Scenes From Last Night’s Bike-Share Forum in Fort Greene

Last night, Council Member Tish James held a public forum after receiving complaints about bike-share stations in her district, covering Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. The event, held inside Sacred Heart Church on Clermont Avenue, attracted an audience of about 100, with a small majority there to show support for bike-share. For two hours, residents expressed support or vented frustration at the microphone, with James and NYC DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt stepping in to provide information.

At the start of the meeting, James said she was saddened to see that bike-share stations had been defaced with posters. “You don’t have the right to deface public property,” she said.

Although the flyers glued onto stations focused heavily on corporate sponsorship and historic preservation, James dismissed this argument from the start. “Tonight’s meeting is not about corporate branding. Not going there,” she said. “Tonight’s meeting is not about, ‘Should this be in a landmarked district?'” Despite her ground rules, the issue came up repeatedly from audience members.

The issue that commanded the most discussion last night, however, was on-street parking.

First, some facts: There are 6,800 on-street parking spots in the area bounded by Classon Avenue, Fulton Street, Flatbush Avenue and Flushing Avenue. In that zone, 22 bike-share stations were installed, adding 600 public bike docks. Two-thirds of the stations are on the sidewalk, after community meetings revealed a preference for that type of installation. Stations that were installed in the roadbed took 35 parking spaces, Orcutt told the audience — one half of one percent of the total number of spaces in the neighborhood.

When one resident raised an objection, saying that the stations had disproportionate effects on some blocks, Orcutt pointed out that drivers rarely get to find a parking spot on the block of their choice, even under ideal conditions, and that bike-share would not change that reality. (To which one audience member shouted, “He’s arrogant!” For a while, it was that kind of night.)

Orcutt also explained the multi-year public consultation process that DOT undertook to determine station locations, working with community boards, business improvement districts, and community groups. “We co-sponsored a public workshop with Community Board 2, Council Member James, and other elected officials,” he said. “We had six different meetings.”

Speaking to the audience, CB 2 chair John Dew confirmed DOT’s outreach, but qualified his statements. “This was not Community Board 2’s decision. This was not a program that we voted on,” he said. “We certainly knew that there were many people who would not be familiar with the impacts of this program until it began, and that’s exactly what happened.”

But no matter how open and inclusive the planning process was, there’s no way to avoid the fact that it takes a few weeks to install the stations, and during that time, there’s going to be some confusion about what all the docks are for.

With the system set to launch within weeks, James said that she is not inclined to push to move stations around immediately. “[I will] take a position of wait-and-see before we make some changes,” she said.

One of the evening’s final speakers to complain about station siting encapsulated the anti-bike-share sentiment. “This all reeks of NIMBYism in terms of ‘not in my backyard,'” she said. “I’m not against the bike-share, I’m opposed to the locations.” She then requested that the station near her home be moved.

  • sawa

    the irony is that when these homeowners go to sell their houses, one of the selling points will be the proximity to bikeshare. just you wait!

  • Sure, all you people in Clinton Hill, keep turning down those transportation options, you already have plenty right?

  • Cartola

    I posted this in the other thread, but thought I’d do it here too – it was a bit crazy, (very Simpsons Town Hall) but as an avid commuter cyclist in FG for over 15 years, I think there were two takeaways:

    1. Rather than a meeting about citibikes, it became another identity-based fight about underlying NYC changes, such as the whitening of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill through gentrification, and the age changes. Seniors really do need easy access to ramps (and they won’t be biking!) and putting a CITI station in front of the elderly home was a royal eff-up by the DOT. The bro who compared segregation of bikers to segregation based on race was an utter fail; these are people who lived through civil rights movements and while we “bikers” deserve our rights, it is laughable to think that these are of equal fights.

    2. The non-biking public is woefully underinformed about how much laws already exist for us; there were many complaints about “them following the law” and “why don’t they put these on the sidewalk, or in a park, where it belongs?” These people don’t know that we get totally ticketed all the time for running reds (esp with the ferocious cops in the 88th precint, which covers FG/CH) and that biking on sidewalks or in parks is, of course, illegal. God knows I’ve gotten tickets for those.

    If we were able to communicate to these folks – who are really, really liberal and have fought many good fights in the city – that we are on their side against Citi branding, against Bloomberg’s development-friendly policies, that would go a long way to ease this tension. Until that happens, it’ll still be the whole “ignorant drivers vs hipsters” debate that has more pollution than a BQE ride.

  • Anonymous

    So true. Looking forward to the meeting next year where the same people complain about not having enough bikes.

    Can’t get over the Orcutt’s key data point: 6,800 on-street spaces, with Citibike taking only 35.

  • KillMoto

    Parking problems are never the result of lacking supply. They are caused by inadequate (low, or zero) fee.

    DOT needs to do these people a favor and fix their parking problem, by charging fair market value for it

  • I also cringe when I hear people compare this to civil rights — you can’t choose your skin tone, people, and you are underestimating power dynamics when you do this.

    At the same time it’s crucial to point out to these progressives (if that’s what they truly are) that transportation equity IS a social justice issue. Bikeshare is one of many ways to expand transportation equity — giving more New Yorkers affordable, safe choices for going about the business of daily life. Ditto for complete streets, of course.

