sea blue CitiBikes (Citibank underwrites the program) around New York City. But since I only got to use the system for about a week before leaving town (and before the bugs in the system had been worked out), I invited my man, fellow New Yorker and all round good guy Jason Snyder - a self-described "daily bike commuter, a Transportation Alternatives member, a believer, a card-carrying stormtrooper from the all-powerful Bike Lobby the Wall Street Journal warned you about" - to write a review on the NYC bike share program for the Amoeblog. He happily and exhaustively did, going into nice details on the actual bikes, as well as analyzing the system and its various implications on transit in New York City. Here is what Jason wrote:
I want CitiBike to work, as I believe it will make for a cleaner, healthier, safer city. I also believe more riders will mean more bike infrastructure which will make my riding life easier. And I have a special place in my heart for bike shares because it was an extremely positive experience with Montreal's "bixi" system that got me back in the saddle again after 25 years.
The bikes: They're solid, literally and figuratively, basically fancy "cruisers" with huge tires and an upright riding position. They're also heavy, but that heft and the big tires come in handy on NYC's infamously awful pavement. (I'd use the analogy "third world" but that would be unfair to Mogadishu's road crews.) The weight does make them pokey which can be a liability when you're trying to take off from a green light with a half dozen cranky cabbies behind you.
I also find the brakes way too spongy. I often have to stop on a dime to avoid slamming into feckless tourists and cellphone-engrossed yuppies who suddenly step off the curb. I don’t understand why the brakes aren’t more responsive, as there's just no way you're gonna go over the handlebars with the speeds these things are capable of. There's a basket on the handlebars that's only semi-functional, as it lacks sides and features a short bungee cord that’s as stiff as a bridge cable. I'm sure some entrepreneur is right now Kickstarting an adapter for this.
On a personal note, I already write a huge monthly check to Citibank as ransom for my house, so seeing all their branding on the bikes and the stations isn't my idea of a positive visual environment. However, I hold out hope that given the tireless work ethic and ingenuity of NYC's "street art" community, the bikes will soon be decorated in a far more creative, individual way. But all in all these are quality bikes, so B+ on that.
The system: Those of us who were monitoring Citibike's gestation were disappointed by the initial year-long delay due to mysterious "software issues." And as an early Citibike user, I was downright incensed that the "issues" were still there when the system had its formal roll-out after Memorial Day. While waiting (and waiting…) for my subscriber's key to arrive, I purchased a weekly pass for $25 and found it nearly useless, with 2 out of 3 stations non-functional and customer service effectively nonexistent. I joined the hordes of kvetchniks who turned to Facebook and other forums to let them know that good intentions only go so far.
For me, there was an extra sense of urgency because I knew the anti-bike, anti-Bloomberg media was just waiting to pounce. I could just picture the Post headline ("TOUR DE FIASCO!") and imagined every mayoral candidate piling onto fellow mayoral hopeful and ex-congressman Anthony Weiner's 2011 promise to Bloomberg to "have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your fucking bike lanes" if he were to win the erection. Oops, I mean election.
By far my worst experience was when I thought I'd returned my bike and then realized the system hasn't caught on to that fact. I did just that my first day, discovering I was an ersatz bike thief when I tried to acquire another one and was told I had already taken my share of bikes. Mind you, if I had remained unaware of this, the system would have assumed I’d “stolen” the bike, and a bike kept out for 24 hours means I’d be on the hook for its entire $1k cost! The App had a phone number for customer service. Long (very long) story short, I got a dozen or so busy signals over the course of twenty minutes. When my call finally went through I spent an additional 20 minutes on hold. The CSR who did finally answer was cool however, and immediately voided my overtime charges and reset my account.
But that's all in the past. Obviously arms were twisted and IT guys water-boarded because the system works great now, especially since I received my yearly membership key. I slip it into the dock and a second later, there's my bike. As long as I get it back to a base station within 45 minutes I'm golden, and can immediately take it out again. That's more than enough time for me, not the swiftest rider, to get from Battery Park City to Grand Central. Someone in Bed-Stuy who commutes to Midtown would probably have to swap once or twice, depending on the shape of their quads. But the good news is that stations are ubiquitous from upper Midtown all the way to downtown Brooklyn and the western edges of Bed Stuy and Crown Heights. This roughly corresponds with the most touristy and business'y parts of the city, though it leaves out the densely populated areas of the Upper West and East sides, the ritzy residential areas between Central Park and the rivers. There could be some NIMBYism going on here, the 1% not wanting to blight their sidewalks and inconvenience their Land Rovers and Audis with the clunky stations. Bloomberg himself happens to live on the Upper East Side where resistance to Citibike is strongest (Google Dorothy Rabinowitz if you want to see entitlement at its most hysterical.) More stations are promised and I think these nabes should be first on the list, if only because they'd provide a gateway to Central Park, one of the best bike routes in the city.
Unfortunately the system isn't as ideal for tourists and occasional users. Those unfortunates need to go through a needlessly clunky process after swiping their credit card, at which point there are no less than 10 screens to navigate. These include several safety warnings and two disclaimers, one of which is longer than the OJ trial transcripts. Even in a town stinking with lawyers, it's excessive. You're really supposed to read and contemplate this thing at a kiosk, with cranky NYC commuters and French people hovering behind you? Please. You also only have a stingy 30 minutes per ride rather than the 45 we annual members get. Assuming the a la carte rentals are aimed at tourists, this seems grabby. The system isn't exactly intuitive, something I've learned during several weeks of Citibike sharing as I explained the system more than a dozen times to various tourists and natives. No doubt those who are weak on NYC geography or unable to decipher the rules will go way over their half hour deadline and incur extra charges without knowing it. The other day I saw a bunch of Citibikes leaning against the railing of a sidewalk cafe in Battery Park City and I wondered if those riders realized that the clock was ticking and the digits falling out of their credit cards while they brunched.
The accompanying iPhone App is a must, however, even for 1-day riders. It too was a mess during my early June Hell Week, giving wildly inaccurate and taunting info, but now it's my favorite part of the system, an elegant example of Web 2.0 functionality giving an up-to-the-minute map of stations and how many bikes they're currently holding.
So, an A for the system as an annual member, B- for those renting daily or weekly.
1) I think the helmet controversy is misplaced. As I said, these are sloooow bikes, to be ridden in a traffic-choked city. The idea that you could build enough speed to go flying off into pavement or another car is ludicrous. And if you do choose to go balls-out onto faster roads like Flatbush Avenue or the West Side Highway, whether or not your bell gets rung in a crash is a technicality because they'll be bringing you to the morgue in a Hefty bag.
2) The hordes of wobbly first-timers crashing into light poles and innocent retirees have yet to materialize. I commute through some of the most heavily touristed parts of the city and from what I've seen most Citibike users seem to know what they’re doing. I've seen some shaky riders on the Hudson River Greenway and in Central Park, but those places are mostly traffic-free so they’re really a negligible danger except to spandexy road racer types who are mostly douches anyway and deserve what they get.
[Special thanks to Jason Snyder for the above report that he kindly wrote for the Amoeblog]