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Astoria District Manager Demands Citi Bike Docks Take Sidewalk Space To Save Parking

12:01 AM EDT on October 27, 2020

The Citi Bike expansion into Astoria puts bikes where they belong: the street.

A pro-car district manager is urging Citi Bike to take space away from pedestrians in Queens in order to preserve a few parking spots in Astoria, even as community board members suggest they're happy to see the docks in the street.

Florence Koulouris, the district manager for Community Board 1 in Queens, tried to rally the board's Transportation Committee against a plan to put 30 out of 51 Citi Bike docks in the street after a DOT presentation on bike share expansion into Astoria showed that the majority of the docks would go in the roadbed.

"My concern is not the number, the number is fine, my concern is the placement in the street," said Koulouris, who technically works for the board and not the other way around. "We need to try to work tother as a team to get more out of the street and more onto the sidewalks. Thirty on the street is a lot — too many on the street. The benefit is to keep them on the sidewalk because it avoids the crisis after with a million phone calls to the DOT and the district office."

The team spirit to bring docks onto the sidewalk didn't seem to be in the offing though, as no board members backed up Koulouris's suggestion. The only direct comment on Koulouris's suggestion was a pushback from board member Helen Ho, who said that putting additional docks on the sidewalk to preserve parking would be "a disservice" to the neighborhood.

"We're in pandemic times and the effects of the pandemic are going to be traumatizing to everyone in the city for a long time afterwards, and what we need more of is additional sidewalk space so runners and pedestrians can space themselves out," said Ho. "And there's not enough pedestrian space already, which is why the open streets plan had to be created."

Even though she wasn't able to whip up support on the committee, there's a worrying precedent in the district manager's insistence. The first time Citi Bike docks were placed in Astoria, Koulouris bragged to the Astoria Post that CB1 insisted that stations be sited on the sidewalk in order to provide parking spaces. That choice hurt the overall effectiveness of Citi Bike in northwest Queens according to cycling advocate Macartney Morris.

"It really set back the network in Astoria in terms of traffic calming of the streets," said Morris. "It created huge conflicts between pedestrians and Citi Bike riders riding on the sidewalk to the get to the stations, in a way we just didn't need to, and all because DOT and Citi Bike were conflict-averse and didn't want to have those fights."

Koulouris also didn't produce any data at the meeting to back up her point beyond her insistence that she gets "one million phone calls" complaining about an inability to find parking in the neighborhood, an insistence that Ho said misrepresented the neighborhood.

"That was the first time I heard of someone complaining about Citi Bike stations being on the street," said Ho, a Queens native. "[Koulouris] is the main point of contact for us and the DOT, and it does us a disservice if she's misrepresenting us."

The DOT did not say whether it had been inundated with parking-related phone calls coming out of Astoria, and would not say whether the district manager's complaints were enough to move docks around to save parking spaces. But Morris said he worried it could be done if for no other reason than the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

"The DOT deals with Florence on a regular basis, and while I don't think they'll revamp the entire plan, I could definitely see them moving five stations from the roadbed onto the sidewalk for no reason except to make her happy," he said.

The neighborhood's actual elected representation did push back on Koulouris's insistence on taking space away from pedestrians in order to make drivers happy. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer tweeted that Ho was correct to stick up for putting docks in the road, and Zohran Mamdani, Astoria's presumptive new Assembly Member, also gave a full-throated defense of putting docks in the street.

"We need to install docks within the roadbeds not only because that is where we tell cyclists to ride, but also because these docks serve to calm traffic and create more visibility at intersections and crosswalks," said Mamdani. "Additionally, in a time when we’ve taken away so much of our streets from public use in order to expand outdoor dining, we cannot put parking spaces above the needs of pedestrians by taking away even more of their space from them."

It's not the first tie Koulouris flexed her muscle as the longtime district manager. Earlier this year, she worked behind the scenes to get popular bike-supporter CB1 Executive Board member Nancy Silverman booted from the board. Silverman had clashed with Koulouris over her less-than-transparent operation of the board. According to the Queens Eagle and one Streetsblog source, Silverman and other board members had sought to rein in Koulouris so that she would carry out the mission of a district manager as described in the City Charter and the CB1 bylaws.

The role of district manager required more oversight from the board, Silverman said, according to the Eagle.

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