  • Brick

    There still seems to be some confusion over whether these stations are technically public (per James’s comment) or private property – Citi paid for the stations, but they’re installed on public sidewalks and streets (Yes, they’re public, not the property of the homeowner)

    Can anyone shed some light?

  • I felt like I was at a revival meeting and bikeshare was Satan.

  • Anonymous

    The nice thing about bike-share is that we’re at a point where these NIMBYs can’t do much harm. Even if they knock out two, even ten stations somehow, DOT will just move them somewhere else and they’ll end up in Fort Greene in two years. Unlike a corridor that must be continuous, it doesn’t have to be trench warfare over every inch of the service area.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously. When I looked at Brooklyn apts for my girlfriend and I, we’d see all these lovely brownstones in Clinton Hill but they were close to only the G or about 15/20 minute walk from the A/C. So we decided it wasn’t practical.

    With bikeshare, the ability to be at the A/C in 5 minutes, would’ve made Clinton Hill a viable option for us.

  • Anonymous

    Or at least local resident permits.

  • Anonymous

    Or at least local resident permits.

  • Anonymous

    Or at least local resident permits.

  • They are city-owned, managed by Alta, a company that’s installed city bikeshare systems across the world, and Citibank paid a substantial amount of the startup money (40% I think) for naming rights to last 5 years. They -only- paid for the naming rights, and have no other involvement with the system.

  • vnm

    There are ads on subway trains and bus stops too, but they are still public property.

  • ADN

    I don’t think there’s much of any hope in communicating with these types of NIMBY’s or trying to change their minds. You just have to plow ahead, do the best you can on outreach, make the changes, and these NIMBY’s will stop complaining when they see that hundreds of their neighbors use and enjoy Citibike. In the 20th century New Yorkers grew accustomed to public streets jam-packed with horn-honking, exhaust-spewing motor vehicles. In the 21st century they’ll grow accustomed to quiet, clean, efficient bicycles.

  • ADN

    And that is why they don’t want bike-share. They don’t want you moving in to their neighborhood.

  • Great point. As it is, we’re already at over 130 stations on the ground with only about 4 attracting any form of negative attention. And one such display of negativity was from a restaurant owner who staged a one-man sit-in. A dramatic display, to be sure, but hardly representative of the majority of his fellow business owners and residents.

    Like all other things NIMBY, this too shall pass.

  • Anonymous

    So conceivably, after 5 years, the “brand” of the bike could conceivably become “NYC?” (I know that particular brand is a longshot (hence my overuse of the word “conceivably), but am I understanding it right?)

  • Brick

    Thanks @twitter-17049744:disqus , that clears it up.

    And @ddartley:disqus that is interesting that the brand could change in a few years, though I’d assume that Citi has a renewal clause built into the contract.

  • Yes, that’s exactly right. After 5 years, it could be up for naming-rights grab again, though my guess our mutual loathing for the idea (assuming the whole thing’s been at least vaguely successful) might drive the city to forgo selling the name rights again. Unless the corp is ‘urban’ or something, it would be a harder sell to accept (for example) ‘Bank of America’ or ‘Bloomberg’ (ha!) as a viable name.

  • Not sure about the renewal clause, but if it’s not fallen apart by then, chances are, considering how displeased so many people are by the prominent logo, the city might forgo renewing such a contract.

  • Brick

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned in this article was the positive response from the owner of Putnam’s, which is directly adjacent to the station on Clinton and Myrtle (which more than a couple of detractors directed their attention towards).

    He acknowledged that it does make delivery and drop off a tad more difficult, but went on to say that the benefit outweighed that small cost. He wasn’t there himself, but spoke through a letter read by a representative from the Myrtle Ave BID.

    I know it was much appreciated by myself, and at least a few other supporters. I also recall one business owner who said he had moved his business from Manhattan to Brooklyn, but can’t recall if he was for or against the stations.

  • Anonymous

    I think only a FEW but vocal group of people are displeased about the Citi name. There are corporate names and on all sorts of things, from buses & bus stops, to that Coke logo on the deli right above the bike dock defaced with the anti-corporate screed. Most people don’t care. Most people are glad someone else is paying for it. Why would the city not take their money. If the bike share program is as successful as I expect, and as I assume most people on this blog hope it will be then if anything there will be more sponsorship and logos in the future. Or would you rather it cost more, or fell into disrepair?

  • Ben Kintisch

    I sent a supportive letter to Tish James for her strong support of bike share and bike safety in her district. Please do the same!

  • Miles Bader

    It seems especially silly since “Citi” is quite innocuous as far as corporate namings go: it’s short, actually makes sense as a word in this context (if there was no sponsorship, they could easily have called it “citybikes” instead!), and even has an understated and reasonably attractive logo.

    This is nothing like the sort of mega-awkward corporate namings that rightfully get people rolling their eyes.

  • Tyler

    What? No chance… the corporate sponsorship is PAYING for the bikeshare program. Without it, the system doesn’t exist. You think the few folks whining about corporate logos is bad, how about the reaction if the City took over the subsidy/funding of the program?!

  • David

    Maybe Streetsbloggers can pitch in together and raise $40million. Then in 5 years we can re-name the system, maybe to “CityBikes”

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