Finally, The Times Likes Bikes: Michael Kimmelman on Two Wheels

Architecture. (Getty)

The Observer was beginning to suffer withdrawal. It had been more than two weeks since Michael Kimmelman filed his last piece for The Times Art Section, after a run of nearly one architecture review a week. We should have seen his latest one coming, but The Observer must admit that we did not.

It is not simply because defining bike lanes as architecture could be a subject open for debate, at least under Mr. Kimmelman’s starchiest-loving predecessor (to be fair, he did write about the Time Square pedestrian plazas) but also because the Gray Lady has not exactly been a friend to the cycling movement, consistently criticizing the godhead Janette Sadik-Khan.

But for Mr. Kimmelman, recently returned from Europe, cycling is almost a perfect conveyance.

I know how this happens from living in Berlin the past few years. I came to love to run errands there on my bike, to take my younger son to the aquarium and just to find excuses to ride through Treptow Park to watch old Berliners dance with hipsters on the riverside veranda of an ancient beer garden.

New York is not Berlin or Amsterdam, but London has lately turned into a bike capital too, in conjunction with a traffic-congestion fee program for drivers of the sort that New York was wrong to reject recently. It’s now common around Sloane Square and Piccadilly Circus to find parents with children and businessmen and businesswomen commuting on bicycles. Safety in numbers, Londoners have discovered: a city reaches a tipping point when biking achieves what Ms. Sadik-Khan describes as an everyday “architecture of safety.”

There we go, architecture, and a special breed at that. Mr. Kimmelman is absolutely right, though. He has sold us once again, not only on the architectural nature of bike lanes but their important place in a vibrant city. Lanes are, in a sense, architecture because like any important infrastructure, they are capable of transforming the built environment, just like any exquisite building.

In a follow-up blog post, we learn of Mr. Kimmelman’s childhood accident, that turned him off to biking for some time. Were it not for the bike lanes, one wonders if he would bike, or bike as much. It is good that he can, and that others are following suit. “On a bike time bends,” he writes. “Space expands and contracts.”

It is a shame more cannot enjoy it.

I am even more surprised by how many New Yorkers oppose the lanes because they drive or because they imagine the lanes are mainly for reckless delivery men. Never mind that those men are often rushing Kung Pao chicken to those same bike-lane-averse New Yorkers, who stiff them on tips if their takeout doesn’t arrive yesterday.

Yet again, Mr. Kimmelman is engaging with public architecture. He will have to assess the institutional, for-profit variety sometime, and we suspect it will be have to be soon. After all, he is running out of city commissioners to confab with, having already spent time with Amanda Burden, Matthew Wambua, David Burney and now Janette Sadik-Khan. Perhaps a review of prison architecture is in the offing? Or the new CityBench? What corner of city life remains unreflected on by Mr. Kimmelman?

mchaban [at] | @MC_NYC

Finally, The Times Likes Bikes: Michael Kimmelman on Two Wheels