Bikes on the brain as cycle-share is about ready to roll
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | New York is going completely bonkers over bike-share — and the bicycles aren’t even here yet! But the bike-station docks are, and they’re sparking a million reactions — make that 8 million — from support to opposition and, in at least one case, a lawsuit.
Residents of 99 Bank St. in the Village last week filed a lawsuit seeking the removal of a 31-bike dock in front of their building, between Greenwich and Hudson Sts. The suit charges that the bike station violates the city’s own rules for placement of street furniture. But a judge rejected the 100-unit co-op’s plea for an injunction. However, early Tuesday morning, the city gave some ground — literally — removing a four-bike segment of the dock from the end closest to the building’s entrance, and setting down a big hunk of rock in its place.
The two-wheeled tumult also steered its way straight into a plan by Community Board 2 to show an informational “Streetfilms” movie on bike-share this Thurs., May 2. Initially, the film, “Bike Share: In Action There / Launching Here,” was set to screen at N.Y.U.’s Casa Italiana — which has a capacity of 100 people — on W. 12th St., with C.B. 2 and New York University as co-sponsors. A flier the community board e-mailed out announced that state Senator Brad Hoylman would give opening remarks, and that two Department of Transportation officials would lead the presentation and discussion: Kate Fillin-Yeh and Stephanie Levinsky, the director and the planner, respectively, of the city’s bike-share program.
On Monday, however, C.B. 2 sent out another e-mail announcing that due to “an outpouring of community interest,” the venue for the May 2 “bike-share discussion” (it no longer mentioned the movie) had been switched to a larger space, P.S. 41, at 116 W. 11th St., starting at 6:30 p.m. The flier also no longer mentioned the two D.O.T. bike-share officials — and there were, in fact, reports that the pedal-pushing pair had backed out of the event, fearing having to face up to the venting by opponents who planned to attend. Hoylman also was no longer listed on the revised notice.
Tuesday evening, The Villager asked Shirley Secunda, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee, about reports that the D.O.T. officials would no longer be attending.
“This was David Gruber’s call,” she said, referring to the C.B. 2 chairperson. “You’re right — it’s a completely different format now, to get public feedback.”
The following day, Secunda put out an e-mail blast telling people, “I just wanted to let you know that that program is being replaced by a forum for community input on bike-share stations, i.e., there will not be a film, nor a D.O.T. slide presentation or opening remarks by Senator Hoylman, but instead an open forum for people to come voice their concerns about bike-share, as well as their support.” (For more on the thinking behind why Thursday night’s bike-share event’s format was changed, see Editorial, Page 10.)
Meanwhile, those who make their living at the sidewalk’s edge have their own issues with the installation of the new bike-share docks. In Soho, more than 40 of the heavy-duty metal bike holders were set up on West Broadway’s east side between Spring and Prince Sts., prompting a protest from activist Robert Lederman, president of ARTIST (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics). Lederman — who has frequently sued the city on behalf of sidewalk vendors’ rights — said the bike docks will remove spots where artists vend on weekends, when they crowd West Broadway. Under city regulations for vendors and “street furniture,” the artists must set up a certain distance away from the bike station.
“At least eight artists or more would be losing these spaces,” Lederman said.
In turn, according to the city’s informational brochure on bike-share, the bike docks “must observe standard D.O.T. street furniture clearances” from such features as crosswalks, fire hydrants, bus stops, building entrances and subway entrances.
Lederman is forever battling the city’s efforts to commercialize public spaces used by art vendors. New York’s bike-share program — dubbed Citi Bike after its financer, Citibank — is merely another commercialization scheme, in his view.
“The whole thing is nothing but an ad,” he scoffed. “It’s just another example of corporate privatization of public space — moving ads, all over the city.”
Asked if he would litigate against the West Broadway bike station, Lederman said no because the sidewalk artists “don’t have standing.”
“Some store owner or landlord would have the right to sue,” he said. “That’s where I would guess the significant opposition would come from.”
Also, Lederman said, he’s too busy right now battling the Parks Department’s restrictions on artists and musicians in parks.
