The goal of the New York Department of Transportation competition is "to create new, better-looking bicycle parking racks," and to encourage bicycle commuting in the gridlocked city. (The NYPD's obsession with quashing Critical Mass rides notwithstanding.) Only one design will win, and be reproduced to the tune of 1,000 new bike racks a year.
Since design competitions aren't supposed to be beauty contests, here's hoping that the winner will work as good as it looks. The online New York Times article on the finalists has a thoughtful discussion thread about the racks' utility. The official CityRacks website has a more difficult-to-navigate comments section, broken into entries for each individual designer; the benefit is that many of the comments are from NYC residents who have actually tried the racks out.
(Images via CityRacks)