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Brooklynites Like Bike Share, Just Not In Front of Their Homes

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 08:14 PM

Changing the face of city sidewalks touches a visceral nerve for neighbors. So it's no surprise that as New York City prepares for the launch of a bike sharing program people are speaking out.

"Some of the stations should be moved. They're in the wrong freaking place," a heated Perell Caterino of Cumberland Street told a hastily organized town hall meeting at the Sacred Heart Church on the edge of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that is fast becoming ground zero for the opposition to the Citibike bike sharing program set to launch next month. 

About 100 residents filled the pews and waited patiently to say their secular peace as the pulpit was turned over for community venting session where Department of Transportation officials stood by calmly answering questions. 

Mixed support was the theme of the night.

"I am excited for bike share," said Hilda Cohen the block association chair of Cumberland Street. She said she spent a few hours knocking on doors asking neighbors about bike share. "Everybody single person I talked to — I'm in church, I'm honest — every single person is excited for bike share." But she admitted everybody also has a question or a concern, too.

If the complaints were synthesized into one comment it would be "Biking is great, bike share might be OK, but the station on my block is poorly placed. Also, I want my parking and I'm not crazy about those corporate ads."

Lena Hays is one of several senior citizens who feel that turning over street space for bikes is like choosing young residents over old.
"Some of us have cars, we like to park our cars in the street and things like that. But it seems like we were never informed, they just did what they want with us and we feel we should be communication should be done with the residents."

Lena Hays is one of several senior citizens who feel that turning over street space for bike racks is like choosing young residents over old.

"Some of us have cars, we like to park our cars in the street and things like that," she said. "But it seems like we were never informed, they just did what they want with us and we feel we should be communication should be done with the residents."

The city has been quick to point out the extensive amount of community consultation behind the placement of the initial 330 docking stations, a number that will eventually grow to 600 stations. The Department of Transportation released a 30-page report citing nearly 400 meetings held around the city.

But no amount of meetings or studies reach everyone in a city as big as New York, let alone convince everyone reached.

Bikes have become a proxy for culture wars on how the city should allocate its most abundant public space: streets.

With 130 of the planned 330 docking stations in place as of a Wednesday, thousands of city residents have already seen the brand new solar-powered bike racks that can stretch for 50 feet or more on sidewalks or in spots where cars used to be able to park. In some neighborhoods the stations are springing up every four or five blocks, evoking giddy cycling optimism in some neighbors and offense in others. 

"It's been all over the map. There are those who support it and those who oppose it. And those in between," said City Council Member Letitia James who called the town hall meeting to let residents air their opinions. She told Transportation Nation "no one owns road. It belongs to all of us. We have to work together to share the road."

James is a supporter of bike share, but says there might be one or two stations that may need to be moved. "The question is whether or not DOT would be working with us. ...To consider adjusting a particular placement" depending on the impact, she explained. For instance, if the docking station on Willoughby Walk in front of senior citizen housing might block egress, then it should be moved she said.

She said the main complaint she has been hearing is that the modern bike racks don't respect the character of landmarked districts. "I don't agree with that," she was quick to point out, noting how the racks have been placed all around the city in all kinds of neighborhoods. But bike share stations were vandalized a day after installation in Fort Greene, as photographed above, citing the landmarks objection. The Landmarks Preservation Council was consulted and approved the stations.

Elisabeth De Bourbon of LPC said "we approved the plan for the installation of bike share stations in historic districts throughout the city because they have no effect on the historic fabric of those neighborhoods." Landmarks law already allows advertising in historic districts on street fixtures like bus shelters and newsstands. This is no different, the agency says. 

Car parking is likely to be the most enduring objection. It's a familiar refrain that has risen to the level of culture war as New York allocates a greater share of the city's most abundant public space, streets, away from cars to bikes. 

Erica Tyler is the optician at Eyedrop Optique on DUMBO's historic Front Street. She doesn't understand why people will want to bike on the cobblestones, but aside from that, she said, "where they've put the bike share stations they've taken a lot of available parking in a place where parking is already limited. I think that it wasn't well thought out." 

The city responds to these sentiments with studies, including one released last year that found increased retail patronage along new bike lanes in Manhattan. 

