Statement on Citi Bike/Bike-share in Community Board 6

Statement on Citi Bike/Bike-share in Community Board 6

The expansion of Citi Bike to Community Board 6 has brought passionate responses. In my office, we’ve heard a lot: both from people who are thrilled, and have become regular users – and from people who are deeply unhappy (either with a particular station near them, or with bike-share as a whole).

It’s no secret that I’m a supporter of Citi Bike, and worked hard to make sure that bike-share expanded to our neighborhoods this year. I believe it is a valuable piece of public infrastructure that gives people a useful and convenient new transit option.  

But I also represent people who are opposed, so I’ve tried to listen carefully to their concerns. While it’s tempting to try to duck this issue or to pass the buck to DOT or Community Board 6, I think it’s better to communicate honestly. So I wanted to take the time to let you know that I am listening, to explain why I support the program despite the complaints, and what we’ll do to make it work as well as it possibly can.

The complaints I’ve heard run something like this:

  • Citi Bike stations take away parking, in a neighborhood where it was already very hard to park, and where many people rely on their cars.
  • Most people don’t ride bikes, so why are giving them street or sidewalk space that was previously used for parking or pedestrian access?
  • Adding even more cyclists to the roads feels unsafe to me. Sometimes people on bikes are jerks, or ride recklessly. I’m nervous I’m going to hit one of them (when I’m driving), or be hit by one of them (when I’m walking).
  • The stations are ugly, and don’t fit in on brownstone blocks.
  • They’re too close together and we don’t need so many of them.
  • I support Citi Bike overall, but the station on my block should be moved – because its dangerous, or badly located, or takes away a business loading zone, or again, takes away our parking.
  • No one told us this was going to happen, and we didn’t have a chance to weigh in.

Underlying all of this – especially for some long-time residents – is anger about gentrification, and the ways in which these neighborhoods are changing. While this is perhaps the least “policy-oriented” of the criticisms, I’m sympathetic to it. We love our neighborhoods, and feel deeply invested in them. Having something new – and highly visible – come into our public spaces, that you feel “isn’t for you,” but serves and represents a different group of people, who in many cases haven’t lived here as long as you have, can be alienating. It is clear to me that Citi Bike has made some of our neighbors feel like this isn’t their neighborhood anymore – and that is truly unfortunate.       

But I also want to tell you why I support Citi Bike, despite having listened carefully to these concerns – and what we’ll be doing to help make sure it works for our neighborhoods.

People are already using it heavily: In just the first month since it was installed in our neighborhoods, Citi Bike is already seeing over 1,600 trips per days – and that number will grow over time. That’s 1,600 trips to and from the train (making subway and bus commuting easier), between appointments, to school or work, to run errands to local stores, up to Prospect Park, from Carroll Gardens to the Slope, from the North Slope to the South Slope, etc.

If that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, consider this: while we don’t know the number of daily car trips, there are about 24,000 resident-owned cars in CB6. Most of them aren’t used every day. So we are already talking about something that is serving a good percentage of our neighbors – far more than the ½ of 1% of the parking spaces the new stations are taking (see below).

It is definitely true that not everyone can use the bikes. Bike-share is not an option, of course, for many older people and people with disabilities. Bike-share will not replace other forms of transportation. But for those who are able to use a bike, a public investment in a municipal bike network is one small but meaningful step.

Parking loss: There are approximately 25,000-30,000 parking spots in CB6. Citi Bike has taken away 150-200 of them – about ½ of 1 percent. I know that is small comfort if several of them are right near your house. But it is also important to remember that 57% of the households in our community don’t own cars. And for every parking spot lost to Citi Bike, there are approximately 5-8 bike-share trips per day (far more times than a typical side-street parking spot would be used).

It is, indeed, often very difficult to find parking in our neighborhoods – and this can lead to maddening trips circling the block looking for parking spaces. This is bad for traffic, bad for the environment, and bad for our mental health!

Over time, though, the only real answer to the shortage of parking is fewer car trips. The way to achieve this is to enable those people who can to use transportation alternatives: investments in mass transit, new technologies (e.g. car-share, and eventually driverless cars), and bike-share. If those investments help just a small fraction of people decide they don’t need a car, then we will quickly get back all of the spaces lost to Citi Bike.

Siting process: Some of you have told me that you had no idea that the bikes were coming, or where they were going to go. I’m sorry about that. I think this is one area where NYC can improve – so I welcome your feedback about how we could have communicated more effectively.

DOT came to Community Board 6 meetings quite a few times over the past years as they have been working on the CB6 expansion, and held two public meetings (one in 2015, another in 2016) where residents could give feedback about the sites. But most people don’t go to community board meetings, and the public meeting was not very well promoted. There were stories in the local papers/website, but again, their reach is limited.

My office sought to supplement this outreach – with information in our newsletter (which goes to over 100,000 people), and several e-mails (to our list of over 20,000). We first gathered feedback in October 2015, on DOT’s preliminary map of potential stations. We received over 400 comments, and many of these informed station locations. We then sent another round of e-mails in the spring of 2016, when there was a more detailed map (and included this information in our newsletter). Again, we received over 400 comments, and several stations were moved as a result.

Still, I know that despite all that, many people were unaware that the stations were coming until they started to arrive. I am sorry for those who felt blindsided by the process. If you have suggestions for how we could have communicated more effectively with you, please let me know.

I do want to assure you that a lot of research went into the placement of the stations. The Department of Transportation (DOT) staff visits a neighborhood multiple times and finds as many possible viable sites for stations. These sites must meet technical siting criteria (e.g. not interfering with passage for vehicles or pedestrians, remain clear of fire hydrants, bus stops, etc.) and are ideally in customer-friendly locations (e.g. easily visible to customers, near transit, major or neighborhood destination points). I want to assure you that every effort was made to minimize parking loss (this was a priority for DOT, for my office, and for CB6).

Promoting safe cycling (and safer streets in general): Having more cyclists on the street changes traffic patterns, and that takes some getting used to. Some cyclists are careless or rude – just like some drivers are careless or rude (and some pedestrians are so lost in their phones that they don’t look where they’re going). We all share responsibility for making our streets safer, part of NYC’s “Vision Zero” effort to reduce traffic crashes and deaths. 

So far, the Citi Bike record is a good one. Last year, there were 10 million Citi Bike rides in NYC, and this year will surpass that. So far, knock wood, there has not been a fatality, and very few accidents. The bikes aren’t designed to go fast and they are highly visible.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do better, of course. DOT, Citi Bike, Transportation Alternatives, and other groups all conduct cyclist education. The NYPD does give tickets for riding on the sidewalk and other infractions. And we are also working hard to reduce reckless driving – including this new program at the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

Together, education, enforcement, and engineering are making our streets safer. The data is clear on that – but we can’t stop. You can count on me to keep pushing to make sure our streets are safer for all users. 

Process for considering location changes: For all these reasons, I am supportive of Citi Bike – but I am willing to take a look at individual stations. Where a station is dangerous, or not being used, or making it impossible for local businesses to unload, I will push DOT to consider making adjustments. If you are aware of stations like that, please take pictures or video, and send them to Susie Charlop, my Director of Constituent Services, at scharlop [at] council [dot] nyc [dot] gov.

*****

For those of you who are still opposed to the stations, I am sure none of this has done much to change your mind. But – even if we disagree on this issue – I do take your concerns seriously. Please keep reaching out to my office, and we will do all we can to make sure everyone can feel safe, welcome, and enthusiastic about the direction of our neighborhoods.

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