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An intriguing Instagram post from W42ST reader, Jennifer Most, set me off on this journey – for half a day, my bike took me all over New York in search of David Byrne’s bike racks (I thought he just did “American Utopia” and “Talking Heads”).
The bike racks were installed in 2008. I didn’t move to New York until 2015, so just didn’t know they were are a thing. Here’s the back story (and what I found out on the roads of New York).
“The NYC Department of Transportation was holding a design competition for bicycle racks back in 2008, and I agreed to help judge the entries,” said avid cyclist David Byrne. “I sketched out some amusing smaller bike rack ideas of my own, each for a specific New York City neighborhood, and passed them on to the DOT. They were not meant as serious proposals, but as an incentive to loosen up. To my surprise, the DOT responded, ‘Let’s do these! If someone pays for fabrication, we’ll put them up.’
“There was a dollar sign-shaped rack for Wall Street, a high-heeled shoe-shaped rack for Fifth Avenue, a doggie-shaped rack for the Village, an abstract shape for MoMA, etc.”
The bike racks went on permanent loan to the city, and as I found out from my cycle this week, six of the nine are still on the streets today. You’ll be delighted to know the tour I did will save you a few hours —you won’t have to include Williamsburg or W110th St in your scavenger hunt.
Back then, the city wasn’t so bike friendly, but the story made headlines in the New York Times (which described DB as a “cultural omnivore”) to Wallpaper* magazine, which shot a picture of him in Hell’s Kitchen on 9th Ave (by Big Apple Meat Market) with his bike and “The Jersey” — his rack paying homage to the Lincoln Tunnel.
Fast forward to June 2020, this is what I found.
THE JERSEY: west side of 9th Ave – 39th/40th St
Still faring well, with signs of usage. I cannot count the number of times I’ve walked past this over the years. So now you know. The art of David Byrne without the American Utopia ticket price.
THE OLDE TIMES SQUARE: south side of W44th St – 7th Ave
She’s still around and was a little hard to find. I thought she might have got lost, but she’s still hanging in there. Get your picture taken with her next time you’re in Times Square — no charge.
THE MoMa: south side of W54th St – 5th/6th Ave
From other pictures that I’ve seen, this one has been moved around a little. It used to sit at 90 degrees to the street and was near an entrance. It’s still looking good though.
THE CHELSEA: outside 530 W25th St – 10th/11th Ave
As you would expect of the gallery area of Chelsea, this was beautifully maintained. David Byrne worked on the project with the Pace Gallery (which is just down the street).
THE VILLAGER: south side of LaGuardia Place between Bleecker and W3rd St
This one’s a little the worse for wear. Again, from looking at other images, this used to be at 90 degrees to the curb.
THE WALL STREET: north side of Wall St – Pearl/Water St.
In the middle of a construction site, but looking in good shape.
THE LADIES’ MILE: 5th Ave – 57/58th St, in front of Bergdorf Goodman
Sadly, this one is missing! I tracked down a little of the history via Google Street view. Above, in August 2008, it didn’t seem too overused. However, as you will see below in July 2014 (the last time I can find a picture of the shoe-shaped rack) it was covered with bikes.
Google captured the scene more recently (June 2019) without the rack, but still with a cyclist in need!
THE COFFEE CUP: Amsterdam Ave – 110/111th St, in front of The Hungarian Pastry Shop
Another one that’s missing. Google captured this image back in July 2011. I asked at the Hungarian Pastry Shop what had happened to it, and they remembered it being there, but not when it left. It’s been replaced with something far less attractive.
THE HIPSTER: Bedford Ave – N6th St, Williamsburg
This was the first place that I visited on my bike ride. It was a bit disheartening as a first stop, as the red guitar was missing. I asked around. The folks at Rough Trade records asked around for me. But we’ve no idea where it went. Maybe a hipster has it at home somewhere in Brooklyn. Last seen on Google Street View April 2009.
In 2010, much to David Byrne’s annoyance, the city rejected a bike rack he designed. Shaped like a bottle of Thunderbird, the rack was “deemed to be in bad taste.”
DB is still biking. He told the Washington Post last month: “I have been cycling as much as possible. I’ve been connecting with some of the band members who were in Manhattan or Brooklyn. And we’ll go for a pretty long bike rides. So we distance bike ride well, you know, often wearing our masks and all that kind of stuff. But, boy, does that feel good.
Thank you, David Byrne, for taking me on the “Road to Nowhere”.