Some downtown residents claim the newly installed CitiBike racks create hazards and hassle for their neighborhood
By Helaina Hovitz
Or, at least, not where it’s currently installed.
The CitiBike program, also called Bike Share, will place bike rental stations throughout parts of the city, allowing riders to pick up a bike at one location and drop it off at any other CitiBike spot.
Sponsored by CitiBank, the program is under the purview of the Department of Transportation (DOT).
On Thursday, May 2nd, Community Board 2 held a meeting at P.S. 41 to give West Village residents a chance to voice their concerns about the Bike Share program, but it wasn’t just West Villagers who showed up to gripe. People from all over the city came to speak their peace about the program — but some of it wasn’t so peaceful.
Chair David Gruber said that the board received 160 calls and emails, 70 percent of which were negative comments.
“The DOT chose not to come to this meeting, we don’t know why,” he said.
“People are upset about the size and volume, and once we saw it in place, we realized red dots on a map aren’t the same as something actually being on a street and installed,” Gruber said of the major complaints about Bike Share.
While most people in attendance said that while they actually weren’t “against” the program, they weren’t happy with the way it was being implemented.
“I’m shocked that this showed up on my block. The magnitude of it and the lack of notice provided to residents by DOT is unconscionable. They’re too big and too clunky on residential streets, and the community was not properly informed,” said West Village resident Lisa Cannistraci, who spoke for many when she added that “they obstruct building entranceways,” a problem that will worsen when the stations are filled with an average of 40 bikes each at the end of the month.
While many in attendance weren’t opposed to the bikes or the bike program, they were “opposed to the way that the city handled placing the bike racks around the city — mainly, in front of their entranceways.”
The bike racks on Barrow Street, for example, are located directly in front of residential buildings with 170 units. Residents claim that elderly people can’t get to their Access a Ride busses, and that ambulances can’t access the building, either.
“That means elderly and children will have to navigate around the bikes to get a cab or Access A Ride. We’re not opposed to the rack, but it needs to be moved, and we have alternative locations in mind,” said Cannistraci. “These bike stations located on historic landmarked blocks are a travesty. They need to be moved to more commercial locations, perhaps in front of the Citibanks, since this is their project.
West Village resident Charlie Decker, 69, wasn’t just concerned about the rack placement, though; he thinks that allowing inexperienced riders to hop on bikes whenever they feel like it, especially after they’ve had a few drinks, is a recipe for disaster.
“It’s dangerous to promote neophytes grabbing a bike in New York, especially tourists. Are you going to wait until 10 people are slaughtered to see that? Inexperienced bikers are going to get hurt riding around New York City,” he said.
Bikes lined the fence outside, and pro Citi Bikers with signs lined themselves up in front of the school’s entrance, eagerly awaiting press.
Hilda Cohen, who works in the West Village and lives in Fort Greene, said that those showing up to protest on Thursday were most likely absent at meetings held to discuss the plans.
“We’ve been involved since 2011, and we’ve been here every step of the way. We’re excited,” said Cohen. “I’ve never experienced a more inclusive community process than the one they did with Bike Share.
Jane Brown, who lives on West 4th between 7th Ave South and W. 10th, said that sanitation trucks haven’t been able to get through the racks, and piles of trash and water have been attracting mice.
“There’s no way for them to clean. It’s a health hazard. Someone’s going to get hit by a fire truck this summer pulling out,” Brown said. “If they’re benefiting and making money off of it, why doesn’t Citibank but them in front of their branches? Let them see the trash, the water, and the mice.“
Residents of 99 Bank Street, among other West Village Streets, countered that they were never alerted of their block being a potential location in the first place, that it was never a red dot on the map they were given.
Ed Zimbalatti, board president of 99 Bank Street, filed a lawsuit last week that has been re-filed as a petition. “The space in front of our building was never designated as a planned site. There was no outreach, it just showed up. Who made this decision, after all this outreach? That’s what we want to know,” said Zimbalatti.
In the middle of the night, a portion of the racks were removed and, for some reason, replaced by a giant slab of rock.
“Clearly there were a lot of plants here,” said Jeff Barr, referring to the group standing with signs and countering their comments to reporters. Barr, who filed the lawsuit at 99 Bank, spoke while leaning on his own bike.
“They’re a great way to ride around, but this location was not properly thought out. The size of the stations are too big for where they are,” Barr said. “Nobody wants to stop the program. But it’s not safe. People will ride on the sidewalk to pull up to the posts.”
His sentiment was echoed by Decker, who expressed concern that “people are going to be popping out of nowhere, buses and trucks are going to be swerving and hitting either them, buildings, or pedestrians.”
Inside, the criticism continued.
“It’s going to be creating more traffic and congestion, and I don’t know how green that amount of pollution is,” said Marna Lawrence. “I also have an objection about using public land for private gain. Citibank has no right to steal public space.”
Michael Murphy, communications director of Transportation Alternatives, a biking/walking/mass transit advocacy group, said that he thinks “the burden of proof lies with the people raising these phantom concerns.”
“Since none of the other major cities currently operating a bike share program endure these problems, what possible reason do we have to think we will in New York City?” he said. “This isn’t a he said/she said situation – we can actually look at the cities where this program is underway and verify whether or not these concerns make any sense.”
The DOT did not respond to specific questions regarding community members’ concerns about safety of riders, garbage truck and emergency vehicle access, or whether some bike rack locations might be relocated. A spokesman said that Citi Bike in conjunction with DOT held 400 meetings with community boards to determine the best locations for the racks, and also consulted the 65,000 online requests and comments.
By Mayor Bloomberg’s estimates, the program will be “great for local businesses” and generate 170 new jobs along with $36 million in revenue for “the city.”
Still, citizens of Gotham remain skeptical.
“I’ll bet you Mayor Bloomberg has never been on a bike in New York City in his life,” Decker challenged on his way out. “And if he has, it wasn’t without an entourage of ten people riding around him.”
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