Motivate and DOT Squabble, Jeopardizing Success of Bike-Share Expansion

A dispute between NYC DOT and the company that runs Citi Bike threatens to rob New York City’s bike-share expansion of the very quality that’s made the existing service so useful. The key issue is station density, and whether the stations where Citi Bike expands will be within easy walking distance of each other like in the rest of the system.

DOT’s expansion plan for the Upper West Side falls 10-13 stations shy of the recommended standard, and that could spell trouble for the bike-share system as a whole. Map: Transportation Alternatives

The density of stations in the current Citi Bike network sets it apart from other American bike-share systems and helps explain why it’s used much more intensely. You can go anywhere in the service area and know that a station to pick up or drop off a bike is a short walk away. But DOT’s bike-share maps for the Upper East Side and Upper West Side abandon this core design principle.

The expansion plans for these neighborhoods each fall about a dozen stations shy of the density recommended by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, 28 per square mile [PDF]. On the Upper West Side, for instance, you can see the station deficit in this visualization produced by Transportation Alternatives — each orange disc represents a zone that should have a bike-share station in DOT’s plans but doesn’t.

The dearth of stations has been abundantly clear to participants at public meetings about the expansion, but when Streetsblog asked for comment from City Council members Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos, neither office wanted to speak up on the issue.

The Upper East Side and Upper West Side are two of the most densely populated neighborhoods in New York, right next to Midtown and all its jobs. Both areas also have large museums and hospitals and lots of latent demand for convenient cross-town travel. The appetite for bike-share should be enormous, and so should the revenue from Citi Bike memberships and day-passes — revenue that can, in effect, subsidize bike-share service in less dense parts of town.

That’s why thinning out the network in these expansion areas risks more than inconveniencing bike-share users who live in the neighborhood. If people can’t expect a short walk to and from stations, and if they can’t count on a redundant station nearby in the event their preferred station is full or empty, they won’t pay for bike-share and there won’t be much revenue to redirect toward service in other areas of the city.

DOT’s reluctance to go with the NACTO-recommended station density is tied to a dispute with Motivate, the company that runs Citi Bike.

While the bike-share contract stipulates that the service area should meet the 28 stations-per-square-mile standard, it also lays out a minimum expansion zone (here’s a look at the area planned for “Phase 2”) while saying Motivate can’t be compelled to add more than 378 stations. Those numbers don’t add up: Covering the expansion area with 378 stations falls short of the station density target.

The situation could be resolved with some give and take between the parties, and DOT says it is in talks with Motivate about raising the number of stations in the expansion zone. But the way things stand now, Motivate’s desire to avoid spending on additional stations and DOT’s desire to reach every neighborhood in the promised second phase are combining to sabotage the effectiveness of the bike-share system as a whole. It’s going to be spread too thin.

In a statement, DOT said that the “principle of equitable distribution is a foremost priority” for the agency, which is “committed to a bike share that delivers the same standard of service to Van Brunt Street and Astoria Boulevard as will be provided on Madison Avenue and Central Park West.”

There are ways to reach the less affluent neighborhoods in the expansion zone without undercutting the system in very high-demand areas, however. DOT could, for instance, hold off on expanding in Park Slope and use those stations where they’re most needed to buttress the network. More generally, Citi Bike’s ability to attain DOT’s goal of broad coverage will be constrained if the system isn’t set up to perform well in the areas capable of spinning off revenue to support service elsewhere.

Motivate, for its part, cited the significant progress it’s made upgrading software, hardware, and bikes to improve the customer experience. The company noted that its first expansion will bring 92 stations to Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City this year. “What’s new now is the UES and UWS,” said a spokesperson via email. “We are trying to work with DOT to ensure that we have the density needed there to meet demand. That’s the next challenge to be solved and that’s where we’re focused right now.”

Given all the resources the company has already plowed into turning around Citi Bike, though, it’s hard to see why Motivate won’t spend a bit more to ensure those investments actually pay off as its flagship system grows.

  • Nemo

    Or, expand only to the Upper West or Upper East, at the proper density, and not to both.

  • chris

    This is all about parking, right? More stations equal less spots. All thos old timers one the CB aren’t going to like that one bit.

  • Kevin Love

    I don’t quite understand from the article if it is DOT or Motivate that wants to install less stations than necessary.

    The article says, “each orange disc represents a zone that should have a bike-share station in DOT’s plans but doesn’t.”

    And also,”DOT’s reluctance to go with the NACTO-recommended station density…”

    Which lead me to conclude that it is DOT that wants to install less stations than necessary.

    But then the article writes about “…Motivate’s desire to avoid spending on additional stations…”

    So which one is it? It is DOT or Motivate that is trying to short-change the expansion?

  • They are both screwing it up. DOT decides where to put stations, and Motivate decides how many stations above the minimum 378 will be at DOT’s disposal.

  • Andrew Balmer

    It sounds like it’s mostly a financial issue. Which leads me yet again to question why it’s acceptable that the program receives no public funding.

    Bike share is a transportation system. Drivers, subway riders, bus riders, ferry riders and more are subsidized by the government. Why aren’t cyclists?

