By J. David Goodman
Back in August of 2008, the Department of Transportation unveiled nine site-specific bicycle racks designed by the artist, musician and seemingly ubiquitous cyclist David Byrne. There was a dollar sign for Wall Street, a red high-heeled shoe for outside the Bergdorf Goodman department store on Fifth Avenue, a coffee cup for the Upper West Side near the Hungarian Pastry Shop and others at least as quirky.
But, as Mr. Byrne notes in a peeved entry in his online Journal, there were also two other racks that he designed. These racks, which had been previously approved by the Transportation Department but never installed, were rejected on Monday by the city’s Design Commission, the final arbiter of permanent street art and architecture in the city.
The commission also controlled the fate of the original nine racks, which, like other permanent art on or over city property, were allowed for one year before they needed approval. Those racks were grandfathered in on Monday, according to Mr. Byrne.
One of the two rejected designs would have been placed on the Bowery near the New Museum and was kinked and squared-off in a witty visual reference to that building’s shape. The other was a shaped like a liquor bottle, which the commission “deemed to be in bad taste,” Mr. Byrne wrote.
Needless to say, Mr. Byrne, who many decades ago composed a song called “Don’t Worry About the Government,” is not happy with the commission, which he calls the “gatekeepers”:
So, between my office, the New Museum and the DOT the requisite applications were filled out and filed in the fall and then the wait began — months later the day of reckoning arrived (that would be today) and the cultural gatekeepers who would decide the matter were, it seems, mightily [unprintable synonym for “upset”].
They were annoyed that the DOT had — in some of their eyes — encroached onto their territory, and this effrontery would not stand. As a compromise they would allow the existing — and can I say well-received? — bike racks to stay, but as retribution for not going through said gatekeepers the DOT (and the rest of us) would be punished by no more additional bike racks being allowed. Well, not funny designed ones at least.
I wonder how many emerging artists would have the patience for the form-filling, waiting, and political stupidity that is involved in going via the gatekeepers — not many, I would think.
Or, in the twitt-words of Mary Ann Naples, a literary agent in the city: “Bureaucracy won. Lame, NYC!”
Given the potential for jurisdictional conflict and petty political rivalry in projects that involve not just one but several city agencies, Mr. Byrne was as surprised as anyone else when his racks were initially approved. “I was over the moon,” he wrote at the time. “What happened to the legendary red tape and years of bureaucratic haggling I was supposed to go through?”
If the city ever allows more of his racks, maybe the next one will be red and shaped like a tape dispenser.
In other transportation-related news, Streetsblog is preparing for what many expect will be a “disappointing” report on traffic in the new Times Square by reminding readers that the old configuration was deadly for pedestrians.
The streets of New York have gotten safer, it seems, and it’s not just crime. Last week, the city announced that 2009 had the fewest pedestrian fatalities of any year on record.