Tyler concedes, there might be an influx of bike customers to compensate for the loss of auto customers."I'm kind of doing a wait and see attitude," Tyler said. "It's a wait and see world."

Citibike opened registration earlier this month with a special offer for the first 5,000 members, hitting that target in just over a day. Another 1,000 members have purchased annual memberships in the weeks since. That's a hefty membership pre-sale that presages popularity. By comparison, the bike share program in Washington, D.C., currently the nations largest, has 20,000 members and almost 2,000 bikes. That system is almost operationally profitable without the sale of advertising. 

New York's Citibike, by contrast, is funded through $48 million in sponsorships from Citibank and MasterCard. 

 

Listen to WNYC's Marc Garber’s full interview with Alex Goldmark above.

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Comments [8]

frank from Manhattan LES

In NYC (Manhattan) I just saw two great bike share stations --- one right next to Tompkins Square Park, out of the street and close to the fense and another near Stuy Town on the median between E 14 Street and the service road --- both great because they dont take street parking away, and they are out of traffic lanes. This should be the norm in NYC!

May. 15 2013 09:58 PM
naro from hell hole of a city

Notice that there are no bike pods near Bloomfarts' mansion or the entire upper east side. Time to get out of this fvcked up city. Sick of this hell hole.

May. 14 2013 01:25 PM
TOM from Brooklyn

By "funded through...sponsorships" you do mean LOANS and IN-KIND CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE CITY OF NEW YORK(Support staff time at DOT(paid by City funds), and other agencies and valued street space(taken away/not now available to former users/city residents).

May. 01 2013 11:35 AM
Bill from UWS

Time to eliminate the free parking giveaway in every densely populated neighborhood in NY. Street space is a public resource. Why should anyone be given 100 square feet of Manhattan real estate for free, as a place to store their car? That land has a market value of $10-20,000. What's worse is these heavily-subsidized parkers have developed a sense of whining entitlement. Start with a monthly fee of $50 and go up from there.

Apr. 25 2013 01:27 PM
RMW from Park Slope

Same old argument...it's great as long as it doesn't affect me! Get a clue and stop being so selfish. IT's here and it's staying. You'll learn to live with it just like everybody does with all change.

Apr. 25 2013 11:03 AM

Hm?! I'm wondering? Has someone been taking notes on how to increase city revenue "Japanese "Style?

Apr. 25 2013 02:53 AM
Steve from Brooklyn

Opponents of bike share have one argument: the loss of car parking. But they live in a neighborhood where approximately two thirds of residents do not own cars. Plus the DOT said at the meeting that out of 6,800 car parking spots only 35 were removed to provide space for bike share docks. This seems like a drop in the bucket, when you consider the car-ownership rates of this and most other NYC neighborhoods.

Placing more stations on the sidewalk really isn't the solution since it would spite the majority in favor of the minority. And moving a station to another block is the height of NIMBYism. If bike share is such a terrible idea for your neighborhood or street, then why would the problems many opponents cited -- lack of parking, aesthetics, trash, noise -- be okay in front of someone else's apartment or home?

And I agree with commenter above that corporate symbols are not the real problem. Every car on the street bears a corporate logo, yet no one claims these 21st Century vehicles interfere with the 19th Century neighborhood's historic feel.

This is about parking pure and simple.

Had the opponents who showed up at tonight's meeting bothered to be more involved in their neighborhood, they might have attended one of the many meetings the DOT held in the community. Only now, when the reality of what they missed is upon them, do they decry the public process. Sorry, folks. Community requires participation.

Apr. 24 2013 11:29 PM
jooltman from Park Slope

The streets belong to everyone, not only those who own/rent property abutting the street or those looking for free parking for their cars. Individual neighborhoods cannot opt out of a citywide transit system. Only 25% of CB2 residents own cars -- a tiny minority! Directly catty corner from hotly contested Clinton & Myrtle bike station is a Citibank with huge, illuminated corporate logos: Corporate branding is a red herring. People feel disenfranchised by government. I agree that gov't doesn't listen on so many issues that matter: Housing, education, police profiling. But the DOT did listen regarding bike share -- there were hundreds of public meetings and a web site to submit comments regarding station locations. Please give bike share a chance, and see how calm and livable our streets become.

Apr. 24 2013 10:49 PM

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