    This is especially egregious when you consider that, relative to all of the other aforementioned modes, bike share is far and away the most efficient, cost-effective, congestion-friendly, healthy, happiness-boosting mode of travel. Take some of the subsidies towards drivers and shift them to bike share. The city should be paying New Yorkers to have Citi Bike memberships.

  • NYer

    From my understanding it’s both. Motivate is not obligated to add more than 378 stations in the expansion zone, which falls short of the NACTO density recommendations. DOT, while aware of this, is opting to continue with expanding service to all the slated areas, and choosing the option of less overall density in the expansion zone rather than delaying a certain region until further notice.

    DOT is definitely between a rock and a hard place in this situation… if the two organizations chose to expand into one region (ex. only UWS, no more UES) at proper density, then the side getting short-changed would undoubtedly complain and say they are being neglected. This would become a more touchy issue if say for example Harlem was pushed while the UES/UWS wasn’t. I presume that as such, DOT is moving with the option of less density, which is less discriminatory, but at the cost of overall system efficacy.

    Motivate should be implementing more stations as per the NACTO guidelines, but DOT does not have much leverage as the city does not fund Citibike at all.

  • ahwr

    A lot of those subsidies for drivers are free or discounted public land to park or drive on. Bike share at most reimburses the city for lost parking revenue right? Why do the streets you can bike on and cheap/free station locations not count as bike share subsidies?

  • Ari_F_S

    That would eliminate the ability to ride across town, which there is demand for.

    Even though I live in the Brooklyn part of the Phase II zone (and anxiously await Citibike’s arrival there), I think the UWS and UES should probably get bikeshare first.


  • jamieob256

    Speaking as one of Ben Kallos’ s constituents who lives in Yorkville on the UES, in the midst of the Second Avenue subway construction, I can tell you we shouldn’t have Citibike in this area and it has nothing to do with parking. With all the building going on and the aforementioned subway construction, our sidewalk space has been severely impacted to the point that pedestrians come to near standstills because our movement is so restricted. When it comes to crossing the street, it is not unusual to see us standing in line to do so. Of course, many do not wish to stand in line to cross the street, so much jay walking abounds. Besides the lack of sidewalk space in this most-densely populated area of New York City — yes, this is a fact — studies have shown this — we also have the least green space of any area in New York City as well. So if we seem unreceptive to having Citibikes or any bikes in our are, it is because we don’t have the space to spare and what teeny amount of space we do have, we don’t want to give up.

  • So put the bike-share stations in the parking lane, like they do in the rest of Manhattan.

  • Simon Phearson

    Fortunately, it looks like most of the planned locations in Yorkville put the stations in the street, not on the sidewalk.

    If space is an issue on the UES, a dense Citibike network will help do a few things: it will reduce the need for residents to own cars that they park on the streets; it will reduce the need for visitors to the neighborhood to bring their own cars and park on the street; and the stations to do all this will serve a greater number of people than the parking spots they might otherwise have been could have. Fewer cars also means, incidentally, safer street crossings, particularly when people jaywalk.

    I don’t think many transportation advocates would defend a plan that usurps pedestrian space in order to plant bike-share stations. That’s why it’s good that the current plan wouldn’t do that. But let’s be real here – are you concerned about pedestrians, or parking?

  • cjstephens

    Are we sure that Motivate is just being, well, cheap, by having lower density? When I went to their presentation before the CB8 Transportation Committee, I was impressed by how much thought went into the placement of each station, and how many prohibitions there are on locations where they cannot place stations (curb cuts, bus stops, etc.). In other words, could it just be that the reason there are no stations in those orange dots on the map is that there are no viable locations?

  • Given your concerns about narrow, crowded sidewalks and a general lack of green space, surely you’ve been in touch with Ben Kallos’ office about turning some of your neighborhood’s free, on-street parking into parklets or expanded sidewalks.

  • Kevin Love

    There is plenty of space. We just need to get cars off of it. Like they do in the rest of the world. See:

  • vnm

    If we are going to talk about reducing the size of the geographic footprint in order to increase density, we could also reduce it to a particular cross street on UES & UWS, like 86th Street.

  • Kevin Love

    Because the damage and resulting maintenance requirements of a road surface go up as the fourth power of vehicle weight. Which is why car-free greenways don’t have potholes due to bike traffic.

    Motor vehicles destroy road surfaces, but the cost imposed by riding my bike on a street is essentially zero. So there is no subsidy for bike riding.

  • Kevin Love

    Then I don’t understand the squabble. What is the disagreement between DOT and Motivate?

    Is it that Motivate wants to install more stations and DOT will not give them enough locations? That seems to be supported by the quotation from Motivate that reads:

    “We are trying to work with DOT to ensure that we have the density needed there to meet demand. That’s the next challenge to be solved and that’s where we’re focused right now.”

  • Moe

    Guys, it’s not UES vs UWS. Read the article. There are hundreds of stations in play over a multi-year expansion. DOT sites the stations and presents at the CB meetings about where they go, and then issues permits for Motivate to install them. Motivate owns and operates the system. Because of its permitting power, DOT holds all the cards in this dispute, but is ham-handedly threatening to screw everyone with a low-density system instead of putting Motivate over a barrel by dictating location and pace of expansion via its permitting power. Motivate needs the expansion for its business model to work.

