Opponents of Citi Bike's expansion into a car-centric section of Queens appear to have exhausted the support of City Hall, as the Department of Transportation told Streetsblog on Wednesday that the blue bikes would be coming to Maspeth and Ridgewood in January.
After a tumultuous community board committee meeting on Tuesday night — which included a threat to bar cycling advocates from entering — a DOT spokesman said the agency was "excited to roll out new stations in January.”
"Citi Bike has proven to be a wildly popular transportation option with ridership soaring since the pandemic," added the spokesman Vin Barone.
The bike share system is indeed popular, but not with some people in western Queens. This saga began early this year when the DOT and Citi Bike revealed a map for Citi Bike's proposed docking stations in parts of Community Board 5, with many docks to be located in roadbed space that many drivers believe belongs to them but is, in fact, public space. The stations were supposed to be installed by the summer.
Immediately, local Council Member Bob Holden demanded that no parking spaces be repurposed for Citi Bike — and even demanded the firing of the top DOT official in Queens — and thanks to his connections at City Hall, the stations were indefinitely delayed. (The Queens official was not fired.)
At the time, two sources told Streetsblog that the the delay was a favor to Holden, a right-leaning Democrat who is a supporter of former Republican Mayor Adams’s public safety agenda.
Allies of Holden have also been placed in control of the community board's transportation committee. At Tuesday night's meeting, committee Chairman Eric Butkiewicz, who was given the leadership position at the committee a few months ago though he had never previously attended its meetings, appeared to not be aware of any of the previous maps of proposed docks — and handed out blank maps of the district to seek new dock sites, something that would likely lead to delays.
In the end, the committee said it would write a letter to DOT requesting small stations that are placed on the sidewalk or in zones that are already labeled as no parking. Barone said DOT "continues to thoughtfully incorporate community feedback" such as that.
Holden appears to be standing down.
“Community input on any public works project is essential and should never be ignored," the Council member said through a spokesman. "Moving forward with the Citi Bike expansion without important input from the community board, civic leaders, and residents is unacceptable and contrary to the stipulations of their contract with the DOT.”
At the meeting, Butkiewicz sought to bar "members" of Transportation Alternatives who he expected to attend to support Citi Bike's expansion. One woman and a friend were questioned at the entry to the public meeting and both had to argue that they were members of the "community" before being granted access.
"I did end up getting into the meeting, but only by basically denying any involvement with Trans Alt," said the resident Rachel Albetski, who recounted what she was told at the door:
"The first thing that was said was, 'Who are you with? We're expecting an invasion tonight ... from Transportation Alternatives. If they show up, then we'll be 'at capacity,'" Albetski said.
She described her interaction with a member of the board — she did not know who it was who barred the door — as "quite appalling."
"The first thing that was said to my friend and me when we walked in was, 'Are you Transportation Alternative members?' and the person physically blocked our entrance into the meeting until we just said that we were community members not associated with TA," Albetski told Streetsblog. "He repeatedly asked us where we were from, and I did say at one point, 'This is a public meeting, right?'"
Albetski said the entry restrictions were allegedly Covid related.
"He said, 'There are Covid concerns and I can't just let everyone in. So if they are from TA they aren't getting in,'" said Albetski, who was maskless, as was her friend.
Butkiewicz did not return a call. But another person at the meeting said Albetski and her friend were asked their opinion about Citi Bike and were allowed to give it, which the board was not required to do because it was not a public hearing.
Assembly Member-elect Juan Ardila, a rival of Holden, said he "long suspected" that members of Queens CB5 "would try to delay the implementation of Citi Bike in Ridgewood and Maspeth," but added that he was "furious to hear that some on the board reportedly tried to silence members of our cycling community who attended [the] Transportation Committee meeting."
"Community board meetings should be safe places for the public to feel welcome to voice their opinions and concerns," Ardila added. "As such, board members should not be stifling or arbitrarily questioning who should be allowed to speak their truths at these public forums."
Laura Shepard, the Queens Organizer for TA, said her organization was looking into the alleged harassment.
"Public meetings are public," Shepard said. "Community members have a right to participate in their community board meetings without intimidation or harassment."
Others supporters of Citi Bike posted on social media that Queens Borough President Donovan Richards should intervene.
City Hall allowed DOT's comment to stand without further embellishment. Streetsblog had reached out to the mayor's office because of widespread allegations that Holden had earned the support of the mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in blocking the Citi Bike expansion. It is unclear why that support evaporated.
Educated at the Sorbonne and the Yale School of Drama, Gersh Kuntzman is obviously not the person being described here. We're talking about tabloid legend Gersh Kuntzman, who has been with New York newspapers since 1989, including stints at the New York Daily News, the Post, the Brooklyn Paper and even a cup of coffee with the Times. He's also the writer and producer of "Murder at the Food Coop," which was a hit at the NYC Fringe Festival in 2016, and “SUV: The Musical” in 2007. Email Gersh at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kareem found out the hard way that his Craigslist gig delivering temp tags was illegal. Now he's exposing the operation that employed him, revealing clues about his anonymous bosses that all trace back to the same place.