Another Borough Heard From: Southern Brooklyn Wants Citi Bike!

Council Speaker Corey Johnson on a Citi Bike.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson on a Citi Bike.

The planet is warming, but there’s one thing that’s still glacial: the pace of Citi Bike expansion.

This week, two Council Members from Southern Brooklyn got fed up — again! — and demanded — again! — that the Department of Transportation bring Citi Bike to neighborhoods such as Bay Ridge, Coney Island, Bensonhurst and Gravesend that are not part of the current Citi Bike expansion plan through 2023.

There’s no indication that constituents of Council Members Justin Brannan and Mark Treyger — who sent a pointed letter to the DOT on Tuesday — will ever get Citi Bike, which both see as a crucial need in their districts. As they wrote (full letter embedded below):

Our districts include transit deserts, which lack reliable access to transit even in normal times, and some of the worst performing lines in the subway system. Those of our constituents who live in neighborhoods like Bath Beach, or the West End of Coney Island, continue to suffer from a disparate lack of public transit access. Many of us will not live to see the day that the subway system extends to those neighborhoods, or substantially improves performance, but we can immediately expand access by connecting our neighborhoods to the Citi Bike network.

Um, no, you actually can’t.

Citi Bike expansion zone, 2019-2023.
This was the Citi Bike expansion map put out last year, showing areas of ongoing growth (The Bronx), plus a few regions that will eventually join the system in 2023. Such areas do not include Bay Ridge and many other portions of the city.

As we have long reported, Citi Bike’s 2019-2023 expansion (photo right) includes crucial sections of The Bronx, Upper Manhattan and Queens that have long been disenfranchised from this vital form of public transportation, but virtually all of the Brooklyn neighborhoods south of the Green-Wood Cemetery are out of luck — meaning that Citi Bike, which launched in 2013, will still not cover half the city within 10 years.

The council members put their latest request in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed weaknesses in other links in the transportation network, as many subway and bus customers shifted to other modes.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that while mass transit is essential to getting people to work, it falls short of being the solution for all New Yorkers — especially during a citywide crisis,” they wrote

Citi Bike was one of the bright spots during the pandemic, with ridership that stayed strong, as Streetsblog reported. In addition, the Lyft-owned company provided memberships to essential workers during the crisis. That program reportedly cost the company $1 million.

Meanwhile, the de Blasio administration defiantly does not provide any public funding for Citi Bike, a point that Streetsblog mentions again and again and again and again.

Every other form of public transit and public transportation — including the mayor’s beloved ferry system, which has far fewer users than Citi Bike (and is used by richer people than other forms of transit) — is subsidized by government funding.

How much would a truly citywide Citi Bike system cost? Last year, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg priced it at $400 million. Thus far, the Council has declined to mandate it, but momentum might be growing, if Treyger and Brannan (and other council members) are any indication.

“We know that this discussion [to expand Citi Bike] has been an ongoing one over the years, but new circumstances make the need increasingly urgent,” the wrote. “We implore you to work with us, and to grant our neighborhoods access to this valuable program.”

It’s not the first time Brannan has demanded access to basic cycling. Nearly two years ago, he argued in the Daily News that if Citi Bike would not expand to Bay Ridge and other southern Brooklyn areas, other companies, which then included dockless bike giants Jump and Lime, should be allowed to operate. But in the subsequent years, many dockless companies have failed, leaving Citi Bike as the only real citywide option.

The DOT initially declined to comment for this story or provide the agency’s response to the letter. After initial publication of this story, the agency sent over a statement that will please anyone worried about the status of the United States Postal Service (but likely displease southern Brooklyn cyclists): “The letter was received and we are currently reviewing it,” the agency said in a statement.

For its part, Citi Bike put on a blue helmet to match its blue bikes.

“As I know you know, this ball is in DOT’s court — they decide where stations go and when,” said company spokeswoman Julie Wood.

Here is the text of the letter from Council Members Brannan and Treyger demanding Citi Bike from DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg:

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