Bike-Share and the Mistake of Placing Too Much Stock in NIMBY Sentiment

The wisdom in Matt Flegenheimer’s bike-share NIMBY opus comes across nicely in the kicker:

Nearby, on University Place, Alfred Haffenden, 71, sat between a bike station and his table of available consumer items — two Al Franken books, a baby-care advice book, and VHS copies of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Wuthering Heights.”

The stations would be a change, he said, but who would want to live in a New York that refused to try something new?

“There’s not much you can do about that type, my friend,” he said, leaning toward the kiosk. “Some people can’t see. Some people just don’t want to see.”

But long before readers get to that point, if they ever do, they’ll absorb the headline (“Bike Sharing? Sure. The Racks? No Way.”) and the lede:

Bike share was easy for New York City to love in the abstract. It was not about adding bike lanes at the expense of something else; it was about sharing something that did not yet exist.

But with the program two weeks away, many New Yorkers have turned against bike share, and for one simple reason: They did not expect it to look like this.

Have a significant number of New Yorkers “turned against” bike-share, though, or is the roll-out of the system just a good time for opponents to assert themselves? After all, 19 percent of New Yorkers thought bike-share was a bad idea when Quinnipiac polled people about it last summer (74 percent approved). That’s a pretty small percentage of New Yorkers, but it’s also nearly two million people.

Which pretty much encapsulates the pitfalls of placing too much stock in NIMBY sentiment: With so many people in the city, a few are guaranteed to feel intensely opposed to something big and new like bike-share, but you can’t use their complaints to draw any hard conclusions about how most people think or feel.

  • Brian

    Yes, (almost) everyone won’t think twice about the racks and bikes once the program is up and running. New Yorkers love to complain. See the 1st paragraph of for a hilarious non-cycling example.

  • Anonymous

    Did anybody really think that bike-share kiosks would be put in, with a loss of a few on-street car parking spots, without some NIMBY tantrums?

  • James Reefer

    You are describing selection bias and availability heuristic: It sounds like tons of people are opposed to the program, because there is a ton of noise. In fact, a few people create tons of noise, distorting the perceived sample.

    See also: The deficit, parking, and UFC fans.

  • Joe R.

    “The stations would be a change, he said, but who would want to live in a New York that refused to try something new?”

    This comment is spot on. I think the majority of people who live in a place like New York City are those who find change and new things exhilarating. It’s one reason I’ve stayed here even though the hard times. This is why I feel once bike share gets past its growing pains, it will be just another fact of life here, like the subways. The few people who are strongly against it seem to cluster in the over 60 demographic. It’s no secret many people get more set in their ways as they get older. It’s also no secret quite a few see the NYC of their youth through rose-colored glasses. I may even be guilty of that myself when I reminisce how cycling was often better from the late 70s through early 90s compared to now. Perhaps by some objective measures it was, at least in the places where I cycled. As a whole though, even I’m forced to admit back then cycling was fringe. Maybe that made it more attractive to people like me? We all see things differently. I just hope the small minority who seems to have a pathological hatred of bicycles doesn’t reverse the progress we’ve made in the last decade.

  • Mark Walker

    “That is one ugly baby.”

    “But it hasn’t been born yet!”

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    The way I treat this whole bike-share business is that I think the DOT is using the streets as their testing ground, and using the backlash and complaints as feedback. Because is the City really going to apply a one-size-fits-all in regard to kiosks and the technology chosen? Look at other bike-share companies, like Social Bicycle, that don’t even use kiosks. They were even in the bid with Alta for control of implementation of the network.

    Yes, Social Bicycle, there might be a problem with restocking but the whole idea were to let the bikes be everywhere throughout the City and find them through your smart phone.

    Bottom line: Citibike and Social Bicycle each independently has its pros and cons, but if the City were able to fluidly integrate these two systems and vary depending on neighborhood, then perhaps the bike share network can be more appreciated and robust. If there are different types of buses, different types of taxis, then why should there be only one type of bike share system?

  • Brad Aaron

    Watch the video that accompanies this story. Tell me it doesn’t look like something from the Christopher Guest camp.

  • The best part of the video is the guy who says he was in favor of bike share when he first heard about it, but now that the stations were there he didn’t think they blended into the “urban environment” or something. Meanwhile, the station he’s referring to is shown as being completely blocked in by parked cars. You’re right… a satirist couldn’t have written that better.

    And David Gerber of CB2 offers the longest, “Nobody’s against bikes, but” preamble to a bike share criticism I’ve ever heard.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    It is all well and good that the vast majority of New Yorkers are pro bikeshare but I would argue that it should exist even in places where it isn’t the majority opinion.

    Bike share is a program of such tiny impact on those who don’t use it or are opposed to it with a huge benefit to 1) those who do 2) other cyclists who get the safety in numbers benefits.

  • KillMoto

    I love the whole “how will fire trucks get here?” schtick. I have a friend who is a fireman. Once there was an urgent call – house fire in a dense neighborhood. The garage door wouldn’t open. So they just drove through it.

