Color Me Blue


Published in the New York Times Op-Ed


“BLOOMBERG, love him or hate him?” a friend asked.

“Hate,” I said.

Hate is a strong word, and please don’t get sidetracked by it. New York’s a passionate place, I’m passionate about the place, and that’s how the question was posed. I had to pick one. No way was I picking “love.”

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. That’s a problem, but it’s not the problem.

As it happens, the bike was going the wrong way and I was crossing against the light.

That’s what New Yorkers do. When we walk, we don’t pay attention to lights. That is practically the definition of a New Yorker: when walking, ignores lights. These bicycles have made walking around the city much scarier. Helmets are recommended gear for bikers. These days pedestrians should be wearing helmets.

What Mr. Bloomberg has created is not necessarily a more livable city, a city with a better-exercised citizenry, but a perfect storm.

That should be the reason I picked hate, but it isn’t.

He’s turned our city blue.

For $41 million — what Citibank paid to sponsor the program for five years — our city bikes became Citi Bikes. 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. The 6,000 bikes so far rolled out, of a possible 10,000, and their signs are a Day-Glo cobalt blue that you see on banks. Nobody wears this color. Nobody paints his or her apartment this color. This blue is bank blue.

Odds are, in your favorite romantic Manhattan movie, you’ll see barely any blue.

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. With the exception of Times Square, where loud clashing colors are the point, our city is browns, grays, greens and brick red.

We’re told that this bike program is modeled after the one in Paris. But in Paris, the bikes are a silvery gray and the sponsors have discreet small tattoos on the bike frame. Paris bikes blend. They respect the romance that is Paris.

And what a bargain Citibank got. To put that $41 million in perspective, a co-op at 640 Park Avenue recently sold for $23 million, and Calvin Klein’s Hamptons house reportedly cost around $75 million.

In other words, for chump change to a billionaire, Mr. Bloomberg let Citibank alter the color palette of Manhattan. It has distorted every view.

Speaking of which, it is impossible to discuss this blight on our cityscape without a shout-out to an intersection at Ninth Avenue and 18th Street that I think of as Bloomberg corner.

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.

On the concrete island are 15 filthy distracting newspaper dispensers in red, blue, white and orange. To the left of the left turn lane is the bicycle lane. I hope you can visualize this because it’s nuts. The cars are making left turns into the bicycles.

There are many new signs and lights for cars, bike riders and pedestrians to make sure everyone does the safe thing. Good luck with that. The eye is flying around having no idea where to land. Really, standing at that intersection is a surreal experience. It’s as if one has entered the world of a manic martinet.

It’s fall now. As you stroll in the crisp air through Central Park or down a lovely tree-lined block enchanted by the coppery yellow, burnt orange and flame red of autumn leaves, a bank-blue bike is going to whip by, possibly knocking you down, definitely pulling your focus.

Then it will be winter and we’ll have one of those blizzards that turns the city entirely white and nearly silent. You will leave your apartment to take in this miracle, trekking down your street, making the first boot marks in virgin snow, and as you turn a corner, your head will suddenly spin toward a gigantic inkblot on the landscape: a stand of 27 bank-blue bikes. A total of 135 Citi Bike signs. You will forget the awesomeness of nature.

INSTEAD you will start thinking about your bank — how it is paying you barely any interest. And what an outrageous fee it charges monthly for service. Yes, your whole mood might change. You might get angry. You might even start cursing about how, under Mayor Bloomberg, everything was for sale, even the views.

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.

That’s our future. And that makes me blue.

published in the New York Times