The Spatial Payoff of NYC Bike-Share

The curb space taken up by five standard parallel parking spots can accommodate 39 bike-share docks. Photo of Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights: Doug Gordon

Last night’s Brooklyn Community Board 2 hearing on bike-share was hardly the “battle” anticipated by the Brooklyn Eagle. About 20 people testified after DOT presented the draft station maps for the district [PDF, pages 10-15], and almost all of them supported the bike-share program in general, with several residents expressing delight at the prospect of a new travel option for Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, and Fort Greene. Some speakers objected to specific stations, and it will be interesting to see how DOT adjusts the station map in this area before the July launch.

Numerically, Brooklyn Heights residents who welcomed bike-share kiosks had the advantage last night over those who didn’t. The objections, most of which were of the Not-In-My-Front-Yard variety, revealed the strange double standards that often surface when the subject turns to bikes. There were, for instance, a few Brooklyn Heights residents concerned about how the sleek bike-share kiosks would look in front of the “historically significant structures in the city’s first landmarked district” — kiosks that would occupy the same streets where late-model luxury sedans and SUVs sit parked at all hours. And Brigit Pinnell of the Montague Street Business Improvement District insisted her members would be better off with five metered parking spaces than with 39 public bicycle docks.

One pattern that stood out last night was the tendency to overestimate the space that bikes take up and to underestimate the space that cars take up. Residents of the Oro luxury condo development in Downtown Brooklyn said the space in front of their building was ill-suited for a bike-share station because Johnson Street is narrow. But the stations are only six feet wide, taking up less street width than the placarded personal vehicles belonging to city and court employees who park there illegally all day long. By placing the station on the same corner of the block as the Oro, bike-share planners would actually improve safety at that corner — keeping placarded vehicles out of that space will enable pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists crossing the intersection to see each other better. (Oddly, the Oro residents were fine with putting the station across the street from their building.)

The gap between perception and reality really came into focus when discussion turned to a 39-dock station proposed for Clinton Street between State and Atlantic.

It sounds like a big number — 39 — but because bikes are small this station can slide right into the block. When DOT staff said the station would be 100 feet long, equivalent to about five parking spaces, a few members of the transportation committee were incredulous that so few cars fit in that space. Glance at municipal codes or street design guidelines [PDF, page 24], though, and you’ll see that the typical length of a parallel parking spot is indeed in the 20- to 22-foot range. All those 16- to 18-foot SUVs and midsize sedans need buffers around them so parkers can maneuver into spaces.

Some people might not be able to envision the spatial efficiencies of bike-share stations until they’re on the ground. But among the other shifts in perception that will accompany the launch of bike-share, I think more New Yorkers are going to start appreciating the fact that you can do more with bicycles than with cars in the same amount of space. This is especially relevant in New York, where 56 percent of car trips are less than three miles long [PDF, page 3] and would make for very convenient bike trips. The Montague Street merchants are going to see many more customers arrive at a new bike-share dock than they did when the space was for parking cars.

  • I noticed recently ‘someone’ has been bulldozing a portion of LaGuardia Gardens – maybe in preparation for the Bike Station slated for that location? 

    My understanding is that only about half of the currently planned bike stations will be placed in the street replacing parking spaces. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. 5 parking spaces is a lot and after attending one of the initial press conferences I was under the impression bike stations would take up considerably less space with fewer bikes. Maybe spreading them out even further, with less bikes per station, would help avoid a BikeShare Backlash from frustrated motorists trying to park?

  • Mark Walker

    As someone who is neither a cyclist or a driver — that is, a pedestrian — I welcome the repurposing of public space from cars to bikes. It means less room for the street users who are most likely to injure or kill me.

  • Anonymous

    @m_walker:disqus  Another good thing about bike-share infrastructure for pedestrians is that  it’s a lot easier to see over and around parked bikes than parked cars, trucks, etc. Boom: instant daylighting.

  • Streetsman

    Also factor in how often those 29 bike docks will be used. The parking spaces on Clinton are alternate-side parking, for just 90 minutes one day per week. Those 5 cars in those 5 spaces might sit there, parked, unused, as a personal storage space for their 5 owners, for 99.9% of the week. Even assuming just half the 29 bike docks to go there were utilized just twice a day, in a week 200 people have utilized that same street space. And the actual number could turn out to be 10, 20, or 50 times that much turnover. The number of citizens benefiting from that use of that public space compared to residential parking is beyond comparison – it’s a landslide of efficiency and equity for bike share.

  • J

    This business district has no vision. Give it a few months and they’ll be thanking their lucky stars that they have a convenient bikeshare station and don’t have to wait for the next expansion. Pedestrians are the drivers of NYC retail, and like subway entrances, bikeshare stations are pedestrian generators. Parking spaces, however, are not at all the same, and study after study shows that people who arrive by bike stay longer and spend more money.

  • HamTech87

    @twitter-19831590:disqus In my opinion, the most important factor in the success of BikeShare is the density of stations.  The more of them, and the closer they are to each other, the better.  This way a user is never “stuck” with a bike, unable to find a station.  

    Montreal’s Bixi BikeShare is one of the most successful in North America because of its density.  It has a lot of stations, and they are within 2-3 blocks of each other.  When I used Bixi there, and a station was full or malfunctioning, I could go 3 blocks to another one and still not be close to my destination.

  • Linda Robinson

    Montague St BID:  These are the same folks who think they improve business when they close the street in the summer to ALL car traffic on “Summer Space” days.  Are cars good or bad for business, guys??  We’ve got a long ways to go…merchants in Portland ask the city to remove on-street parking and replace it with bike racks because they know it improves business.  And I live in Brooklyn Heights…wake up, smell the coffee neighbors, and say “Yes!”  It feels really good, I know you can do it!  The NIMBYs need to move to the ‘burbs.

  • Greg

    Two comments:

    1) I find statements of the form “I’m concerned that the bike station at location X takes away n units of parking” incredibly frustrating, since every single bike station is *adding* significant amounts of parking, and these statements show no consideration for the fact that some people want to get around the city and make use of its parking spaces in vehicles that aren’t cars. I know these statements aren’t malicious, but they make me feel marginalized as a non-automobile-using neighborhood resident, who would gain great value out of this major addition to our parking infrastructure.

    2) I think there is a reasonable theoretical concern about on-street stations on narrow streets. The stations may not be wider than vehicles, but, as I understand, bicycles will be deposited and removed into the direction of the street. So when people are coming and going, the “width” will expand beyond the station itself. Practically, I don’t think this will create problems at all, but I think the basic concern is legitimate. And it seems to me one of the best responses to concerns such as these is the portable nature of the stations; the ability to adjust/move them if any problems actually happens brings the risk factor down to zero. 

  • Parallel Parker

    Greg, regarding #2, cars are also “deposited” and “removed” into the direction of the street.  In fact, waiting for someone to back into or exit a spot is a big source of congestion on narrow streets.  The concern about bike share may be legitimate, but it should not be greater than the existing conditions as they apply to private cars.

  • HamTech87When I said “spread them out” what I meant was limit the number of bikes to, maybe, two parking spaces, and then place another BikeShare Station  a block or two away. Not only would that create greater density and give users better access to bikes, it would also give motorists less to whine.

  • Reggie

    Maybe I have been reading too much Norman Oder, but when Ben writes, “Brooklyn Heights residents who welcomed bike-share kiosks had the advantage last night over those who didn’t,” shouldn’t he note that Streetsblog, reacting to a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, encouraged bike share proponents to attend the community board meeting?  I know this is a blog, but it’s a blog that often calls people out for not being truthful.  Streetsblog could do a better job of practicing what it preaches.

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