Thursday, October 24, 2013


Heather Quinlan, the award-winning filmmaker who gave us "If These Knishes Could Talk," offers her latest film, Spoke: A Short Film About Bikes, exploring New Yorkers' feelings about bike lanes and the Citibank-sponsored bike share program.

The city’s been inundated with two-wheeled maniacs," says a garbage truck driver. "They’re a cross between a vehicle and a pedestrian, so they think, ‘Okay, I can use the infrastructure that’s designed for vehicles, but I don’t have to obey the rules for vehicles, I’m a pedestrian on wheels.’” Meanwhile, a Citibiker enjoys the freedom of riding and tolerates the corporate branding, saying, “I’m riding around on a giant advertisement. What can you do? They won. They won completely. You gotta live with yourself and measure the benefits against the drawbacks, and this has been a benefit.”

SPOKE - A Short Film About Bikes from Heather Quinlan on Vimeo.

For Quinlan, the bike issue is not black or white. She told me, "I don't hate everything about bikes, I don't love everything about them. And that's what I wanted to get across in the film."

I asked her what she thought about the way bicycling in the city has become such a contentious and divisive issue, whipping people into a froth on both sides of the argument.

She said, "Denis Hamill wrote an article about hating the bike lanes, and got raked over the coals by people who misunderstood and thought he was anti-bike. He wasn't anti-bike. But people get so caught up their own opinions that they can't see any other sides. I actually tried to get an interview with Paul Steely White, who's the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, but once he heard there were people in the film who didn't like various aspects of the bikes, like the bike lanes or CitiBikes, he didn't want to do the interview. He kicked me out. I also made several inquiries to get an interview with Janette Sadik-Khan or someone from the DOT, but no one got back to me.

It's definitely a cultural thing. I met a man from Holland who said bike riding is so ingrained in Dutch culture that there's no Us vs. Them aspect to it, like there is here. But here it's relatively new, and especially in New York it gets tied in with yoga, artisanal mayonnaise, and all those other aspects to the new New York. And that does a disservice to those who just want to ride a bike instead of take a smelly subway. Like I said, very few things are black and white."


Brendan said...

That last paragraph nails it--bikes are a form of transportation and bike lanes are an area of traffic planning. They should have nothing to do with politics or culture war of any kind.

laura r. said...

people of all social classes have rode bikes in NYC for decades. brendon is correct, dont make it into something that it is not.

Ed said...

Actually there was an oped in the NY Times, of all places, that called it. The latest round of bikes, the Citibikes program, is an advertising program for Citibank. Thats all it is. Yes, there are similar bikeshare programs in Europe, and they have corporate sponsors, but nowhere but here is the corporate logo and colors so prominent.

Also the space for bikes in this city was carved out mostly from the space for pedestrians. In the past, as a pedestrian, you could step out onto the street a little ways, looking out for cars, before crossing, conscious that no cars would zoom down between the narrow street and the sidewalk. This space is where the bike lanes went. The most you can say about this is without bikes we would have gotten worse, maybe SUVs driving half on the street half on the sidewalk (I saw this in the early 00s) but these things as implemented here are should not be confused as some sort of pedestrian friendly measure.

Michael Simmons said...

I'm a born 'n' bred Noo Yawka and I've been to the midwest and I've been to Amsterdam and we ain't either. NYC has it's own rhythm and energy and this bike BS is fucking with it. Plus the Citibank brand is odious. It would be more honest and more New York to have MAFIA BIKE RACKS.

Anonymous said...

The irony of a garbage truck driver complaining about someone not following the rules of the road.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, very few things are black and white."

Except church on Sunday.

Little Earthquake said...

"And that does a disservice to those who just want to ride a bike instead of take a smelly subway. Like I said, very few things are black and white."

I think it's funny how he followed a false dichotomy with saying most things aren't black and white.

Bikes are fine and I've nothing against them, but if so many people think they're better than the subway, how come I'm always seeing them on the subway? Why aren't your riding your bike?

Things that make you go hmmm.

laura r. said...

little earthquake: as a veteran 33 yr biking veteran (thats alot of miles, in NYC/boston), i want to comment on the subway issue. we take our bikes on the train when either #1) the weather gets bad during the day #2) we rode alot that day, & take the train home. it can be tiring w/grocery bags in the basket. i did this way before there were bike lanes. #3) sometimes @night we rather not ride. im done w/bike riding.

Jeffrey said...

Get back to me when bikes do anywhere near the damage that 2-ton homicidal machines do daily (11 peds killed by cars since beginning of October alone).

I've lived here forever, and it blows my mind to hear those complain about how bikes "whiz past you" when cars do the same thing - at 40 miles an hour - but we've naturalized it so much we just see it as normal.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I have a suggestion, put these bike racks on every street? Have my guys install them, together, we can do biz (;

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of biking, but I have too many friends who have gotten into accidents in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Thankfully, none of them have been killed, but they've suffered broken collar bones, broken wrists and other injuries. We only hear about the accidents where people are killed, but there are smaller accidents every day. I am too chicken to risk it!

Anonymous said...

I am not wild about the whole bike thing for the simple reason that the majoirty of cyclists on NYC streets are simply careless and non-law abiding. It should be the other way around but it isn't. A good friend of mine was plowed into by a cyclist who gave her such a head injury that she no longer has the sense of taste and smell as well as a large hospital bill. She was only 30 years old when she was hit. My mother who is 77, as well as many other NY seniors are absolutely terrified to walk the streets. Besides crazed cabbies they now have to watch out for cyclists at an age when sight, hearing and reflexes are shot and one fall can literally kill you. Maybe NYC cyclists need to start being insured and licensed just like drivers. Especially delivery guys who are the worst offenders.