    I imagine that if life safety is at risk, FDNY will just plow over a bike rack and get to the scene. End of story. The bikes and their racks are much less an obstacle than a compact car, and I’m not even factoring in double parking

  • vnm

    During the video that accompanies the NY Times piece, I got really annoyed at the NIMBYist — and the huge applause she got — who said “BUT HOW WILL THE FIRE TRUCKS GET TO MY BUILDING????”

    I really, truly, don’t understand how bike share docks impede fire trucks any more than parked cars. In fact, they would seem to be a lot less of an impediment. What am I missing? Is it just rhetoric or is she serious? What about all the people applauding that line?

    (See also: The myth of fire truck access as the reason for too-wide suburban streets. Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck, et al. Suburban Nation.)

  • Ex-driver

    I was actually surprised there wasn’t more NIMBY backlash. Then I remembered the Upper East and Upper West Sides and Park Slope were not included in the rollout.

  • Anonymous

    Do you need a smart phone or computer to find the social bikes?

  • Anonymous

    Ugh. That video was just unwatchably dull, and when not dull, infuriating. NPR with pictures.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Either. And the beauty part is the locking mechanism, and keypad to unlock, is on the bike itself. Their website says you can even make a reservation for a bike on the bike itself.That device is powered by a photovoltaic cell, and because it’s a U-lock, you can lock it anywhere and “return” it via your phone. It’s kind of similar to Zipcar. Because of this, it allows someone to bike farther away than what a docking station would permit. And because these bikes only need regular city bike racks, the price to install by NYCDOT can be more than halved. This could’ve eliminated the whole time NYC would’ve had bike share soon but couldn’t because of technical glitches.

  • Sounds like it would just move the glitches and hassle to the user level. My wife’s smart phone runs out of battery by the end of the day; how is she supposed to find a bike (or return the one she’s using) with a dead-battery phone?

  • david

    Brit in control of bike share to NYC: people will hate u for 6 mo. Then love you…

  • david

    Bike share in london

  • Chris fdny

    The bike share racks aren’t much of an issue for us in the fire department. The only exception I have found is on Franklin street by varick street where they closed a small street entirely. The hard bike lanes however do push us further away from the buildings they are in front of by about 15 feet. Big deal? If you’re on the 6th floor of a walk-up it could be, since a good portion (30%) of our ladder trucks only reach 75 feet. But they’re not going to change the bike lanes. So my advice is I you’re on the top floor of a tenement adjacent to a bike lane, keep access to your fire escape clear.

  • NYFM

    Doesn’t anyone think the City if New York is opening itself up to some huge liabilities because:
    1. The city does not enforce its 30 MPH speed limit with any consistency, letting all manner of vehicle flout traffic laws, from delivery trucks to taxis, but also including bikes.
    2. Bicycle riders are not licensed nor insured. One might think this is completely unnecessary, but then one hasn’t seen some of the frightening and crippling accidents that have occurred over the years- accidents caused by riders who are speeding and/or reckless- a result of both of the lapses in law enforcement and lack of legislation.
    No helmet laws, no licensing or road testing. In short I see lots of litigation coming down the road.

  • Anonymous

    No. That’s not how civil liability works. The City has to be negligent in some manner. And if they are negligent in some manner then they probably should be liable.

    Ugh. I should’ve read your full comment before commenting myself. I didn’t realize you were a troll:

    – accidents caused by riders who are speeding and/or reckless- a result of both of the lapses in law enforcement and lack of legislation.

    Yah, that’s bullshit. Those suicidal bicyclists.

    No helmet laws, no licensing or road testing. In short I see lots of litigation coming down the road.

    Again, this is just word salad. What does no helmet law have to do with litigation (or the city’s liabilities increasing)? What does lack of licensing have to do with litigation (or the city’s liabilities increasing)? What does road testing have to do with litigation (or the city’s liabilities increasing)? You’re just throwing shit out there and saying “hey look, this will lead to litigation.”

    As if it matters. People are suing to move bike racks to the other side of the road. People sue over everything. It doesn’t mean there’s any actual substance.

  • Anonymous

    Yah, but is Franklin @ Varick actually physically closed? The station is in the middle of the street so I’d think the curb lane is still viable (note, in this pic, I don’t see a hydrant along the “closed” curb but maybe it’s obscured). Additionally, the north side of Franklin there used to be a loading zone. Thx for the insights.

  • Joe R.

    Are car rental companies liable when someone using one of their cars kills or injures people? The answer is usually not unless it can be proven that the car was mechanically defective. The onus is always on the individual who rents the bike or car, not on the company which does the renting. Same thing with helmets. First off, they’re not even required for adult cyclists. Second, even if they were, the situation is analogous to seat belts in autos. A car rental company provides a car with seat belts. If the user decides to not wear them and gets killed, the car rental company is not legally liable. They only control the equipment, not the end user. Note that seat belts and helmets is a particularly bad analogy to make this point. Unlike seat belts, which have a proven record of reducing injury/death, bike helmets are at best marginally defective. Even if helmets were required by law, and the bike rental company failed to provide one, a lawsuit against them for injuries sustained due to lack of helmets could easily be challenged on that basis.

