Bike Share Hype as Performance Art

The first rule of Bike Share Hype is you have to talk about Bike Share. Publicly. And often. As loudly and colorfully as possible. Doesn’t matter if you think Bike Share will herald a new dawn of true urban sustainability or you bemoan Bike Share as the death of the American driving dream. You must craft your views into public street theater as often as possible.

For audiences tasked with critiquing this artistic performance called Hype, there’s been no shortage of dramatic achievement. Bike Share is nothing new, but in America, nothing’s really real until shit gets real in the Big Apple. Over 500 cities have enjoyed immeasurable Bike Share benefits for years. Even Antarctica has its own cycle sharing system. Yet it wasn’t until New York City launched Citibike in April 2013 that media hysteria boiled over into nation-wide fever pitches.

Portland, Oregon often touts the title of North America’s cycling capital, boasting a 6% bike commuting mode share (a figure I suspect is far lower than actuality). Despite this fact, Portland’s own Bike Share plan has been delayed by numerous setbacks. The always anti-bike Oregonian pounced upon the hype recently to blast the forthcoming project as a “risky venture.” This despite concurrently penning their 50th editorial board opinion cheerleading the $4 billion dollar Columbia River Crossing freeway mega-expansion. As BikePortland publisher Jonathan Maus aptly put it, “What scares The Oregonian? They’re not afraid bike share will fail, they’re afraid it will succeed.”

This week also saw the birthing of a new meteorlocigal term into the public lexicon. Like a smug gift to global warming deniers, the unmerciful Polar Vortex deep-froze the entire nation (except for Cascadia, of course), and left many scratching their heads why anybody would ride in such shitty weather. One of them was former senior Obama advisor David Axelrod, who took a cringe-worthy swipe at Chicago’s Divvy bike network.

Axelrod suffered a small avalanche of blowback from many, including swear enthusiast /Chi-Town mayor Rahm Emanuel. A recap of said retaliation was highlighted in a previous Rebel Metropolis post. To be sure, with temperatures dipping into double digits BELOW zero, this week has been another test of sorts to review Bike Share performance. Proponents relished in hyping the success.

Recent acceptance aside, there is no finer aerosaltant of negative Bike Share hype than Pulitzer Prize-winner and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz. Taking to the airwaves, Rabinowitz condemned the ‘spoked menace’ of the “all powerful bike lobby” and the “totalitarian…autocratic government, before which you are helpless…The most important danger is not the yellow cabs, it is the bicyclists…We now look at a city whose best neighborhoods are absolutely begrimed!

Indeed, we are truly damned.

Her performance was plugged by both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, among countless other blogs. But not all feared this tyrannical invasion. One observantly equity-minded Bed Stuy resident also featured by the Daily Show yearned for the day CitiBike might help beautify his neighborhood, “We need the bikes. Those pretty little Royal-blue ass bikes, if anything, they gonna’ decorate this motherfucker!

Not to be outdone, FOX Business attempted a slightly less convincing, yet altogether sensational in-its-own-right NIMBYist performance, making ham-fisted libertarian shreaks about loss of property value to the maternal ‘Nanny State’. An over-caffinated Melissa Francis and Fred Tecce traded rapid-fire quips like Vaudevillian siamese twins, “They block traffic and draw trash! Every single one of these bike racks is a nuisance! What’s the social interest of encouraging people to ride bikes versus the social interest of people pulling their Bentley up to the plaza?!

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This kind of foot-dragging NIMBYism isn’t new, it happens all the time. Radical plans for reshaping our cities for the actual benefit of the common citizen is often comically suspected as a communist plot, or worse. While people do need an actual Right to the City, in no way does Bike Share infringe upon that autonomy. Quite the contrary – the Bicycle is a vehicle of liberation and a tool for empowering individualism that – unlike automobiles – requires no subsidy from the taxpayer.

The blunt reality is that Bike Share is as popular as Spanish cocaine. Its benefits are myriad, regardless of how many people already cycle in the city. The goal is to get even more people riding, to peddle the gateway drug of bicycles to the ‘interested but cautioned’. It’s actually very easy and safe to ride a bike as traffic with or without helmets, as the Dutch have proven for over a century.

While the aformetioned ‘Bike Lobby’ exists only in parody, the auto lobby is very real and is fighting for its very survival. And it clearly is spending vast sums of cash on talking heads to deride the growing global cycling movement. They will lose, but let’s enjoy the theater of absurdity while we can. Put it in a time capsule. Someday, you’ll share this farce with your cycling grandchildren, and they’ll laugh at such asinine performances.

Until that day, see you in the streets.

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Thumbnail image from the short-lived and wildly successful Provo movement