By Reed Albergotti
New York isn't the first city to take a crack at going green. But its "Sustainable Streets" plan — an initiative that includes improving bike routes and mass transit — does have one thing most other cities don't: Star power. Recently, celebrities such as Lance Armstrong, Talking Heads lead-singer David Byrne, and a slew of high-profile movers and shakers in the financial world, have teamed up with the city to reach its goal of tripling the number of bicycle commuters by 2015.
One problem that has kept many New Yorkers off their bikes is lack of secure parking. When the city recently announced a contest for new bike rack designs, Mr. Byrne, a longtime bike commuter, agreed to lend his artistic acumen and sit on a judging panel. He also sent the city some of his own sketches of bike racks, which were designed to suit various neighborhoods — including a rack the shape of a dollar sign to sit on Wall Street, and an abstract object for placement in front of the Museum of Modern Art. New York's Department of Transportation liked his ideas and Mr. Byrne's gallery offered to foot the bill. Each rack costs roughly $5,000 to build because of the funky shapes. Nine racks by Mr. Byrne will be placed throughout the city.
Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says the spiced-up racks go a long way to making bike commuting a little "sexier." "Bike racks don't all have to look like they're handcuffs grabbing onto the concrete," she says. Mr. Byrne, who has been biking around Manhattan for 30 years, has also lent his support to promote new initiatives such as closing down New York City streets for cycling and recreation on Saturdays in August. The singer brings his bike all over the world while on tour, and has commuted in cities such as Manila and Istanbul. How does New York compare to other cities? "It's better than some, but there are an awful lot that are way ahead of it," says Mr. Byrne
The city says Mr. Byrne's bike racks will be placed on sidewalks by the end of July. "Usually, with a project like this, you'd end up battling city agencies for years," says Mr. Byrne. Instead, the city put the project through right away, and even put the racks in "pretty much the exact spots that I threw out there."