  • Joe R.

    Second Avenue has at least three travel lanes, and sometimes parking lanes. Make it a bus lane and a bike lane only. That gets rid of 1.5 travel lanes. Use that extra 16 or so feet to widen the sidewalks by 8 feet on each side. Problem solved.

    The issue isn’t that the space doesn’t exist. It’s that we choose to give it over to mostly private autos and taxis.

  • HamTech87

    Lost parking revenue? Most of the UES and UWS parking is free.

  • jamieob256

    Indeed I have. It would be be nice to have the thing you suggest, but with Second Avenue being torn up the way it is, there is simply no room for those things.

  • ahwr

    Some of the initial docks eliminated metered spots. Citibike is reimbursing the city for the lost parking revenue, effectively paying the heavily discounted real estate price that drivers pay.

  • ahwr

    If the damage goes up as the fourth power of vehicle weight then car and SUV payment damage is a drop in the bucket next to large trucks and buses.

    No cost from you riding your bike on a street? Does the street have a bike lane? If not then increasing bike traffic slows cars considerably.

    Say the city puts in a bike lane. The city isn’t asking cyclists to pay for the real estate, and only asks bike share to pay the pittance paid by drivers who park at meters if a station eliminates metered spots. Bike share is already subsidized. Just not as much as you’d like.

  • Andrew Balmer

    Current plans only call for two bike share stations on 2nd Avenue, and both of them are on the roadbed rather than the sidewalk.

    Yes, Second Avenue is currently a mess due to Subway construction, but there is room for bike share stations in other parts of the UES.

  • Andrew Balmer

    These subsidies you describe are minuscule.

    When you consider externalities, it’s simply no contest. Every mile biked is a net economic gain to society, while every mile driven is an economic drain on society.

    In effect, cyclists are the ones subsidizing the City — not the other way around.

  • Ignore the Motivate quote.

    Read Moe’s comment. The squabble itself is less of a problem than DOT’s handling of it.

  • Eric McClure

    Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope Park Slope

  • Kevin Love

    So where do you think bike-share stations need to go?

  • Gentleman

    Why is Streetsblog uncritically parroting this line about 28 stations per square mile? According to the NACTO report, Paris is getting 5.3 rides per bike per day with 33 stations per square mile, while NYC is getting 5.2 with 23, and Mexico City is getting 5.0 with 22. So for a 43% increase in station density (Paris vs. NYC), you only get a 2% increase in usage per bike?

    The NACTO analysis doesn’t take into account the number of bikes (and docks) per station, and it seems to me that the bicycle density is the primary constraint for ridership for NYC, not station density, if multiple bike share systems at different densities are maxing out around 5 rides per bike per day. When you look at it this way, it seems like Paris isn’t maximizing its investment when you consider that one station kiosk, with all its internal hardware, is probably many times more expensive than one Bixi bike.

  • AnoNYC

    The green space statistic is skewed because it omits Central Park and only includes the narrow UES east of 5th. It is a very densely populated area though even in compassion to the rest of the city.

    However, I don’t see an issue. Most of the docks are in the street.

  • linstur

    Let business’ and museums and neighborhoods pay to have the docks. bike share has increased revenue for businesses – many would be fighting to secure a dock.

    The real problem is putting equity over effectiveness. I don’t believe we will achieve equity until we have a high functioning government – great streets and neighborhoods, great schools – and that often takes baby steps.

  • linstur

    Question: why is it free to keep a car in parked on the street in NYC, and we charge so much for bike share and subways? Why not reverse that – charge to park overnight in Manhattan at least – and use the money for docks?

  • datbeezy

    Until the pricing structure of bikeshare is fixed, they’ll be one issue or another with these things. Frankly, $100/year is massively too cheap.

  • datbeezy

    “free” it isn’t. It takes time, and money, and you have to pay one way or the other. alternatively, bicycles are completely free, everywhere, and the cost of bikeshare is ridiculously cheap compared to basically any other city service.

  • datbeezy

    FUD. this would only be true if pedestrians were /walking in the streets/. Bikeshare has absolutely nothing to do with it. Classic NIMBY.

  • datbeezy

    Given that the city brokers the deal and gives substantial planning support, i’d argue that there is a significant subsidy.

  • Andrew Balmer

    I think you can only argue that those things constitute a minor subsidy, if at all.

    Of course the city brokers the deal, because Citi Bike is deeply connected with the city and locations must be coordinated with various agencies. The city brokers lots of deals with lots of contractors. I don’t think you’d consider that brokerage time to be a subsidy, in the same way that I don’t think you’d consider it a subsidy when my apartment landlord brokers the deal to let me rent his apartment.

    As far as “planning support” goes, yes, the city does provide planning support to Citi Bike. But the city provides far greater planning support to all other modes of transportation, and has done so for decades.

  • Andrew

    And time doesn’t begin to pay for the costs to provide parking. It is simply wasted, highlighting the gross inefficiency of free parking.


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