This is what happens when ink-stained wretches get on two wheels. Following months of fevered warnings about Citibike — New York's bike-sharing program which debuted on Sunday — the city's famously excitable tabloids have begun to reverse course about the DayGlo-blue bikes installed throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. You know, now that they've actually ridden them. In the Daily News' Tuesday edition, reporter Oren Yaniv wrote that he was "quite impressed" with Citibike after he rode a few of the shareable bikes throughout Brooklyn and down Broadway in Manhattan. ("On its first day, Citi Bike earned itself a new customer.") Georgia Kral, an editor at the free subway daily AM New York, was even more effusive. "Bike share is going to make New Yorkers' lives a little easier, and a lot more fun," she wrote, based on her ride around Midtown West. These judgements might come as a shock to both tabloid's readers, who were warned (in the Daily News) about bike sharing's historical parallel to al Qaeda and (in AMNY) of the Department of Transportation "steam-roll[ing]" any and all opposition to the program's 600-plus bike racks. All it took, it seems, was actually riding the bikes themselves. Maybe the next city to jump on the bike-share bandwagon might consider some test drives for the scandal-hungry press?
Tabloid opposition certainly persists — though with far less intensity. On Monday the New York Post published an "EXCLUSIVE" interview with the aggrieved owner of a Lower East Side bike shop, concerning a Citibike rack placed directly in front of his Grand Street storefront. The story, which is mild though legitimate, arrived six days after the Post blamed a Citibike rack for preventing an ambulance crew from transporting a sick resident of a West Village co-op — an event that was completely made-up. (Today the Post focused on Mayor Bloomberg's apparent unwillingness to mount a Citibike during a City Hall photo op.) Still, most of the same papers reported the Monday theft of a single Citibike, which was quickly recovered, as though a single person stealing a single bike were a novel event in New York, or anywhere.
The op-eds have placed the brakes on outrage, too. In his in his Tuesday column, Daily News scribe Denis Hamill weighed the class antagonism in which the tabloids have so gleefully trafficked: "Suddenly the wealthy that remained pretty silent on the bike lane issues because they travel by cabs and limos are shocked, shocked by bike racks outside their luxury Manhattan buildings. ... We love pollution-free bicycles, but no racks in front of my co-op building where my Town Car picks me up and drops me off and my doorman walks my poodle." Hamill's colleague Pete Donahue added, "We've endured blizzards, blackouts, transit strikes and far worse, but the idea that up to 6,000 more people will be riding bicycles has generated a disproportionate amount of concern."
Was this change of heart to be expected? Maybe. Columbia professor David King observed earlier this month that projects like Citibike, which significantly alter transportation options, tend to enjoy a lot of support when their plans are initially presented and after they are finally implemented — but suffer from doubt and confusion, and plenty of loud opposition, in between. (For Citibike, that period lasted nearly two years.) Of course, Citibike remains imperfect. A few of the electronic fobs designated for Citibike's earliest adopters seem to have been lost in the mail. Not everyone, as the Post exclusively reported, wants to wear bike helmets. Citibike racks are not yet installed everywhere in New York. These issues will sort themselves out in time. Unfortunately, as mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner discovered on Tuesday, there is no real way to deal with inclement weather:
So don't throw away your MetroCard just yet.