Similarly, some sidewalk food vendors are also being forced to vacate their usual spots by the new bike docks.
Merchants — those in storefronts — near the recently installed 42-bike station on West Broadway had mixed reactions to it this week.
Andrew Moore, owner of Stuart Moore jewelry boutique, said it seems like a good idea to him.
“I was just in Amsterdam,” he said. “They have a really nice bike-share program there. In this age of bikes, it’ll bring tourists here. It’ll be interesting.”
(He also noted he was recently in San Francisco where people are currently in an uproar over “pop-up cafes” in the streets, sometimes two or three per block.)
Moore likes the vitality of the street artists and thinks they actually might benefit from the new bike-share station.
“The bikes could bring clients to them, too,” he noted. “Let’s give it a chance — it isn’t even summer yet.”
A local gallerist, however, who requested her gallery’s name not be printed, was skeptical.
“We only got a notice a week before it was installed,” she complained of the Soho bike depot. “I think it’s highly dangerous where it’s located. It’s a busy, two-way street.”
She admitted with a laugh that she’s not much of a cyclist, though, not having rode a bike in the past five years.
Cara Faris, a sales associate at the MO851 fashion boutique, said everyone is just watching and waiting — with some customers wondering if the bike station is an art installation.
“I think right now people are just trying to figure out when the bikes are going to show up,” she said. “Yesterday a few people came in and said, ‘What exactly is that?’ They thought it was like a sculpture or something or some sort of exhibition.”
Just as with merchants, it’s not hard to get residents to share their views on the new bike-share stations. Within just a 20-minute period early Tuesday evening The Villager found a wide range of opinions among passersby at the bike-share dock on Renwick St. at Spring St., just steps from the newspaper’s office.
Claudia Perez, 17, said she was “neutral” on the issue.
“I don’t really mind,” she said of the metallic bike corral plopped down in front of her home. She said her friends at Millennium High School aren’t really talking about bike-share.
Cristina Botero, 25, walking her dachshund, Mambo, around the block, said she’s really looking forward to the public pedaling program.
“I lived in Paris where they have a very established [bike-share] program,” she said, “and I used it every day to go to school. It’s impossible to get cabs there.”
Botero, a consultant for nonprofits, said she would use Citi Bike to go to brunch and visit museums, and also to ride on the Hudson River bikeway. A half hour pedal on the park path would be plenty, she said, when asked about the program’s time limit. Also, with bike-share there’s no fear about one’s own bike being stolen off the street, she added.
But architect Marianne Hyde, another block resident, said the bike station being stuck in front of her building — and right at the corner, no less — is a problem.
The other day, she said, a U.P.S. truck driver couldn’t make the turn onto Renwick St. and had to remove one of the bike station’s white plastic bollards. Plus, the new structure takes away residents’ ability to park their cars in front of their own building, she added. And how will the building’s garbage be picked up, she wondered, with the bike station there?
“The whole building is unhappy,” Hyde said. “It’s a narrow street — and there are three construction projects on it. This adds more complexity to the street.
“And we have several bars, Emerald Inn, Anchor Bar and Sway,” she added. “It gets crazy at night at 4 a.m. Can you imagine all the drunk people coming out and trying to bike home?”
(According to “Tipsy on Wheels,” an Aug. 7, 2010, article in The New York Times, biking under the influence is not explicitly illegal, but a drunk cyclist can be charged with reckless endangerment or public intoxication, just as a pedestrian can.)
Hyde said she definitely planned to attend Thursday’s C.B. 2 bike-share forum where people will air their concerns.
Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, sees another looming problem, specifically for the bike-share kiosks, where users will swipe their credit cards. He said he recently noticed the Citi Bike kiosk at the corner of LaGuardia Place and W. Third St. had been plastered with a KATSU tag, by the ubiquitous sticker fiend of the same name.
“You watch it — it’s a graffiti magnet,” Sweeney predicted of the kiosks. “Why didn’t they put above the Citi Bike logo ‘Deface Me’? — because that’s what’s going to happen.”
Sweeney also said it would have been smarter to start the bike-share program smaller, and then, based on the results, decide whether to expand it.