    “accidents caused by riders who are speeding and/or reckless- a result of both of the lapses in law enforcement and lack of legislation”

    If you bothered to read this site, you would know that if anything, cyclists are more likely to get a ticket than motorists thanks to the bike crackdowns in recent years, so your claim of lapses in law enforcement doesn’t hold water. Same thing with lack of legislation. Cyclists are already required to obey all traffic laws. What do you want, additional laws which say they can’t go over 8 mph because that frightens texting pedestrians who wander into a bike lane? Reckless? Speeding? Please. A small minority of cyclists qualify as reckless. Speeding, as defined to mean going over the legal limit of 30 mph by enough of a margin so as to merit a ticket, is pretty much impossible for anyone but a Tour de France rider except on downhills. Even on downhills, a lot of cyclists can’t get to 30 mph, much less go faster.

  • Chris fdny

    I saw it Friday and the road was blocked. But maybe because construction wasn’t complete? I’ll be in the neighborhood today, let you know.
    Hydrants aren’t a concern. They haven’t blocked one to my knowledge.

  • Isn’t “keep access to your fire escape clear” just good advice whether or not there is a bike lane or bike share station or fire house in front of your building?

  • Anonymous

    So… you’re blaming bike share for your wife’s crappy phone? Get a better phone? Get a battery pack? Learn how to optimize the battery life?

    Thousands of people use ZipCar with their smartphones and you never heard anyone complain.

    Besides, this is OPTIONAL. You can use CitiBike without a smartphone.

    Try better next time…

  • Anonymous

    The smartphone comment was clearly not in the context of Citi Bike or ZipCar, but of a different bikeshare scheme where people would be able to drop off the bikes in completely random locations. That would make having a smartphone almost a requirement because otherwise you’d never know where the bikes are.

  • Ease back, pardner; and read what @qrt145:disqus says.

    Next time my wife complains that her phone has charged out, however, I will remember to put the blame on bike share. Bike share is probably also responsible for the crummy quality of those umbrellas you can buy during rainstorms, and for the fact that the ice-cream truck is never to be found on the block when you really want an ice cream.

  • NYFM

    The two times I have been hit by bicycle riders going the wrong way down a one way street they were going fast enough to hurt me. Anything over walking speed is going to hurt. 10-15 MPH? Done.

  • Joe R.

    Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. The speed limit is 30 mph and it applies to all vehicles, including bicycles. If anything, usually it’s larger vehicles which have lower speed limits, not smaller ones. Limiting bikes to walking speed makes no sense. You might as well just ditch the bike and walk.

    You don’t need additional laws here. The bicycles which hit you were already breaking the law by riding against traffic. That’s illegal and dangerous but is often done by delivery people in order to make their rounds quicker. It’s always a good idea to look both ways before crossing, even if there were no bikes around. What about cars backing into parking spots? In the end, everyone is ultimately responsible for their own personal safety. I look where I’m going before I cross the street. I look where I’m going when I ride a bike. I do this even when I have the legal right-of-way because other people make mistakes. The bikes which hit you were in the wrong, but that doesn’t excuse you from looking both ways before you cross the street. It’s just a common sense thing to do in a city where everyone is in a hurry, and often cut corners to get where they’re going.

  • Anonymous

    With point 1: You’re right!
    With point 2: You’re funny!

    I mean, if we’re arguing from anecdote here, can I just say that the one serious accident I’ve had on a bike in my adult life happened when a pedestrian jaywalked in front of a bus and stepped into the bike lane without so much as looking my way? I either had to hit the pedestrian–a girl of about 10, I’d say–or slam on my brakes in a way that I knew was dangerous, given that I was on the steepest part of an already steep downhill route. I chose not to hit the pedestrian, and I’m still dealing with the dental problems associated with this. And that darned pedestrian just walked away. (Really, blood streaming down my face and she didn’t even say sorry.)


    etc. etc.

  • News of the Hoboken smart-lock system has reached Finland:

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    I read somewhere that NYC will think about expanding the bike-share network if phase 1 proves successful after 5 years! And that’s under the docking station technology. With the Social Bicycle method, this can allow western Queens, nothernwestern Brooklyn, and the rest of Manhattan to enter the bike-share within months from now, one year tops. All you need is regular city bike racks. I don’t know why NYC had to only choose one company, I know they have a contract with Citibike for advertising and installation but the Social Bicycle method, any revenue that could have been made via the docking station advertising is offset by the very low cost of installation and maintenance. And I bet it could be self-sustaining in half the time.

  • Danny G

    NYC tried the multiple companies thing when it built the subway system. Eventually they got consolidated into the MTA, and now you only need one MetroCard to ride any train in the city. Hell, you can even ride the PATH train!

  • Byron

    Yeah, and a fat guy jogging will hurt if he knocks into you too.

  • Raymond A. Poythress

    Interesting article. Nice to see how the biking concepts have evolved
    and grown into their own. The packs shown seem like a must have. Great


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